Today my interview in the French online magazine Konbini was published – beautifully written and with brilliant questions by Alice Gautreau. You can read it in French here and the English translation below:
First, can you tell me your age and location:I am 38 years old and I live and work in Norrköping – a middle sized city on the east coast of Sweden. I am not that social and I feel like an outsider here, so I could basically be located anywhere in the world or in outer space for that matter – because I am mostly isolated and working in my studio, so I am not that integrated in society. The art genres I belong to are not very common in Sweden so I am definitely a ‘strange bird’ in the art world here.
How would you define or describe your art?
I usually try not to describe it but if I have to, I would call it “primitive-expressive surrealism”. Some people label my style as ‘lowbrow’, others call it ‘horror art’ but I think my art has more dimensions to it than that. I would describe it as very personal, intimate and raw. I am always looking for balance between dark and light, horror and humor, beauty and disgust, dream and nightmare, shame and lust, reality and fantasy. What defines my art is how I capture raw emotions without holding anything back – but never without elements that gives it a tension, otherwise it would look quite one dimensional.
What is or what are the medium(s) you use?
I am working with many different creative expressions (visual art, writing, photography) – but mostly with digital art and painting. My recent work is mostly digital. I have been developing my own technique in PhotoShop for more than 10 years and it allows me to “paint with images” instead of traditional paint. However, I have not abandoned painting, it is still a passion, but I find complete artistic freedom in the digital expression since it is a such a flexible and direct media.
What are your influences?
I am inspired by many things, many artistic expressions and styles – outsider art, primitive art, the surrealists such as Frida Kahlo and Henri Magritte, by Disney and pop culture, by movie directors such as David Lynch, Ingmar Bergman, Tim Burton and Alfred Hitchcock and photographers like Roger Ballen and Cindy Sherman. I love folk art – especially Mexican folk art and their votive paintings (prayer paintings) and American Colonial Folk art portraits and I think my style is influenced by the simple and direct expressions of amateur painters. I love everything that feels genuine and honest and I hope that my art reflects that as well.
Which subjects inspire you the most? Why?
I am working with subjects that are found in the human soul, psyche and heart – like pain (emotional and physical), lust, shame, fear, rage, self-protection, longing and disgust. I think I love the intimacy between people, intimacy in the sense that there are no barriers or walls to hide the real emotions, the naked truth about our inner core. Our private and secret hearts within our beating hearts. I am inspired by the way we suppress important emotions and replace them with masks and attitudes that are far from who we really are. We are all honest with ourselves as children but somewhere along the way, we start to mask and hide ourselves and many people lose connection to their ‘inner child’. I have lost the connection to myself many times, but I am always struggling to make my inner child stay alive. That child is the real me and will always be so even if my skin is old and wrinkled. This is also visible in my art. I call them “core dolls” – children of our souls.
Who are the actual artists that seem close to your work?
I try not to compare my style with other artists, I am self-taught and I have my own personal mythology so it feels strange for me to look for artists who are like me because it is such a personal thing.
Who are the actual artists that impress you?
When it comes to painters, I look up to American art brut artist Gregory Jacobsen. I love the way he uses bright or pastel colors even if the subjects in his paintings are grotesque or gross. I am impressed by that juxtaposition between beauty and the repulsive. I am also impressed by the early renaissance painters, Like Pieter Brueghel and Hieronymus Bosch and the way they illustrate human madness and a multi layered psychological chaos – which is both enchanting and creepy. Frida Kahlo impresses me in the way she used her pain and vulnerability in her art and made into her strength and beauty. I am impressed by Lars Von Trier and the way he uses his movies to illustrate his own periods of depression. I guess what impresses me most about other artists is an honest approach to expose other dimensions of life than the flattering and perfect illusion that most people prefer to consume. I love artists who deal with vulnerability in their work and being absolutely unapologetic about it – there is no shame in the way vulnerability is exposed as both fragile and raw.
Can you tell us about your main series?
