Bright nights and carnelian dreams
We meet up with artist couple Jenny Carlsson and Kristoffer Grip who after graduating from Umeå Academy of Fine Arts up in the north of Sweden, and by way of working in Stockholm for some years, are currently in the midst of moving down south. "A desire to be closer to nature and to find a different way to live and work as artists, to become more self-sufficient", they say about the relocation.
C-P: Hi Jenny and Kristoffer. With Covid-19 still going on, can you identify anything positive that has come out of this crazy situation?
J.C: My plans have been very affected on a practical level, just like it has for most people. I had lectures and shows planned that either got cancelled or postponed. My Swedish gallery closed down which was very unexpected and sad. On a personal level, it's become clear what priorities we make and all the things that are taken for granted. There's definitely something that can be learnt from all of this, but needless to say, it's horrible with all the people who have passed.
K.G: This has indeed been crazy times. I had a lot of things planned that I really looked forward to and suddenly everything got wiped away. Sad but not in any way comparable to being lethally sick of course. If trying to pinpoint something positive, there's a strange thrill in the seriousness of the situation, how the NOW becomes very present. Time flows both very slowly and very fast, and all the things that seem so crucial in everyday life suddenly aren't.
C-P: Jenny, in your case, you were scheduled for a solo exhibition at Kulturcentrum Ronneby Konsthall which would mark your biggest to date. Like most events, it’s been postponed until later. Could you share with us some ideas for the show?
J.C: Kulturcentrum Ronneby Konsthall has a very distinctive exhibition space. It's over 1000 square metres with the ceiling held up by a mass of white wooden pillars, like a forest, and this thrilled the imagination. The exhibition titled “Nära marken” has been postponed to November and the paintings that I'll be showing are charged with different energies relating to the elements and the seasons. The centerpiece is a 6 meters wide painting that captures the cycles of nature.
C-P: On the note of Ronneby, you guys are in the process of moving down south to Blekinge after some years in Stockholm. What’s prompted this decision?
J.C: A desire to be closer to nature and to find a different way to live and work as artists, to become more self-sufficient in a way. A mutual longing to feel smells and experience the voices of nature.
K.G: To make everything more contained and enhance what's important, to get closer to the elements, and to have more space and be able to build a studio in a barn.
C-P: You guys met while students at Umeå Academy of Fine Arts. How did you find your time there? You notably had some very prominent professors including Ann Edholm who at the time seemed so supportive of her students, even today some years down the line.
J.C: It was wonderful. The city, as well as the school itself, was really intimate. The winters are almost totally dark so you start to love the cold warmth of fluorescent lights. The school was like a big ship anchored in the snow located by the river where you had unlimited time to work, have parties and discuss art with fellow students. Ann Edholm was a very important teacher for many of us. She came to the school with an open outlook on art in general and was particularly influential for the painting section of the education. She's still very inspiring as an artist and a good friend and colleague.
K.G: Getting accepted to Umeå was the best that could have happened to me. I was very reluctant to leave Stockholm where I had my band and lived. I thought I was in the center of it all. Being forced to decide what mattered most, the education or the city, was an important lesson. The first thing I learned was that there is no center of it all, everything happens everywhere, and Umeå is such a vibrant and open place. The school was very focused on the personal development of the individual, whereas the dark winters and the isolation from the art world made us a very tight-knit community, a great space ship to sail on.
C-P: Kristoffer, given your background as a musician and that you even enrolled in a MFA program at DOCH in Stockholm (but later transferred back to Umeå), would you say that your background as a performer on stage is reflected in any shape, in your current practice?
K.G: Very much so, I was the singer and writer of a band called Agent Side Grinder for more than ten years.
This of course has had a huge impact on my artistic development, the experience of touring and especially of losing oneself to the stage has been crucial. That moment of cathartic transformation is something that I search for in everything I do, my preoccupation with the human figure and its representation definitely
comes from there. This is also what I worked with during my time at DOCH. It was great to change setting to shake things up for a while and to merge the stage with the studio. In the painting process the energy is charged in a different way. The direct response from the audience isn't there but you get something else instead, leading deeper into the thick of things.
C-P: Jenny, the story of how you got discovered by Galerie Forsblom is one I’ve retold several times while working at the gallery. Although a Swedish artist, your collaboration with the gallery started in Helsinki.
The decision to close down the Stockholm space was most unexpected. Very sad, not just for us who were directly affected but for the local art scene at large. Would you like to share with us some words about your rapport with working with the gallery?
