Ferdinand and His Parrots

After deciding to become a full-time artist in 2003, I often visited Galleri Varden in Moss, one of the most prestigious galleries in the city where I lived. Big names in the Norwegian art scene exhibited there—Frans Widerberg and Odd Nerdrum—as well as those who had recently passed on—Victor Sparre, Kai Fjell, and Ferdinand Finne—artists who had influenced Norwegian art for decades.

Left: Ferdinand Finne, 1935, age 25; right: Finne's World of Leaves

I was drawn to the painters who expressed emotion through colors the way Gauguin, Van Gogh and Kandinsky had done before them. One picture in Varden's permanent exhibit section grabbed me in particular: Ferdinand Finne's "Blant Blader" (Among Leaves), showing a red parrot perched above a baby parrot. Low on funds, I asked the gallery owner if he would consider a payment plan. He agreed, and I started making monthly payments. I didn’t want to bring it home until I had paid in full. Six months later, I proudly hung it on our living room wall, feeling it symbolized my love of nature, color, and my life as an artist. Little did I know then the effect this picture would continue to have on me. For seven long years, I worked hard in my studio, and in 2010, Galleri Varden agreed to show a solo exhibit of my own. What a special moment! ​ Three years later, in 2013, two Norwegian artists from the Oslo area called and asked to visit me in my studio: Bjørg Thorhallsdottir and Svanhild Rhodin. They especially liked my gouache paintings on paper. Bjørg, a prominent printmaker, asked if I had ever considered making etchings of some of my motifs. ​ I said it seemed terribly difficult and expensive. "Yes, it is costly," she said, "but you cannot survive as an artist without offering prints. If you can save some funds, I will call my print studio in Barcelona. This is meant to be—think positive thoughts. It will work out." Another year passed by. I often thought about her words, but I didn’t have the confidence. When Bjørg contacted me and said that her printmaker, Ignasi Aguirre Ruiz, was coming to Oslo for an exhibit of his own, I didn’t hesitate to drive there to meet him. After the opening, we sat down and talked. I showed him photos of some of my work and asked if he thought I could make etchings. "Yes," he said in broken English. "Your colors are great, like Chagall!" Encouraged, I decided to make it a priority to learn from this master, who had done work for Dali, Miro, and Tapies. In October 2014, right after closing my second exhibit at Galleri Varden, I packed my bags and headed for Barcelona. Arriving at the print studio close to the Rambla, I was so nervous my legs shook. Could I really do this? I pushed the button next to the door bearing the name of the studio and heard someone say, "Hola." I gave my name and the door opened. Walking up the stairs to the second floor of the old building, I finally stopped by a large door. By it hung a framed etching. I immediately recognized the artist: Ferdinand Finne. Had he been here? Before long, I learned that Ferdinand had worked in the same studio for 30 years and produced over 300 etchings together with Ignasi.

Master printmaker Ignasi Aguirre Ruiz holding Ferdinand Finne's etching Among Leaves, 2014

The master printmaker brought out a huge folder of proofs, slamming them on a large table. One of the first in the pile was an etching of the painting hanging in my living room. It all seemed surreal. Not only was I standing in the same studio where it had been created, but I would also learn printmaking from the man he had worked with. Soon I sat and etched at the same desk used by Ferdinand.

I returned to Barcelona in 2015, and for my third trip in 2016, I decided to make a multicolor etching in honor of Ferdinand, also symbolizing my own artistic journey. The motif was clear. It would be of a single parrot, titled “Ferdinand.” ​In the three years I had worked with Ignacio, he hadn’t asked me to sign any of my etchings he kept. But this time, he did. It was a special moment for both of us.

Matisse said, “Creativity takes courage.” I am glad I dared to follow Bjørg's advice. Had I not stepped on that plane to Barcelona, I would never have met Ignasi, started with printmaking, or had the special experience with Ferdinand.

Events can occur in our lives we don’t understand at first, but later have real meaning—if we stay open and pay attention.

I have three copies of the Ferdinand etching for sale. Signed and numbered in an edition of 30. Price: 3500 NOK (425 USD) + shipping

Parrot etching, ©David Sandum

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