On Sven Sandberg’s Portraits

The paintings are portraits, yet the eye is also drawn away from the figures and toward the backgrounds. Here are masks, windows, vegetation, and walls, which recall the stylized settings of silent cinema. One imagines the painter’s studio as like a small film set. The model is carefully positioned amid art objects, props, and painted backdrops to produce a new staged reality. In the resulting portraits, human figures appear fully part of these artificial constructions, where painting from life becomes indistinguishable from borrowed images and recreated dreams.

In their faces, gestures, and distant looks, the figures themselves seem aware they are caught in the long shadows of modernism. The colors and brushwork are similarly evocative, producing effects both familiar and strange. Modern pressures of attention and distraction intensify here to the point of trance. The figures turn away or look inward, grasping at objects and fabric, as gestures of both resistance and resignation to contemporary demands. The atmosphere of the paintings is charged with this inward focus, which affects the viewer as well.

If we consider paintings to be limited to representing a single moment, as Gotthold Ephraim Lessing argues, then the work must provoke us to imagine what came before and what comes after. Minor dramas in these cases: moments captured just after an unexpected memory, a confrontation, an obscure comment. But what comes next? In silent film, it would be the fade-out. The character looks off and withdraws. The image fades to black. These paintings, one could say, are forever waiting the fade-out. The impression is not of a coming end or closure, however. It is that of the passing of time itself. In these moments, as Béla Balázs once wrote, the frame of the image opens and “lets the mysterious shadows of an uncertain future flood in.”

— Brook Henkel, 2022


London, UK

Solo Exhibitions


  • What Strangers’ Sight May Find, Katie Lindsay Gallery, Killyleagh, Northern Ireland


  • They went and saw a palace hanging from a silken thread, Berlin Opticians Gallery, Rathfarnham Castle, Ireland


  • Six Portraits, Berlin Opticians Gallery, Dublin, Ireland

Group Exhibitions (selected)


  • RHA Annual Exhibition, Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin, Ireland


  • Dubliners, 6th Biennial of Painting, HDLU, Meštrović Pavilion, Zagreb, Croatia


  • 601 Days, Berlin Opticians Gallery, Dublin, Ireland


  • Futures, Series 3, Episode 3, Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin, Ireland
  • Periodical Review 9, Pallas Projects, Dublin, Ireland
  • And the days run away like wild horses over the hills, Scoil Lorcáin, Seapoint, Ireland
  • BINGO, Berlin Opticians Gallery, Dublin, Ireland
  • Wish Me A Wonder, Garter Lane, Waterford, Ireland


  • Launch Exhibition, Berlin Opticians Gallery, Dublin, Ireland
  • Hermione Exhibition, Alexandra College, Dublin, Ireland


  • NEU-GEN 2017: Towards Both the Parts, NCAD Gallery, Dublin, Ireland
  • Dos Amigos, with Anna Bauer, Pallas Projects, Dublin, Ireland
  • RHA Annual Exhibition, Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin, Ireland
  • Hermione Exhibition, Alexandra College, Dublin, Ireland


  • RDS Visual Art Awards, RDS, Dublin, Ireland
  • All the Shapes We Make, MFA Exhibition, NCAD, Dublin, Ireland


  • MFA, National College of Art & Design, Dublin, Ireland
  • BA, Haverford College, Haverford, Pennsylvania


  • Arts Council of Ireland Next Generation Award
  • RDS Visual Art Awards R.C. Lewis-Crosby Award
  • Thomas Dammann Jr Memorial Trust


  • Arts Council of Ireland
  • Trinity College Dublin
  • Office of Public Works State Art Collection, Ireland


  • Murphy, A.K. “Sven Sandberg, Rathfarnham Castle” This is Tomorrow, 14 April 2020
  • MacMonagle, N. “What lies beneath: Day Trippers” Irish Independent, 26 January 2020
  • Dunne, A. “Futures exhibition: Irish art in very good hands” Irish Times, 3 December 2019
  • Long, D. “Dublin in 2019” ArtReview, November 2019
  • Dunne, A. “The five best art exhibitions to visit in Dublin this weekend” Irish Times, 19 Jan 2019
  • Dunne, A. “Anxious, formidable work at graduate shows” Irish Times, 21 June 2019