11.215.4 2018

"I’ll darn well draw the soul!”

Gunilla Bergström

"I’ll darn well draw the soul!” This is the title of the spring exhibition at the Nordic Watercolour Museum. The original works behind the popular Swedish children’s books about Alfons Åberg, known in English as Alfie Atkins, and Bill och Bolla by Gunilla Bergström are presented here for the first time in an art museum.

Gunilla Bergström has been one of Sweden’s leading picture book creators through the years. "I’ll darn well draw the soul!” This audacious thought was the beginning of some 40 children’s books with unforgettable characters who she still writes and illustrates to this day. But without comparison, it is Alfons Åberg who has become the most famous of Gunilla Bergström’s figures.

For the first time ever, original works by Gunilla Bergström are presented in a museum setting. With the spring exhibition at the Nordic Watercolour Museum, we return to the origins of the books by presenting the originals with impressions of the artist’s unique craftsmanship. Gunilla Bergström used collage as a narrative element in her works long before digital technology became common in the art of illustration. She built up her images with cut-out fabric scraps, wallpaper samples, pieces of ribbon and more. The collages are then combined with drawn images. All figures have distinct black outlines that enclose their bodies and create volume.

The exhibition is about both the form and content of Gunilla Bergström’s creations. With a singular colour palette, precise lines and expert compositions, she shapes credible environments, placing her figures in a daily life that we can easily recognise. The questions asked are existential and applicable at all ages. Isolation. Fear. Vulnerability. The various facets of friendship. The unexpected complications of family life. The universal principles of happiness. Internal and external life. Appreciating the little things. These form the foundation of Gunilla Bergström’s imagery. The books about Alfons Åberg have been translated into some thirty languages and comprise the majority of Gunilla Bergström’s production. In parallel with images from these books, selected artistic works are presented, such as the story of Bill and Bolla.

One of the most important parts of the Nordic Watercolour Museum’s activities is tracking the creation of picture books in the Nordic region. Presenting one of our most beloved and internationally recognised picture book artists is both an honour and a matter of course. 2017 was also a double anniversary year – Alfons Åberg turned 45 years old and Gunilla Bergström celebrated her 75th birthday.

Gunilla Bergström was born in 1942 in Gothenburg. She grew up in an artistic home and in 1966 she graduated with a degree in journalism. Among other places, she worked at Dagens Nyheter and Aftonbladet. In 1975 she began her career as an author and illustrator full time. Bergström debuted with the book Mias pappa flyttar (Mia’s Dad is Moving) (1971). Her picture books about Alfons Åberg – a preschool boy who lives with his single father – became a success in Sweden and internationally. Gunilla Bergström has also dramatized many of her stories for the theatre and written numerous children’s songs together with Georg Riedel and others. She has also worked with set design and puppetry.