Ahead of his elventh solo exhibition in a decade's time, currently showing at Galerie Forsblom in Stockholm, C-print contributor Carolina Bergquist meets up with painter Jesper Nyrén in his studio in the archipelago of Stockholm. The conversation that ensues extends from the unease of ascribing titles to works and exhibitions, relating to a wish for the reading of his art not to be rendered reductive for the viewer, to addressing his present working method which derives from his impressions of the inherent colours and light of natural sceneries.
I did some research for this interview but I couldn’t find any title for your upcoming exhibition. Do you have one?
No I don’t. And frankly, I’m considering not to come up with one either. It’s always so tricky with titles. Everybody wants you to name your works and exhibitions. But it really isn’t that easy. In some ways, it can actually be a bit limiting to give a work a title. Sometimes it tends to become so pretentious; as if you impose thoughts or ideas to the viewer.
I feel a bit guilty now since I was searching for a title to get some guidance as to what the exhibition will be about.
I totally get that but sometimes titles don’t mean anything more than the fact that it is the title of a song that I like. Of course there are some practical reasons in naming paintings, for instance the market in general wants a name to categorize it by and value it and if it’s sold then the typical buyer also wants to know what to call the painting, even if it’s called “untitled III”.
However, I rarely think that other artists' titles are pretentious. I guess it’s just that when I work, words as such are not part of the process. So to come up with a suitable word that neither limits the work of art nor is confusing to the viewer, it just doesn’t come so natural to me.
I see, maybe we’ll get back to that later on. But for now I’ll just go along with the fact that there is no name for the exhibition. So, since this is your eleventh solo exhibition in ten years, have you reflected in any way about how you’ve developed as a painter and artist during the past decade?
Wow… is it really my eleventh solo?
Well, yes. At least if you start counting from your graduation exhibition ”Landscapes” at The Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm in in 2007 until today. And I have also counted solo exhibitions at, well for instance, Det Nya Museet (”The New Museum”) in Sundbyberg.
Okay! Well it’s probably correct then. I guess it’s just that when I think of established artists, I think of them as being frequently exposed but I don’t really think about myself as an artist and painter as frequently exposed. But that sounds like a lot of solos.
Would you like to have that kind of exposure that you ascribe artists which you consider established?
No, not really. I mean, I love my job because of the time I get to spend in the studio. I know that exposure and having exhibitions also is an important a part of being an artist and a painter. But I’m not doing what I do just to be publicly exposed or to have publicity. The publicity and exhibitions and all that is, of course, a prerequisite to be able to continue to work as an artist and a painter. And to do what I love which is to create art. But I am not driven by it. In fact, I’m not really sure I even like these kinds of studio-visits that we are doing right now, mind you!
Haha, well I’m very glad that you accepted to do this interview then. You didn’t really answer the question about whether you reflect on your development as an artist?
No, I wouldn’t say I have.
Have you looked back at your previous exhibitions and at hindsight thought of how your artistry is going since?
No, not in any particular way but I have basically been doing the same thing for quite some time now.
And how would you describe that?
I guess I’d say it is non-figurative painting in which I’m focusing on colors and especially the light. It is abstract in the sense that I assuredly paint geometrical forms and right now it is paintings composed by squares och composed in squared blocks. But that is not significant in itself, it could figuratively be something completely different but I would still aim to paint the same colors and the same light and aim for the same composition of light and colors. Furthermore the source of inspiration is the scenery of nature which always offers a temporary setting, for instance a landscape with its different colors and the differences in the light, or a closer look at some moss out there. These settings don’t last.
How would you describe your creative process or working method?
I guess you could say that I make these paintings based on my impressions of nature. Before the actual creative process take part I will have spent a lot of time outdoors, taking pictures and also just looking really closely at details such as moss as I mentioned before or the cortex of a tree. Sometimes I will have been standing and basically just been staring out at a landscape or into the woods. All these impressions are sort of registered in me so that when I create, I visualize what I have seen and then I use that in the paintings. And in paintings it all comes down to obtaining the accurate color in the light that I’ve seen and keep in consistent in a composition.
Have you always created your art in this manner?
Not always, no. It started with this process when I was a student at The Royal Institute of Art, commonly known as ”Mejan”. It happened too often that I came to my studio to work but I had no idea where to start and what to do. I could say to myself; Just get started with something, but I didn’t have the faintest idea of what I would do and what it would turn out to be. By that time I had a few photos depicting parts of nature and landscapes. So I started to use these photos as models of what I was going to depict. And that’s how my process was created. I immediately noticed that it became much easier to progress in my work when I had almost a peremptory way of working. But I can imagine that this also is connected to how I am as a person. I need the structure that this way of working provides.
I see and I assume that it is the same need for a method that lies behind the process for works in the exhibitions "Folds" and "Unfold", except for scenery of nature not the being the main source of inspiration?
Yes, that is correct. However both "Folds" and "Unfold" are good examples of titles that in hindsight feel limiting in the way that the significance of the color and the lights in the paintings are sort of left out even though it is equally important there as in my paintings of landscapes and surroundings.
