There is always an aspect of Strindberg’s character from the raging sociopolitical polemicist to the psychologically introspective writer that fits the prevailing spirit and intellectual climate of the times. His thoughts on morality, class, power structures and familial politics are still relevant today. The unflagging struggle for free thinking and free speech that he waged throughout his life is more important than ever in a time when censorship prevails in many countries.
Another reason for Strindberg’s popularity is his accessibility. While some older literature can feel dated, he used everyday language, and today his texts feel remarkably modern.
People are amazed by Strindberg’s versatility. He tackled most genres. Aside from being an innovator in drama and prose, he was a poet, a painter, a photographer, even a sinologist.
Few outside of Sweden know that the playwright August Strindberg had periods of intense engagement with painting and photography in the 1890s, when his literary creativity had reached a deadlock. In an essay from 1894 called "Chance in Artistic Creation," he describes the methods that he employs, speaking about his wish to "imitate nature's way of creating." This text is strangely prophetic, foreboding the automatic techniques of the 20th century. His method is to start more or less at random, trusting nature's inherent desire for form (what he calls "matter's drive towards representation") to eventually make the picture develop out of the paint, almost by itself.
His contemporaries remarked on his unique ability to construct visual experiments with words and on the images he built with them. With this aim, painting was to him a means to give form to feelings he could not express through language, whereas photography reflected a manifest interest in attempting to grasp reality directly. These two practices worked for him as a means to reveal a reality words were unable to describe.
Strindberg painted only over certain periods of his life: from 1872 to 1874, from 1892 to 1894 and for a few years after 1900. His photographic production also had three distinct stages: from 1886 to 1888, from 1890 to 1894 and from 1905 to 1907. It has often been said he resorted to painting when going through a crisis that prevented him from expressing himself by other means. The years following 1900 were more prolific as far as literature is concerned.
Strindberg's pictorial originality manifested itself for the first time during the summer 1892, which he spent alone in a cabin in Dalarö, in the Stockholm archipelago. He made a series of powerful and vigorous paintings that have few equivalents. The observation of the sea and the arid nature beyond the archipelago occupies a central place. Yet these pictures should not to be understood as natural, realistic images, but rather as personal and symbolic interpretations of what Strindberg lived through: in the atmosphere of the paintings, the situation evolves from sunny quietness to obscure chaos, as the sky and the sea seem to be about to dissolve one into the other.
When Strindberg resumed painting at the beginning of the twentieth century, he had just been through the worst crisis of his life, usually known as the Inferno crisis. After many years spent abroad, he finally settled in Stockholm.
From the early 1890s onwards, his practice of photography becomes more experimental; it borders on his research in the field of natural sciences and even his passion for the occult. Truth no longer dwells in the simple mechanical reproduction of an appearance but in a more intimate seizure of the "true". Among other experiments, Strindberg attempted to reproduce the stars in the sky by simply leaving the photographic plate under the starry sky, with neither camera nor lenses. A few years later, he developed a theory related to what he called the "psychological portrait", photographs that reveal the psychic attributes of the model, true "photographs of the soul". "I don't care for my appearance, but I want people to see my soul, and it appears in these photographs much better than in many others", he then wrote.