J.G: I had my master graduation show in the late spring of 2013. A man that later turned out to be Frej Forsblom (Kaj Forsblom’s son) stopped by to see an exhibition at Bildmuséet. He sent me an email the following day asking if I wanted to do a show in the studio space of Galerie Forsblom in Helsinki. This in turn led to working with the gallery, with several more shows in Helsinki and Stockholm to follow. I've worked with the gallery for quite some time now and am very happy with the collaboration. You get to know each other over the years, it's a mutual rapport of trust. The gallery spaces in both cities are so beautiful and spacious and that challenges you to take new steps with every exhibition. It's been great to have a gallery in both cities. I will really miss the Stockholm venue and its wonderful staff, so professional and caring. I loved being able to pop by on events or to just say hi!
C-P: In a city where the studio situation for artists is a mess to say the least, you guys have been sharing a wonderful and spacious studio in Hökarängen. Tell us a little about a working day in the studio.
J.C: The day starts when we close the door.
K.G: We've been there for almost ten years so it's like a second home for us. It's a cellar space with mostly no direct sunlight, but being used to the fluorescent light of the Umeå winters, we don't mind. I know a lot of people would find it hard to share work space with their partner but we are so used to working next to each other. Maybe because we met at school. Both of us work in a very disciplined fashion, regular work hours with early mornings and coffee breaks. The studio is the nave of our life and everything we do relating to work is ultimately about getting to work in the studio.
C-P: You both have very distinctive artistic practices.
Jenny, when I think of your work, “wild” and “ferocious” spring to mind. I love your boldness in terms of mixing colors. In your hands, disparate colors just blend so beautifully. Run me through your working process a little.
J.C: It starts with an image in my head, a meeting of color, the fall of rain, the wind that shakes the grass of yesteryears, the dirt that sucks your shoes into the ground. I charge myself and when prepared I start to paint with no breaks until the whole painting is set. From then on, I open the door to the world and close it. The next day I return to the painting. At this stage I spend just as much time looking as actually painting. It goes on like this for days, weeks and maybe months until it's finally finished. Sometimes everything goes just as planned but more often it is a struggle, a battle even. It's about balance and to listen and see the things that happens in the process.
C-P: Kristoffer, I find that your work sits on its own thematically among a younger generation of painters. Where does your interest in mythology, theology and the occult stem from?
K.G: I've always been very fascinated by fiction and myth and how we are drawn to the sacred and unknown. Religion is full of attempts to deal with this desire and for me it has been a real gamechanger to take that seriously; a rabbit hole that just leads deeper and deeper into something both very familiar and very weird. The esoteric tradition is just another side of that coin, a more direct and raw approach to the same questions that religion tries to answer with dogma and morality, and science with facts. Even Isaac Newton was an accomplished occultist and never saw a division there. It's a kind of protoscience that goes down to our most basic curiosity, but it’s also wild and the forms can be distracting. Hence it's important to remember what you search for. I work specifically with effigies, alter-egos and mythical figures. I find it interesting how we create our gods and what desire they're supposed to fulfill, also how fundamental it is to drift into someone else, into dreams, literature and everyday life. We need our angels and demons, and sometimes just a perfect profile picture or a character in a TV show slightly more miserable than ourselves.
C-P: Kristoffer, last year you presented a solo show at Alta Art Space in Malmö where you exhibited a suite of red paintings. I didn’t get to see the show in person, but it looked amazing. What can you tell us about that work?
K.G: Alta is such a cool place that really encourages experimentation. In my show “Carnelian Dream ”the leading role was played by the red foundation color that I use which is also the traditional foundation color in Icon paintings. I wanted my images to take place in that first layer of the painting, where the membrane towards the fantastical is thinnest. The installation took the form of a tree turned upside down. It's inspired by the Sephiroth tree in the Jewish Kabbalah which grows down into reality from the immaterial realm, its roots reaching upwards to the celestial spheres. It's also a map of the world, and a body of its own. As my paintings drift in a liminal state between this reality and something else, this figure of different grades of materialization was very applicable.
C-P: Finally, what might be some of the other artistries that have inspired and informed your own?
J.C: I really like Anselm Kiefer and Joan Mitchell.
K.G: I have always been more inspired by musicians than by visual artists, maybe because they are more like characters. Alan Vega of the band Suicide is my all-time hero here. I opened for them with my band in 2010 -I barely dared to say a word.
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