Although we are fanatic supporters of art in the Raleigh/Durham area, the Glory Tree Herald also desires to bring international influence to our readers. We have been lucky to have found many wonderful artists abroad through our connections in social media and are always thankful for those who reach out to us. This month we are excited to introduce you to Filippa Levemark, an up-and-coming modern artist from Sweden.
When I discovered Filippa’s talent, I was captivated. Her work is political, yet aerial. Her theme of portraying dark, often metallic objects in contrast to natural images draws its roots from the very origination of modernism and modern art. She continues the historical controversies of the Industrial Revolution through portrayals that cause the viewer to meditate on their position between the natural world and a world of business and machinery.
Filippa has already celebrated some success being placed in Skövde Art Museum and completing a recent showing at the Experimental House at Art Round in Hjo. I am hoping she makes the leap across the pond to the States sooner than later. Sure, her prints are fabulous and affordable, but her large canvas pieces must be stunning in person. I can not wait to experience them.
GTH: Tell us about the art scene in Sweden. Is there something unique that establishes you as a Swedish artist or do you think your art form is universal? Who has inspired you in your talent?
FL: Actually, I’m half Swedish and half Canadian. I’d love to have a universal art form, what does a universal art form consist of? I do paint a lot of ravens and magpies; they are quite visible in Swedish nature so I guess you can connect the dots there? Also Gothenburg has these huge industrial parts and harbours. There is quite some street art going on here as well so that goes into it too, I think. What I like about Sweden is our deep forests. Which is good, since I think 95% of Sweden is covered by forest. I have been going to this festival for a couple of summers. It’s a 10-hour drive from Gothenburg, and the only thing you see the entire drive out the windows are pine trees.
GTH: What festival is this?
It is a festival called Urkult, set up in Näsåker, outside of Sollefteå. (www.urkult.se)
GTH: In your most recent collection, you feature a series of birds paired with mechanical elements: a couple of owls with a camera, a few birds perched on drainpipes, etc. Are you attempting to communicate a particular message regarding the dichotomy of machinery and nature or is this a coincidence? Why have you chosen birds for this collection?
FL: Yes, this is something I have kind of obsessed about for a year now, haha. No, I don’t know. I guess I always look for contrasts when I work. If something is very abstract I like to pair it with something very real; if something is fragile I think it needs something stable. I guess the same goes for something “natural” together with something human-made; something alive and something dead. If something is too obvious in a picture I think I lose interest in it, so yes I guess I always look for a twist: a contrast or something that makes the viewer react at a closer look. Birds are very easy to place in an abstract background since they can fly. Also birds hold something mysteriously intelligent in their eyes.
GTH: Your human portraits are absolutely stunning. What is the most difficult part of the human body to replicate? Have you attempted a self-portrait?
FL: Thank you so much, so cool that you like them! Oh I don’t know, I do put all my energy in the eyes and face, so maybe it is because it’s where we look when we look at a portrait or maybe it is because it’s also the hardest part to paint? Also hands are very fun to paint, so they would be challenging as well. I love painting details, but I am bored painting larger parts such as legs or big plain areas of clothes, haha. I haven’t thought of it before but maybe it is because details provide more of a challenge and concentration because they are more difficult to paint?
I think I’ve made more portraits of myself than I’ve made of others. Actually I am tired of painting myself, but when I’m in my studio it’s easy to use myself as a model since I am, you know, there, obviously. I try to take photo sessions a lot with other people so I have photos to work from when I’m in the studio, but sometimes I get an idea and I want to do it right then and there and the only one who is available is myself. Actually that’s not entirely true, my studio roommates are here as well, quite often…I should have to ask them to model for me now!
GTH: What was the first art show you participated in? What was the first piece of art you sold? And was there a sense of accomplishment when you first exchanged art for monetary gain?
FL: I studied for a year in a Swedish folkhögskola (like an art college), where I was chosen among my classmates (with 2 more from my class) to participate in a local gallery show in Jönköping, so that was the first time I exhibited anything. It was 2010–I think. The first piece I sold was the same year, although on my first solo show was out in a gallery on an organic farm, haha. It was of a woman meditating. I actually felt a bit sad selling it I remember; really happy that somebody liked it, but sad that I had to let go of something so personal. I’ve become better at this today, I hope. I only have this relationship with my favourite paintings now or possibly the most recently painted ones, haha, does that sound weird? I believe there is always a sense of accomplishment whenever someone wants to buy a painting of mine. I mean people wouldn’t buy something if they didn’t really connect with my work so I guess it is a way of saying they really like what I do, and that feeling is overwhelming.