I started making dark artistic expressions during a time of deep depression after a trauma in 2006 and if you follow the development since then, in a chronological order, you can see the healing process and how I am slowly leaving the darkness behind. I am currently working on two new collections of works – one about finding a sense of home (in myself, in the world, in life in general – and in love), hence all the houses in my latest works, and another about destroying distorted self-images. I use my Lolita demons as a symbol for those destructive self-images and in this body of work, I am killing her to make room for a new self-image. That is why the collection is called “Post Mortem Lolita”. My Lolita demons demonstrate dark sexual themes like humiliation, shame and pain, but also rage and self-protection. They have been forced into a submissive position but are now being loud and dominant about their feelings and wounds. They are now demanding space and attention instead of accepting rejection and humiliation. I guess it is also a way to find a sense of ‘home’ – to be home in a loud voice that speaks up instead of being neglected and gagged.
Did you study art or something else? Where?
No, I am self taught in every creative area (painting, digital art, writing, photography). I learn by studying the works of other artists and by learning by making mistakes and finding new approaches to the media I am working with, be it painting, making collages or working in PhotoShop. My method is basically learning by trial and errors.
Does drawing/painting have therapeutic or cathartic virtues on you?
Oh yes, absolutely. My art and my creativity has saved my life many times. It is the way my soul is breathing.
What drives you to create?
To express myself in a way that feels absolutely true to my inner voice – to me that is a spiritual freedom. Many times in my life, I have been forced to be something I am not in order to fit into this society, into social contexts or to fit other people’s expectations of who I should or could be for their benefit – especially as a woman. I am constantly struggling to keep the connection to myself intact, because it is so easy to lose it to the mainstream, pre-made ideas of how life should be lived, how a woman should behave or should not behave etc. That is why I am trying not to watch TV, read magazines or learn about trends. I want to create my own world where I feel free to be myself without being ‘contaminated’ by trends or preconceived ideas of how I ought to act or feel about myself or my life (and Death).
Do you feel like your art is a fruit of our time and society? Why?
Yes, because I am dealing with reactions to what is expected of me and I think those expectations are products of these times and the way society is centered around the wrong things (money, power and conformity). Although, I am happy I didn’t live in past times or in societies which are even more strict and heartless. I am grateful for living in a time and place where I am free to explore alternative ways of looking at life, myself and the world without the possibility of being censored – or killed, for having an open and private perspective on things. I could not imagine living in such a society, I would probably not survive in such a place.
What is the message about your art, if any?
The message in my art is to be true to our inner voice. To ‘face our demons’ and try to make friends with them instead of hiding them or to let them rule our lives. If we try to hide our demons, they will haunt us in the most excruciating way and if we let them control our lives, we will never be free. Our demons can’t leave our spirit, they are part of us, they are indestructible. But they can destroy us. That is why it’s better to make peace with them, to get to know them and give them room to exist. I try to have fun with them. To give them a party hat and make them look cute so I can bare sharing my life with them!
Could you tell us about your relationship with skin? I mean, skin seems to be an important subject in your work: you mistreat it, often paint it damaged, bloated, with sores and scars.
Ever since childhood I’ve had a serious case of eczema and in periods of stress or anxiety, I tend to break out with horrible rashes and hives. My childhood was filled with periods of physical pain and shame – and I think that has shaped my personal mythology a lot. I use a lot of polka dots, melting or rotting flesh, exposed nerves and scars in my art – all which are linked to my childhood trauma of being ill with eczema. But there is also another dimension to the naked and raw skin in my work – I am looking for the world underneath our skin, our inner world. The metaphysical world. Then, the skin is a barrier that I have to break through in order to go deeper.
Do you fully make a living from your art?
At times yes, but it is very difficult for an artist to be able to survive only on the creative expressions. I got burned out a few years ago and got sick and couldn’t work at all, then you have to look for other types of income. I was creatively blocked for many years and I totally lost my artistic voice. It was during a difficult time in my life where I stopped believing in myself. It has taken me many years to find my way back to my creativity. I am dealing with this in my new collection about finding a place to call home.
How did your career take off?
When I was invited to be part of the European Lowbrow art movement 10 years ago, I finally found an artistic context that felt like home to me. Being part of an underground art genre gave my art a playground where it suddenly made more sense. I felt appreciated and loved by an audience that could connect and identity with my inner Universe. It meant so much to me, it still does. That was when my career took off and I got a lot of attention, but here in Sweden and abroad. I feel very grateful for the way I got more successful – it was through the love and acceptance of the audience.
Do you have upcoming shows or publications?
The two collections of works I am currently working on will be my comeback as an artist, after the years of not being creative or active as an artist. It will be very powerful. I can’t wait to get the new stuff out there in new art show for the world to see – where it belongs.