Mini interview in Swedish magazine ETC – about the position of horror art within the Swedish art scene. “It’s a mirror reflecting the cruelty and angst of our times and the many horror elements of being a human being ” I say.
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.
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.
I am featured in French cultural magazine Fier Panda with a new interview!
Read it HERE in French or the English version below:
I would really like you to tell us a story, if you do not mind : the one about pink in your art. I believe i remember you posting something about a disease you experienced years ago… Am I right ?
I was born with a serious case of atopic eczema and various allergies which would make my skin break out in violent rashes. My skin was always sensitive and in intense periods I would scratch myself until I was without any skin on my hands, and I had to wear bandages. This physical childhood trauma is visible in my art and I am dealing with the ‘pinkness’ of my skin and the world I can see and feel underneath it. The raw, the meat, the fleshy truth of my existence all exposed for the world to see. It still happens that I get sick and have to take surreal bath treatments at the hospital. The baths are, for some reason, colored in neon pink. I use more pink during the periods when I am sick.
But the pink color in my art has other explanations as well. I discovered my teen sexuality and had my first orgasm in a pink bed. When I think about it, everything in my childhood room was pink. I also use the color because it represents femininity to me. I am always creating artistic expressions based on my own experiences and feelings and I happen to be a female artist and it’s reflected in my palette. Even my depictions of Hell are pink and girlie. I had an art show some years ago called “My Pink Hell”.
I try to keep up with you creations and I feel like your art has encountered several stops along the years. Has your painting always been related to the bumps in your life ? Unemployement… Romance issues… Violence… Family troubles… I feel like you are the blueswoman of swedish painting (yes, I know – ‘jeeez Louise’- right?)
I am always changing and evolving both as a person and as an artist. When I change, my art changes too. I have been struggling with post trauma stress for many years and you can follow my trauma recovery in my art by looking at it in a chronological timeline. And I have gone through many psychological processes in therapy during this time and it has helped me create a very personal mythology in my art. I use a lot of symbols but for me they have a different meaning. I use upside-down crosses but to me it’s not a Satanic thing, I use the Eye of Providence, cats with eyes on the body, bodily fluids like piss, poop, drool and blood – and fireworks. All of these things are part of my personal mythology and have a deeper meaning.
My creativity (my visual art and my writing) has helped me survive many hard times. I use a lot of humor to deal with the horror, the fear and the rage. So even if I am ‘a blueswoman’ of Swedish art, I am also playing some polka melodies to have some fun with it. Playing the polka blues – yeah, that’s what I am doing! This way I am not only surviving the painful things – I am also adding humor to it so I can laugh at it. It’s such a relief. Without using humor, I would play the blues from a grave right now. For real. My art has saved my life many times. And watching Seinfeld and Frasier helps too. I need to make art and to laugh. A lot. That’s how I have survived 20 years of suffering. But I am feeling happier than ever right now. I have punched many demons in the face while dealing with them in my art. They all deserve it.
At times I haven’t been able to make art and that’s when it’s been really tough. But it only happens when I stop believing in myself. So when it happens now, I know that it’s not about my art, it’s about how I am feeling about myself.
Do you have hope you’ll ever find yourself through all the process of creating? Like your voice is singing somewhere and you’d really like to find the tune.
I am slowly on my way there. I had a big creativity blockage and got all burned out a few years ago so I have been away from the art world for a while. Now I am working on a new collection of artworks. I want this new collection of works to be bolder, more experimental and more ‘me’. More of everything! I have only just begun to explore the new me in my art. I know I have a lot to discover and I do feel like I have to learn a new language because I am moving away from my old artistic language to make room for another. It’s exciting and a little scary because I don’t know where the journey will take me – but that’s the nature of a journey. They should be a little scary because that’s when you know that you are pushing your boundaries enough to grow and flourish.
Could you please tell me a bit about your experience with meditation and how it influenced your life ? Your art ?
Meditation is a great tool to ‘clean your emotional palette’ and to find the right focus. I used to believe it was new age-ish and a only something for hippies and that’s not my style but I have found the perfect style of meditation: guided NLP meditation (Neuro Lingvistic Programming) which focuses on stress relief rather than transcendence and all that creepy out-of-body stuff. In the trauma I separated my mind from my body to be able to survive, so I don’t want to have an out-of-body experience again. I want to do the opposite – to reconnect.
The meditation has helped me stay more focused while I am working and I’m also finding more details in my ‘meditation dream state’ to add to my artistic mythology. Since I started with meditation, my art has become more airy, more spatial and ‘clean’. The expression is captured with simplicity now.
Being a Swede and a woman, how do you feel about the new state of our world ? How do you feel about : Russian politics ? American politics ? Swedish politics and the far-right wing slowly creeping in your country? (Same in France by the way…)
It is a scary time, especially for us women. I get very affected and upset by what is going on in the world. There is just so much negative energy in the world and it’s hard to feel safe. There are an increasing number of rape, sexism and fascism have moved into the White House and in Russia it is now legal to abuse women. As a survivor of domestic violence, this makes me both sad and angry. But I am dealing with these issues in my art at the moment – it will be my way of commenting on all the crap that’s happening in the world since I can’t really do anything about it in any other way. I am not a political artist but I can’t help but wanting to contribute somehow.
I know you have tried several others media than painting, do you feel you need to explore some more ? Would you like to see more people painting in 2017?
I wish people could find the courage to be themselves and to use whatever talents and strengths they have. We all have some superpower but only a few acknowledge it. Most people like to ignore, numb and hide their true nature so they can go on living in their comfort zones. I have comfort zones too but at least I know they are ‘uncomfort zones’ because you can’t grow in them and there is no way for new ideas to grow there. To me that’s creepy. I try to stay away from my comfort zones but being financially broke right now forces me to be stuck in one at the moment. As soon as I have more money I will try new things and invest money in bigger art projects. I want to make sculptures (made out of junk), I want to curate a group show and I want to buy a professional camera so I can make new photography projects. I have so much I want to do but so little money! Do I sound like that bluesman now?
You have always been a big provider of oddities on the web and I first knew you via your blog. Do you feel like we should all drink to the Web source ? Is it a corrupting or inspiring feeling ?
It’s inspiring because you can connect to the oddities like finding little pieces of your ‘home planet’. But it can be a comfort zone too, to stay in places that feels like home, instead of looking for new zones somewhere else. I like the idea that you can find every sick and twisted thing you can search for on google. It is all there. Amputee porn, cats with strap-ons, dwarfs with redneck mullets, people fucking oatmeal, fingerfucking melons and licking statues for fun. Whatever the human mind can come up with – it’s all there. It’s a cyber ghetto wonderland.
Finally, what great things are you going to accomplish in 2017?
To continue working on my new collection of artworks and perhaps write short stories. I also want to learn how to not be so scared of the good things in life. Like love, happiness and success. “If you are at the top there is only one way to go – down.” This is a very disturbing way of looking at life and I need to change it (as fuck). So I have a lot to accomplish in 2017. Wish me luck!