What I learned after living three months with a living legend

Bruno Passos spent a quarter in Norway going nuts with the greatest classic painter alive

We're back, my friends, after three long months, unfurling the bastion of knowledge in the pillars of the mockery. This time, to narrate a once in a lifetime experience that took place in the confines of Norway.

So, let's go!

A lot of you know I'm a graduated stylist and manage a small shirt brand. And you also know I dropped everything to become a full-time painter. My wife (and partner) took care of everything and now she manages the company all by herself. now all I had to do was to paint like there was no tomorrow.

And that's what I did.

Some time ago, while I was doing a research about rembrandt, I found some sensational paintings about this guy called Odd Nerdrum. I was blown away and mourned the fact that I didn't live in the same age as this great masters, until I found out that Nerdrum was not only alive, but he still opened his home, in Norway, to take in some students that he selected from several parts of the world!

All I had to do was to send a letter with pictures of three of my works, explaining what my objective was while an artist.

Here you can see Nerdrum' lack of talent

Advancing on the research, I found out he was one of the greatest artists in the world and the greatest classic painter alive, with his works spread throughout some of the best museums in the planet! I sent the letter and the pictures and waited, just like you wait for something you kind of know won’t happen.

The surprise

A month later, four thirty in the morning, I receive an e-mail from and unknown address:

“Hi, bruno. I received your letter. could you tell a little bit more about yourself?


Turid is Nerdrum's wife, and the person responsible for the admitions. I'm not a child anymore, so my celebration was pretty moderate.

At six in the morning, I finish the message and I give a call to Paulo, my translator friend (my english is shameful) and, before lunch, with the power of friendship, I sent the e-mail. Follow the longest five hours of my life, 'til the inbox starts beeping:

“Ok, Bruno. You can come in January. See you soon.”

That's what I call and objetvie person. Man, oh, man! My hands were all sweaty. I kiss the wife. Kill time by the window. Call my dad, my mom, my sister, Oprah. I have dinner, almost throw up. Call my dad, my mom, my sister. Wash the dishes. Kiss the wife. Go to bed. Get up. Spend the rest of the night reading X-Men.

I was going to Norway.

Arriving at my new home

After an 18 hour trip that included plain/train/car, I arrive at Stavern, a small town with population of only five thousand people, south of Norway, the “warm” part of the country. As I leave the train, I gaze upon the whitest of nights. Snow is all around me, the first time I've ever seen snow. I was about to get really emotional, but a sneeze didn’t let me. 

Adam, one of the students picked me up by car. He's an american is his thirties, long hair, shaved beard, looks like an old-school vampire (kind of like Interview with the Vampire). We get in the car without saying much, he turned the radio on and we listened to a very weird pop song that sounded like the soundtrack from some videogame from the nineties, and I begin to realize that nothing there would be ordinary. We left town through a small road and soon we get to a dirt road. It would have been pitch black, if it wasn’t for the headlights. We stoped in the middle of nowhere. Metal gates slowly started to open to a white winderness and two enormous red houses appear on the horizon. We get out of the car and the only thing that distracts me from the piercing cold is the sound of waves coming from somewhere nearby. I grabbed my gear and entered the first big house. 

Suddenly, at the door, I get a warm “hello” from a russian woman, Ksenia, 22 years old, graduated with honour from Oxford, showing off her long black hair and swift eyes. She welcomes me to the place and smiles when I say “Brazil”, and, as fast as she appeared, she vanishes. Adam, the old school pop vampire, shows me to a small and cozy room, and leaves. Everything there is made out of wood, except for the heater by the door, that would become one of the loves of my life. I leave my things in the room and by then I couldn't control myself anymore: “where's Nerdrum?”.

“He's upstairs, paiting”, answers the vampire. I was nervous and excited. Adam told me the same thing happened to him and that it was better just to do it like a band-aid and pull it right off. I took the advice, went up the wooden steps, one after the other, and I sense the smell of linseed oil. I entered a huge bright hall and far back was a tall man, wavy yellow-white hair.

“Welcome, bruno!”

Holly, shit, the dude knows my name. I drown him on my handshake and sit in silence two chairs away. I watch a quick conversation and he tells a joke about painting heads. the two laugh and, noticing my couriousness, he asks:

— What's the matter?

— Nothing, I'm sorry. I just didn't pictured you like this.

My cheeks become warm.

— Like what? Laughing?

— Yeah. Laughing.

— I had to put on a serious face. Frowned and important.

— That's what I Thougt.

— Sorry to disappoint you.