GTH: Absolutely, I agree. And, no, your attachment to your most recent paintings does not sound weird. How much time does it typically take for you to finish a piece? Do you mainly work in oils and watercolors, or have you branched to other methods?
FL: Well, thank you. Uhm, it depends. Portraits take the longest and the bigger the piece the more time… quite logical, I presume. From start-to-finish the bigger paintings (150x120cm) take about 3 weeks to finish, I think. Does that make sense? I only “time” myself if I am doing commissions and working by the hour.
I share a room with a graffiti artist and have some people in our studio doing street art, so three of us built this 2×5 meter graffiti wall on our studio backyard. So since then I have been trying spray paint as well, which is fun! But yes, I am definitely at home with oils mainly, and water colours in between when I get tired of all the mess that oil makes everywhere.
GTH: Some of your work, such as your human portraits, may come across political. Do you consider yourself a political artist? What personality traits unique to you do you feel are expressed in your renditions?
FL: It’s hard not to involve personal thoughts and political views in anything one does, is it not? I don’t consider myself a political artist, but I do consider myself political. I look up to political activists and I wish I could to more with my art in this field. The least I can do is to not reinforce stereotypes, so I guess that is something I have in mind when painting a portrait, even though it might not come across that way.
GTH: What is an example of when you worked to dismantle stereotypes in your art?
Well, to be honest, I haven’t made that many portraits outside of commissions yet (commissions are solely based on photographs) where I have examples of this. But I think it is easy to fall into what is called “the male gaze” when working with portraying people in whatever field of art or media one works with (that is portraying women as objects and men as subjects for example). One way of counteracting that is to paint an active woman or a passive man as opposed to the stereotype– which I have had in mind, just as to not fall into the classic norm.
Well actually, I did these three paintings (“Fanny,” “Noriko,” and “Ouseinou” that are on my website), where I wanted to feel strength when I look at a woman portrayed and to feel warm and happy when I look at a man portrayed. Men tend to be overly portrayed as very hard and almost murderous when portrayed in art and media. Yet, I wanted them to still have a similar style and what would be viewed as a neutral portrayal even though it is subtly contrasting to stereotypes.
Am I sounding very abstract here, haha? I want to learn much more about it, it is very interesting and challenging to work with. Also, politically, it is interesting as in who holds most power in the world and how that is expressed through art and culture.
This summer I am going to spend 2 months working from a quote of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that I found inspiring that goes:
“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” [quote from Chimamanda’s TedTalk]
I will be going deeper into the subject of dismantling stereotypes, we will see where that goes. [It] will be very exciting!
GTH: Chimamanda has been a very strong voice in literary arts. It will be interesting to see how you interpret her work and carry it over into fine art aesthetics. Now, about your current available work: In your Etsy store you provide prints for sale. Do you have original pieces for sale? Are you available for commissioned pieces?
FL: Yes, prints are easy to ship! I do sell original work from galleries, and of course anyone who wants to buy one directly from me in Gothenburg, but not online so far. I am not a “friend” of shipping art material yet, so I haven’t figured out how to manage transport. Some people have emailed me when they are interested in buying a piece, so then I have arranged transport, but not on a bigger scale (yet). Since I do everything on my own right now things take time to figure out. It might be easier if you are contracted to a gallery that can do that for you, I’m not sure.
Yes! I have done some commissions, mostly portraits. And, yes, I am open to this, especially when I’m in-between my own projects.
GTH: Is there a particular accomplishment you hope to achieve as an artist?
FL: I just discovered I had three painting up at an art museum in Skövde Artmuseum (they bought 3 paintings in 2011)! I didn’t realise they would actually display them in the museum, but they did! Very cool feeling. I just found out a month ago. They hang beside one of Sweden’s most known watercolour artists: Lars Lerin! Surreal!
I always work on goals, so yes, some of my goals are to make public commissioned artwork, having a solo show abroad would be cool (like in New York), and participating in more art shows in general; maybe get an accomplished grant so I can work for some time without financial worries. I would like to do an artist-in-residence program some time as well. The winters here are so dark and cold, it would be nice to create in a lighter, slightly warmer space, then.
GTH: Filippa, Thank you for this fantastic and honest discussion. I, personally, hope you do receive a grant in the near future. I think New York would welcome you and your undeniable talent!
FL: Thanks to you too! That is very kind! Thanks for the interview.
View work by Filippa Levemark at filippalevemark.se.
Purchase prints on Etsy.
Stay connected and follow Filippa Levemark on Twitter @ArtbyFilippa.
Become Friends through Facebook.
Interview by Reagan K Reynolds.