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Swedish creator of iconic statue of gun tied in a knot dead at 81

In this 1992 photo, Swedish artist Carl Fredrik Reutersward smiles in front of his iconic sculpture of a revolver with a knotted barrel displayed, as it was unveiled in Malmo, Sweden.
/ TT News Agency via AP

Carl Fredrik Reutersward, one of Sweden’s best-known modern artists and the creator of the iconic statue of a revolver barrel tied in a knot, has died at the age of 81.

The artist, who was a major influence in the modern Swedish art scene, died Tuesday at a hospital in Helsingborg, southwestern Sweden, according to Thomas Millroth of the Carl Fredrik Reutersward Art Foundation, who didn’t give the cause of death.

Reutersward, who suffered a stroke in 1980, was known to have been ailing for some time.

“He was instrumental in establishing contacts with the art scene in New York where everything was happening at an important time,” said Daniel Birnbaum, director of Stockholm’s Moderna Museet.

Reutersward’s circle of friends included Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, and his works were exhibited at museums including MOMA in New York City in the 1970s.

He “was close friends with American artists of his generation but was a very European artist himself and, I think, was perceived as such by his U.S. friends,” Birnbaum said. “He was obviously better known in the world than we have understood here in Sweden.”

Born in 1934 in Stockholm, Reutersward was a poet as well as a painter and sculptor. He studied in Paris in 1951 under Fernand Leger, the French painter and sculptor widely regarded as a forerunner to pop art.

He held his first exhibition the following year in Paris but returned to Sweden to continue his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm, where he held a professorship in painting from 1965 to 1969, until moving to Switzerland. In 1974, he was awarded the position of guest professor at the Minneapolis School of Art.

Reutersward became acquainted with John Lennon and Yoko Ono in Switzerland in 1969 and was shocked by the 1980 shooting of the former Beatle.

“I was filled with bitterness and anger and immediately began to create a symbol for John Lennon and everyone else who has been a victim of such assassins,” he wrote after Lennon was shot outside his apartment in New York.

The twisted gun statue, which he called “Non Violence,” became an international symbol of peace the world over. One version of it sits outside the United Nations building in New York, with others in cities around the world, including Los Angeles, Berlin, Stockholm and Caen, France, as well as in Luxembourg.

Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom tweeted in reaction to his death: “His sculpture outside the UNHQ reminds us that peace is the only way.”

In this Feb. 26, 2013 photo, a sculpture by Carl Fredrik Reutersward, titled “knotted gun” is displayed in Cape Town, South Africa. AP file photo
In this Feb. 26, 2013 photo, a sculpture by Carl Fredrik Reutersward, titled “knotted gun” is displayed in Cape Town, South Africa. AP file photo

After his stroke, Reutersward was partially paralyzed, forcing the right-handed artist to draw with his left hand, “which led him to discover a whole new character to his art,” Birnbaum said.

In 1984, he held an exhibition at the National Museum in Stockholm called “On the other hand,” exhibiting his left-handed art works.

Reutersward is survived by his wife, Tonie Lewenhaupt, a fashion journalist and writer, and five children from previous marriages.