A weird and funny conversation about horrible paintings of heads follows. Without realizing, I was receiving my first lesson and it had nothing to do with painting: the professional status acquired through technical capacity does not migrate to other spheres.

Socially, Nerdrum insisted in being treated the same way he treated others. Being a painting genious didn't make him less human or less accessible, on the contrary, he seemed fascinated to talk to any of us. It was almost eleven o'clock when he said farewell to everyone and went to the house in front. With my head spinning, I'd forgotten how tired and hungry I was, until I smelled a juicy stew that conducted me straight to the kitchen. At the edge of the old wooden table I saw a red-haired girl, Rachel. She greeted me with the best of welcomes: “Have you had dinner?”

We ate while talking about the snow. Happy and full, I say goodnight and go to my room. Later I would find out that the red girl was not only an amazing cook, but also one of the best students of Florence Academy (one of the best painting academies in the world).

And there I was, laid down in a bedroom in hogwarts. And before I could think of something deep and poetic, I fell asleep.

Day to day with the master

I woke up. Eyes dried because of the heater, I dragged to the kitchen and did a hemodialysis with coffee. Everyone was awake when Turid greeted all with a loud “good morning”. Odd Nerdrum's wife is a big beautiful woman (and a great painter too), with a distinct and serious face. she asked me if I had settled and, after my positive reply, she left, no smiles. I understood. They were real life vikings. 

It was almost nine am when I heard a sound bang. “Must be Odd or one of his children” – Said the vampire, smoothly.

“Hi! I am Ode, the master's son!”. Everyone laughed. I stood my hand without fully understanding the joke. He didn't seem older than twenty, tall with pink cheeks. He wistled while steeling some coffee. Another bang (vikings love to duel with their doors), and this time was Nerdrum. No “good morning“ in the kitchen. We could hear his steps going up the stars to his enormous studio on the second floor. And it was there that I noted a second ingredient of a living legend. With over seventy years old, that big man, who had accomplished everything and that had worked until ten o’clock the previous evening, was the first to start painting in the morning.

I saw that a huge part of his talent had a name: effort.

The routine

The bigger house, where I slept, was the home of the apprentices. It had bedrooms, a giant kitchen and two enormous studios where we spent most of our day. A lot of ex-pupils droped by for a brief visit from time to time. At nine, everyone was awake, which made the breakfast table look like a U.N. meeting: Russia, Iran, Norway, Greece, Brazil and, depending on the time of the year, lots of other countries.

At ten in the morning, everyone was at their easel, paiting whatever they wanted. There was no rule, suggestion or theme. In fact, the styles were pretty different from one another. The only thing we had in common was the seriousness and the passion for the craft. Nerdrum didn't give directions or sugestions, or even tried to “school” us. He just expected the best everyone could give and, instead of directing everyone, he gave us confidence and autonomy, two characteristics needed for any succesfull initiavtive.

Contrary to what I had imagined, serious discussions were always fun and frequent. Philosophy and politics were never off the board. Paiting usually was mentioned if it was linked to these subjects. It's interesting to notice that art is a consequence, not the cause.

Weeks passed by and everyone became closer, which made the conversations even more stimulating and the information was exchanged without any restraints. When doubts about certain technical aspects emerged, I didn't hesitate and appealed to the old master, who delivered all the secrets without cerymony. It was amazing to see how all the knowledge was shared, but you had to ask the right questions, and that says a lot.

I began to realize that the difficult part wasn't to obtain the answers, but to ask the right questions.

As if seeing all those paintings that got me really touched my heart wasn't enough, being able to share the daily routine with Odd Nerdrum was an unique experience. He was the first person I met who I couldn't anticipate any attitude or thought. When I thought he was going to tease someone, he was gentle. When i thought he was going to laugh, his eyes got teary, and even when I expected him to say something surprising, he said something i had already agreed with. It was amazing to talk to someone and not being capable to make any kind of pre-judgement because cheating wasn't an option. I couldn't predict which of my answers would put me in a better situation, in other words, all I had left was to be honest. When that happens, you realize your questions will be more sincere and the answers more enlightned if your focus isn’t the social status that the questions put you in.

And it didn't stop there. In a three meter (canvas), Nerdrum could paint the most beautiful face, the best part of the painting. But if that face didn't speak correctly with other elements, it disappeared, it would be completely scratched of the painting to give room to another face, in a different angle. And we got startled everytime that happened (which was quite a lot!) our surprise was even bigger when we saw emerge something even more beautiful, that made everything pottentialy more harmonious. he called that part of the process of “kill your darlings” and, thinking about it, I realized that had everything to do with a famous einstein quote:

“I must be willing to give up what I am in order to become what I will be.”

