In it for the long haul: Alexander Tovborg


When we gaze upon stars, we are looking hundreds, thousands, sometimes millions, of years back in time. They are one of the only things we experience in the present that really exists in the past.

Alexander Tovborg has long explored the dominance of religion in his paintings, attempting to interpret their stories and myths. He is now moving toward another universe, one that still draws upon faith and spirituality, with just as many stories to tell, but that is set in a far more distant past.

We think we understand the world that the dinosaurs inhabited because of the fossilised bones we have uncovered. We imagine these large animals living in an idealised world – a romantic past where the grass grew taller and taller. We have imbued this past with our thoughts and ascribed human traits to the animals. We think we know what they were like, even what they thought and felt. Those with long necks were calm beasts that stretched their ponderous heads to the heavens.

And the sky draws us back to religion, alluring stories that humanity turns to for truth. The myths help us explain the world and how it came to be as it is. For in the past, things were better. Religion is preferable to our everyday lives. We believe in it so we can sin, and then believe in it again. But does it make the world better? We romanticise dinosaurs in the same way we romanticise Jesus and Mary. But why? Why do we need it? Why are we drawn to the past, to dinosaurs and religion? What do they symbolise? Tovborg addresses these questions in his captivating work, which invites viewers to spontaneously fabricate their own narratives. It warns us against taking history for granted, or attributing to it what isn’t true.

His work is imbued with stories about the past, humanity, good, and evil, and animals personified with human characteristics. He shows how we give dinosaurs false traits in order to fulfil our need to imagine that the past was better. He deliberately affords the animals sensitive human characteristics to expose this tendency, even though the idea is both freeing and seductive.

In this solo exhibition, Alexander Tovborg (b. 1983) presents a series of new monumental paintings based on romanticised notions and depictions of dinosaurs from the 1800s. Inspired by the English Pre-Raphaelite movement and its ideals of beauty, Tovborg portrays the large animal as a mythological creature in a colorful and stylised manner. Inserted in symbolic landscape scenarios, the dinosaur is ascribed archetypal human traits and emotions that reveal the extent to which our understanding of the prehistoric species remains a product of our culture rather than of scientific facts. By both visualising and adding new layers to existing myths, the exhibition more generally examines the nature of myth.

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