Målning av landskap med himmel, berg och en flod som rinner genom dalen.

Evig sommar by Ella Tillema

The painting Evig sommar (Eternal Summer) by Ella Tillema exudes a deceptive calm. It is a multilayered artwork by an artist with a message. Evig sommar was acquired for the Corona Collection, an initiative to support the Swedish art scene during the COVID-19 pandemic.

”Til things are brighter, I’m the Man In Black”
Johnny Cash 

There is something precise and atmospheric to Ella Tillema’s paintings. Regardless of whether she depicts people, nature or a simple motif such as the view against a blue sky, the pictorial space is austere and stripped of disturbing and distracting elements. Sometimes the motifs produce an almost meditative impression, but it is deceptive. Under the surface, beyond that which we see, an undefined threat lurks. A disquieting feeling that keeps growing. Our need for control coincides with the realisation that we are powerless. 

“It is that kind of unease that I want to process in my paintings,” Ella explains. “‘Til things are brighter, I’m the Man In Black’, Johnny Cash sings. It is about the sadness of being powerless but looking for fellowship with the viewer. A fellowship that can lead to action.” 

Ella Tillema is an artist with a message. She is deeply committed to what is going on on our planet. Supporting the anti-capitalist movement, she is worried about our reckless treatment of nature. For her large painting Evig sommar, she wrote a ‘letter’ to an imagined friend, who, like Ella, was in lock-down during the pandemic. A paragraph reads: 

I want you to know that I need you more than ever just now. The anger over the state of the world burns in me more and more every day, but it burns to no avail here in my loneliness. In the evenings, in front of the screen, when I am overcome by powerlessness, I think of you. You are my only hope, my only weapon. We are the only weapon that works. 

That impotence can be turned into hope is important for Ella. We may fear the approaching total collapse, but from the fear we can pull each other up into the light. 

“It is something the pandemic taught us,” Ella claims. “People used to say that you couldn’t change anything, that society is as it is. We now understand that even drastic change is possible. But we have to need it, and want it.” 

Ella Tillema’s images of nature are almost seductively beautiful. One painting shows the Titanic ploughing its way through the water, a safe symbol of eternal progress. No sign of any iceberg. Neither do we realise that there are not enough lifeboats for all the passengers. 

“I think Titanic is a very good metaphor for our civilisation,” Ella says. “Everything seems to be going so well, and still, deep down, we know how badly it will end.” 

Evig sommar depicts the view from Kebnekaise in pre-autumn colours. Only traces remain of the snow that normally covers the landscape. It is a beautiful painting. Viewers from southern Sweden will probably be moved by the beauty of the rugged mountain landscape. For a viewer from the north of the country, who has seen the snow melt on Kebnekaise, the painting demonstrates how the climate crisis has pushed nature out of balance. 

“Of course you can enjoy looking at the landscape, but we shouldn’t forget that nature is not only something to be consumed,” Ella states. “‘Eternal summer’ may sound like a nice thing, but it’s also ominous. Nature has a value that goes far beyond what we want to do with it.” 

Ella Tillema describes herself as a political artist, but not a propaganda artist throwing around slogans left, right and centre. Her works contain multiple layers, carefully superimposed. It prompts the viewer to create their own relationship to the work. There is no message that tells us what we should think or feel. 

“If there is a message to my work, it’s our experience of being human beings today,” Ella says. “Art has to be allowed to be thoughtful. It should never be used to just broadcast opinions.” 

Artist biography Ella Tillema 

Born in Stockholm in 1983, Ella Tillema lives and works in Diö, Småland. She was educated at Malmö Art Academy in 2005–2010.