A central theme in his early works is to refer to his own childhood, often based upon family photographs. Communicated in soft, pale ochre tones, the motifs draw associations to faded dreams and the filter of years. Gullvåg worked gradually towards a painting where the chroma or colour saturation is restrained, such that the light eventually takes over. We see this clearly in a work such as Clapper
, 1981, where the little boy dressed in white almost melts into the background. In the upper middle field there is an open hand, stylised with an almost iconic character that emphasizes the boy’s activity. In the side fields the artist has imprinted his own hands, as faint echoes. The painting’s creation is related to a childhood photo of one of his cousins. Thus the imprints of hands simultaneously establish a bridge between memories of childhood and adult life.
The bleached motif is not merely a distinguishing feature of Clapper
but of this entire period. The poetic, white canvas lends the work a dreamy quality. The symbols Gullvåg adds intensify the dreaminess in the direction of Surrealism. He establishes his own world of symbols, with ambiguous, inscrutable figures that give even the most idyllic motif a modicum of unease.
Nevertheless, his immediate family are not the only people figured into his paintings; already in the final academy years we find his first portraits. These are painted in the same light pallet of yellow ochre, yet with considerably greater, more serious focus on the individual. His first portraits were a series of paintings of the Trøndelag actor Leif Jackobsen. Noteworthy are the ears flanking the corners of the picture; could they perhaps represent an attentive audience? Meanwhile, we have a clear sense that the actor has left the stage, and that he is in fact viewing us with an artist’s characteristic alertness.
In the early 1980s Gullvåg studied and worked in Stockholm, an important period for him.
The Oslo-debut at Gallery Dobloug in 1983 was his artistic breakthrough, 23 years old. His works received favourable critique and were purchased by major institutions.
Key paintings from this period: Wooden Horse
, 1981 (Debut Annual Autumn Exhibition, purchased by the National Gallery, now the National Museum) Three Brothers
(Debut Gallery Dobloug, purchased by the National Museum) With Dog and Glasses
, 1981 (Debut Gallery Dobloug, purchased by the National Museum) Clapper
, 1981 (Trondheim Art Museum)