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Adrian-Nilsson, Gösta (GAN) (1884-1965)  
 
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In June 1917, while cruising the underground urinal beneath Norrmalstorg, a large public square in central Stockholm, GAN met Edvin Andersson, then a twenty-two-year-old torpedo operator in the Swedish navy, who recently had completed officer training at Skeppsholmen.

Handsome, muscular, friendly, and intelligent, Andersson perfectly embodied all of the qualities that GAN admired in a man. GAN's diaries eloquently reveal how profoundly he fell in love with Andersson, who reciprocated his affection. For the rest of GAN's life, Andersson offered him strong emotional support. Andersson even changed his last name to Ganborg to indicate his alliance with the artist. Despite their strong emotional attachment, GAN continued to obtain his primary sexual satisfaction through casual, and often paid, sexual encounters with sailors, soldiers, and industrial workers.

Sponsor Message.

GAN depicted Andersson in several of the largest of his paintings of seamen. Executed in his distinctive fusion of Expressionism, Futurism, and Cubism, II eld 629 (II Fire 629) is a direct portrait of Andersson. Transcribed in large characters in the upper right of the painting, the title refers in abbreviated form to Andersson's official designation in the Swedish Royal Naval: "2:a eldarkompaniet nr 629" (2nd-class fire brigade commander number 629). Anchors, waves, and flames are among the references to Andersson's naval vocation.

Andersson's handsome profile dominates the upper left side of the painting, and his full red lips grip a lit cigarette--a potent erotic symbol for GAN, as his diaries make clear. A stylized, but still sensual, depiction of Andersson's torso extends from the upper left to the lower right of the painting. GAN emphasized his personal association with Andersson by including his own profile, labeled with his acronym, in the lower left of the painting. Cannons and towers--obviously phallic symbols in this context--intersect with Andersson's body.

Other depictions of Andersson in a naval setting incorporate even more abundant phallic imagery. For example, Kanonexercis på Flygia (Cannon Exercise in Flygia, 1917) shows large cannons and abstract phallic objects radiating from two intertwined central figures of Andersson.

These paintings of Andersson were among the thirty-three works that GAN included in the major retrospective, entitled Sjömanskompositioner (Sailor Compositions), held in January 1918 at Gummesson's, Stockholm's leading avant-garde art gallery. In his catalogue statement, GAN indicated that he intended his images as a tribute to a certain seaman.

Although GAN received some favorable reviews, most critics condemned the style of his paintings in the 1918 exhibition as chaotic. Most published reviews overlooked the sexual implications of the artworks, but the critic of the leading daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter bluntly condemned GAN's depiction of "Berzelii parks erotiska jaktmarker" (Berzelii park's erotic hunting grounds). It is indicative of GAN's commitment to homoerotic subject matter that he created the previously discussed Lördagsväll kl. 9 (även kallad Berns) [Saturday 9 o'clock (also called Berns1918)] after receiving this harsh public reprimand.

Because of the frequently hostile critical reception of his work, GAN had a difficult time supporting himself from his art. However, despite the condemnation of his art in the Swedish press, he was highly regarded in avant-garde artistic and intellectual circles. Thus, he was a frequent contributor to avant-garde journals, such as flammen, a progressive art journal, published from 1917 to 1921. In his influential articles in flammen, GAN addressed a wide variety of theoretical and practical issues--for instance, on defining and achieving beauty in art and on the importance of including references to modern industrial production in images.

In 1919, GAN became the first artist working in Sweden to create purely abstract paintings. The oil paintings Abstrakt I and Abstrakt II are executed in a Constructivist style, which attests to his continued engagement with evolving trends in European progressive art.

GAN in the 1920s

In 1920, GAN moved to Paris, then widely regarded as the leading center of European art production, and he remained there until 1925. In Paris, he evolved in new creative directions, but he continued to utilize art as a vehicle to express his love of the male body and to convey the dynamic energy of the modern era.

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