I see. In your ongoing process and the work with this yet untitled exhibition, how do you go about? To begin with, Dd you complete one painting at the time or are you working on several things simultaneously?
I work with several paintings simultaneously.
I assume you have your favorites among them, then?
Yes, I definitely have. I constantly keep a chart or a list of rankings on them and depending on how the painting proceeds they advance or they drop in ranking. Moreover I find it interesting that initially, I always work the least with the favorite. It’s like I already have a clear vision of what the favorite it’s going to turn into so I don’t need to pay it as much attention as the ones that are not as clear in mind.
How do you know when you have finished a painting? When is it complete?
Roughly I would say that the painting is finished when I see what I have visualized and when the color and the composition is the way I want it to be.
How often do you feel that a painting will not turn out as you thought and give up on the idea of it ever being something complete and finished?
That rarely happens to me since I am working with layers and I repeatedly paint the same block in a painting just to get it to the right color and to make it fit with the composition of the painting. Sometimes however, I don’t have the feeling that a painting is finished but I have to consider it complete. Of course, these so called unfinished paintings hold a rather high-grade of quality. These paintings tend to grow on me and in some cases, they have become a key-work for an exhibition. This is probably because something happens when a work is made public and turns into something in the eyes of the viewer. That itself may give me a new perspective on my own paintings.
Can you name any of the paintings that you have had an unfinished feeling about?
Haha, no I rather not.
Okay! You’ve been talking a lot about composition of the paintings. Do you also have your favorite parts or blocks in the paintings in the same ways as you have your favorites among them?
Oh yes, definitely. Like I’ve said, I work specifically with each individual part of a painting and I have a vision for a light and a depth that I want to obtain in each separate part. I want the viewer to see or to feel the different notions in each block of the painting. But at the same time it always has to tune in with the rest of the painting and the composition.
What exhibition gave you that feeling for the first time?
I think it was some time back in 1997 or 1998 when I was about 18 or 19 years old and I had just discovered that not only is it possible to go see art in museums, but you could also go to galleries. At that time I lived in Västerås so I used to take the train to Stockholm during weekends to go to galleries. And I saw an exhibition of abstract paintings by Ann Edholm which really was mind-blowing. It was as if it made me understand this kind of art, the abstract art, and well, the depth in non-figurative painting.
So, do you want the viewer to see what you see in your paintings or do you aim to leave things open for interpretation?
It has to be open for interpretation! I can’t leave a part of a painting when I feel that it is closed or mute because then it doesn’t mediate anything and it doesn’t communicate at all. I am very clear about what I want to do but the viewer doesn’t necessarily need to know about my method or what I aim to paint for instance. The viewer has to be able to experience the work from his or her perspective or position. In that manner the viewer finishes the painting.
It must be a tricky trade-off then, knowing when to stop painting and when to continue with another layer. It’s not as if you can press “CTRL+Z”...
No, but in a way I guess I can. At least in the fields where I use specific techniques to obtain certain feelings or impressions in a certain block, for instance I mix the color with sand to make the surface a bit undefined. And in that case I can edge down the layer to get back to where I was. That’s my ”CTRL+Z”.
So it’s established now that you aim to leave your paintings open for interpretation for the viewer and you said earlier that you don’t want to lead the viewer into certain thoughts or impose ideas to the viewer merely based on what you choose as titles. But in a certain way you do provide the viewer with some guidance in how to look at your art. I’m now referring to the exhibition ”Panorama” at Norrtälje exhibition hall from earlier this year where your own photos depicting nature were part of the exhibition.
That´s true of course. The photographs in that exhibition were part of a 36-piece work with paintings and photos side-by-side. In this work I was interested in how the photos of rocks, bark and moss had an effect on the reading of the paintings and vice versa. The patterns and the monochrome surfaces in the paintings become connected to the landscape instead of just being colors and patterns and the photos all have qualities that to me is reminiscent of painting.
I chose to include the photos also to underline the fact that the exhibition had my surrounding landscape as a point of departure. That was very important to me. So of course I am interested to some extent to communicate that. This body of work is quite a good example of this actually, because it was structured almost as an associative chain. It´s very open but still it defines its own space so to speak.
In your past exhibition "Landscape" which was the one right after your graduation exhibition, you installed a slide projector showing a video of how a prism reflects the light from the sun and its colors. And at the exhibition "Panorama" at Norrtälje Konsthall earlier this year you had photos depicting artifacts in nature among your paintings, juxtaposed. Isn’t this way of defining your art almost similiar to giving each work a title or naming a whole exhibition?
Well, like you mentioned earlier, ten years has passed. Today I find the part with the slide projector in that exhibition a bit ridiculous; it made everything else too obvious.
After the studio visit and the interview took place, Jesper decided that the title for the exhibition is Surrounding.
Jesper Nyrén's new solo exhibition is on view at Galerie Forsblom in Stockholm through December 22.
Images courtesy of Carolina Bergquist