A conversation between Sara Walker and Fredrik Söderberg Stockholm, February 2014|
SW: One of the new works in this book and exhibition contains what I interpret as a Japanese ghost story, tell me about this and how it is intertwined with the more germanic characters in the same picture.
FS: Brutality and control – there is an uncompromising edge in parts of the Japanese culture I find fascinating, a sort of perfection and attention to seemingly absurd things – in everything from Noise to Mishima, who committed seppuku. Tsukioka Yoshitoshi was one of the masters of the woodcut genre ukiyo-e. Many of his images from the 1860s depicted extraordinarily cruel and bloody scenes – one can imagine a feudal system that completely broke down and the woodcuts became hugely popular with the public – he also illustrated many ghost stories. Yes, the "germanic characters", I have borrowed the model from Fidus, or Hugo Höppner as he was called. He was a complex character loosely linked to the German Lebensreform movement, which was part of a zeitgeist engaged in nature, against industrialism, advocating naturism and nudity, sun worship and vegetarianism. He also made illustrations for several gay magazines. it all ended in disaster, he wound up like many of his peers in the political movement that was gaining ground in germany in the 1920s. in 1937 he was forbidden to work. He was actually one of the most famous artists in Germany in the early 1900s and since then completely forgotten. His ideas were rediscovered in sunny California in the 1960s, when nudity, vegetarianism, the worship of nature again came into vogue. it's fascinating how often the boundaries between freedom and tyranny are blurred – you can't always tell the difference.
SW: I think it's interesting how your work on one level depict the idealized – they are well made and beautiful yet the grotesque and sometimes nasty and bloody is never far away.
FS: There's a duality that causes excitement and lust – the dark side of good. The conflict between these poles is important because it creates dynamics, perhaps that sounds a bit technical, but I think the same can apply to emotions as well.
SW: Your images often contain a form of provocation as you depict radical and almost forbidden characters and symbols not always known to the contemporary viewer, and you do so in very refined paintings. How much do you reflect on the viewer when you make the works? Do you sometimes try to tease or trick your contemporaries?
FS: There's a dark undercurrent in life, which is felt in art, it has always been there since the first images made by humans. One of the most-read parts of The Bible is the Book of Revelation that appears to have a lasting influence on artists and writers throughout history. Perhaps as it is a dark apocalyptic tale, there seems to be something appealing to people in that – our shadow, to express myself in a Jungian way. This book contains a fragment of a portrait of the German writer Ernst Jünger, a controversial figure in many ways, he had a duality that is interesting. He became very old and lived an active life as a writer throughout the 1900s. One can see him as a symbol of that decade in my image, an allegory. It is possible that someone will be provoked by it, he was a Titan in many ways being built from flesh and metal. Many thinkers and writers within the realm of the arts have a clear idea of what is morality and good. Personally I do not believe that morale has evolved at the same pace as technology.
The language – talking about morality, has changed during the 1900s. The viewer is obviously involved in the process of image making, but I try not to care about his or her possible expectations of my work. My paintings often consist of historical specimens and models, and it does seem that history annoys people.
As an artist, I have the right to examine the grey area, the dark undercurrents, but it would be a simplification to say that my work is just dark, it is twofold, without darkness no light.
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