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"I think the way clothing and draperies are depicted in old paintings and fashion images was always something I was drawn to, and how can you not be amazed by the way Michelangelo depicts flowing fabric in marble?", says painter Marucs Appelberg, who is currently presenting a solo exhibition at Galleri Flach in Stockholm, and whose current direction aligns with his long-standing interest in avant-garde fashion and the fold both as a conceptual and literal occurence.

Marcus Appelberg, installation view, Prêt-à-porter, Galleri Flach, Stockholm, 2024

C-P: Fashion as an expression and signifier of identity appears to be a staple in the current direction of your work as a painter. Is there an early memory of fashion that you might be able to share and that you perhaps return to on occasion in your work and studio?

M.A: I can’t recall a significant moment of discovering fashion, but I know I’ve always been interested in clothing in various ways. It has always been a way to express myself, and it was often frowned upon and one of the reasons I was bullied in school. Somehow I found the strength to still be me and to dress however I wanted. I decided early on that I would not let others limit me. In the same way I’ve always been interested in art. I see both art and fashion as different ways of expressing yourself and I’ve always felt a support from home in pursuing art as a career. When I was fifteen my grandfather gave me a trip to a place of my choice. I chose Rome, because I wanted to see the paintings I had only seen in art books, especially the Sistine chapel and Pietà. I visited Rome again last summer and was reminded of this pivotal moment of being able to see all these amazing things with my grandfather as a teenager.

When it comes to fashion, I grew up with The Ark and the flamboyance of Ola Salo and then later the emo movement and Cheap Monday jeans. I’ve always been drawn to the darker side of fashion and since about fifteen years now I wear almost exclusively Rick Owens. This has of course become a part of my identity and his following is almost cult-like. 

Marcus Appelberg in the exhibiton Prêt-à-porter at Galleri Flach

C-P: You’ve stated draperies to be of particular interest for you. What draws your attention to them as a keen study?

M.A: I think the way clothing and draperies are depicted in old paintings and fashion images was always something I was drawn to, and how can you not be amazed by the way Michelangelo depicts flowing fabric in marble? It begins with something as simple as a fascination and the sheer beauty of it. Before depicting draperies from garments I painted literal draperies. They conceal what’s behind, they can both shut out and be enveloping in the same way as clothing. I’ve approached the notion of surface and what lies behind in various ways in my practice, and in the last years it’s been focused on draperies and the fold.

For some years I draped and folded fabric over stretchers as a way of expanding the painting into fabric installations, while also trying to break away from the frame. But after some time I think I missed making images that were contained within the frame and to use brushes and paint. I however think those works also developed my thoughts about the fold as concept, somewhat informed by the writings of Deleuze about the fold being a constant act of becoming. 

Marcus Appelberg, installation view, Prêt-à-porter, Galleri Flach, Stockholm, 2024

C.P: What can be shared about your current studio process, in terms of sketches, source material and whether working with photographic imagery or not; what could be said about the notion of collecting?

M.A: Right now my source material is gathered from various Renaissance paintings and runway fashion images of mainly avant-garde fashion heavy of drapery. I have always been interested in fashion that goes beyond the norm and questions what clothes can be. A collection I always refer to is Comme des Garçons' lumps and bumps collection that used various padded elements to distort the body in strange ways. It has yet to be a painting but conceptually it is what I look for in fashion.

I take pieces of different fashion images of various drapes and folds and interpret them as paintings. I also look at Renaissance paintings depicting various biblical scenes. These paintings always get the title of the original painting to sort of allude to the story of the source material. There is one such painting at Flach called Crucifixion. The other are simply called Prêt-à-porter to make you think of fashion. However, ready-to-wear is not often very conceptual, I choose images of fashion where wearability can be questioned. 

C-P: I think the conversation of the balance between the figurative painter’s absolute intent and the space afforded the viewer’s gaze is interesting. As a writer yourself, how do you deliberate on such balance when it comes to sharing and dispensing your ideas?

M.A: I tend to leave my titles open for interpretation. When it comes to writing about my work I have almost always had to write my own exhibition texts. This time the gallery wrote a text that I was very happy about. I think it captured an essence of sorts and put the work in a wider context both historically and in the exhibition. In the past I’ve often been reluctant to be too outspoken about what the work is about. I want to leave it open for various interpretations. I think writing art critique is easier because you don’t have a deep personal history with the work and therefore it’s easier to interpret the work in a way not overburden by your struggles with your own work. It’s been very rewarding to be able to write about art in this way, both because it makes you think harder about other artists' works and because it fosters a continuous work with language which I very much like. I think that it might have helped me to articulate my own work. I think my texts work the best when I am are personal and not too theoretic, but that is also because I believe my work is driven more by form than concept. I think the viewer's interpretation is as valid as my own.

Marcus Appelberg, Prêt-à-porter VI, 2024, oil on linen, 80 x 100 cm

C-P: On another note, I was thinking to ask about colour, and if you have a personal colour ”philosophy” that drives your work?

M.A: I would not call it a colour philosophy but I have different hues or pigments that I always return to. I have been drawn to various pinks for a long time. When taking inspiration from Renaissance painting there is of course a whole codex of who dresses in what color which could be a key to understanding who is depicted in the image, but I don’t necessarily think it is important for the work. In the largest work at Flach I wanted to work with purple and orange, which perhaps is a new palette for me but you sometimes have to try new things, like pushing how you treat colour or the size of the work. This work is the biggest work I’ve ever done. 

Marcus Appelberg, Prêt-à-porter IV, 2023, oil on linen, 80 x 100 cm

C-P: Lastly, what’s next for you in 2024?

M.A: I’m working on my first public commission which will be finished in 2025. I will make several reliefs that are interpretations of my paintings. Later this year I will go on a residency in Bern together with five international artists who I have an exhibition collaboration with. We did an exhibition in the Netherlands last year and will meet up to plan for the future and make some artworks together. Also, I will soon move into a studio for the first time. I’ve worked from home before so it is exciting to see how this will influence the work I do.

Ashik Zaman

Marcus Appelberg's solo exhibition Prêt-à-porter runs through May 11 at Galleri Flach.


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