It was the theory applied to real life and the best part is that it worked!

The first painting I finished while I was there


After painting every single day for two months, Adam, Ksenia and myself decided to stroll through Oslo. The museum there was fantastic and to intersect our perceptions about a certain work was a mix of surprise and completeness. It seemed that it was only possible to fully understand a masterpiece when I listened to a different point of view.

It was easy to understand and to enjoy what I already liked, but when I saw beauty in the imperfections, then everything became sublime.

Another lesson by much, at the musem

To finish our tour, we went to the Vigeland Park. I could write a lot about this part, but I'll just leave my compliments to the mayor that was bold enough to support such crazy and fascinating sculptor as Vigeland.

What would a traditional orthodox family say?
And the church?
This kind of art instigates people to bad things and corrupts the country
Yeap. Seeing this I’m certain norway is a corrupt country that didn’t work out

It was time to go

All in all, it was three months (february/march/april/2016) paiting everyday, except for the day we spent in Oslo. Two paitings were finished and two more got started, a lot of canned tuna was eaten and an incredible amount of experience was obtained (and it's still being assimilated).

Turid surprised me when she suggested that we should have a small farewell dinner. That tough viking of peculiar humor had become very dear to me, and after the fish she prepared that night, I think it's safe to say she felt the same way. Adam, the dj-oldschool- pop vampire (everytime I mention him, I have to add something to his list of talents) had left the week before, taking with him four amazing paitings, filled with light and loose brushtrokes.

Rachel, the red head from Florensce, was quite happy with herself. She'd painted a flower that looked more full of life then its model and, in her spair time, she'd built a fabulous garden of rocks(!!!) in front of the house. Ksenia, the russian girl from London, even though she was young, her disposition to paint beat us all and she went into the long hours of the night. She had been creating an honest and raw self-portrait, like a great daumier.

In only three months, it was clear to see how we had grown exponentialy. The conversations about kant were so natural as the ones about salad, the technical advices were more valuable than all the books I'd read. It was only a quarter, but the days certainly passed by in canine chronology (where 1 is 4).

Saying goodbye to an old master

I woke up early to catch the train and, while I was packing my things, I heard the usual viking door slam and waited for the subsequential creacking of the steps. But nothing happened. I left the room to see what was going on and he was in the kitchen: “Coffee's ready? you're leaving today, right?”. We didn't talk about anything too deep and profound, just about some giant shrimps from island. I went to my room right after to grab my things and he went to his studio to paint. Before leaving, a quick shake of hands. I reached out my arm, he got up and gave me a hug. Surprised, I still had time to say I was going to miss him. “Me too. This is a special place and I don't like farewells”.

I got in the car heading my new destiny, happy to have met and idle and felt a little pretencious of calling him a friend. Then I remember Spinoza, who said that happines was the increase in the potency of living. If he's right, then there's no doubt, I'm a V8 fully charged.


O retrato que fiz de Adam, o vampiro
Portrait I painted of Adam, the vampire




Working out!


This one had a good beginning, but it ended up in the garbage. Learning to let go


Time to do back!

And, friend of mine, I bet that when you read the title: “What I learned after living three months with a living legend” you were expecting something surreal, crazy and excentric.

Well, as you've just seen for yourself, legends can be shocking at first sight, but what really differs them from other people is the day to day, the full devotion to their life purpose, whithout never hesitating, whithout backing down, not even to take a boost.

As usual, I hope you found this useful, or at least, fun!

Thanks a lot, Odd, Turid, Bork, Ode, Myndin and Aftur. I’m really happy and proud to say we’ll meet again next year.

Time for product placement! My most sincere thanks to my sponsors here in Brazil, that made this journey possible. Sony, with their awesome z5, which allowed me to take incredible pictures in the best quality possible, and Timberland clothing, that saved me from freezing there at the edge of the world. You guys are fucking great! We’ll be together soon in the next text: the frozen adventure.*

* This article has been originally published in portuguese by PapodeHomem and was later translated to English by Paulo Cecconi.

** This is the first PapodeHomem translated article. Thank you, Bruno!

publicado em 30 de Maio de 2016, 15:05
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Bruno Passos

Pintor. Ama livros, filmes, sol e bacon. Planeja virar um grande artista assim que tiver um quintal. Dá para fuçar no Instagram dele para mais informações.

Puxe uma cadeira e comente, a casa é sua. Cultivamos diálogos não-violentos, significativos e bem humorados há mais de dez anos. Para saber como fazemos, leianossa política de comentários.

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