Drawing parallels between flowers and humans, artist Hank Grüner presents A New World. “Normally, flowers are presented in a group that makes them stronger and more colourful. I value how we, as humans, similar to the flowers, could stand stronger together,” the Stockholm-based artist tells us in this interview. Recently shown at Coulisse Gallery, Grüner’s new series of artworks delves into the world of flora, focusing on the vibrant colours and different shapes of their endlessly surprising universe. Today, we speak with him about characters vs their environments, his recent trip to Japan, and how his Colombian roots translate into his paintings.
Hey Hank, nice to speak with you. First of all, where are you answering us from and how are you feeling today?
Right now, I am back in my studio in Stockholm after an inspirational trip to Japan. I feel really good and inspired working on new stuff. To be exact, I was in Tokyo and the art island Naoshima. Japan is so different from Sweden, so it gave a lot of impressions and new feelings coming back into my regular routines.
Becoming an artist isn’t easy. How did your journey into the world of art begin, and what inspired you to become an artist?
I have been drawing since I was a kid, drifting off into my own imagination and making sketches. One thing that really triggered me to explore ever further was a big carpet hanging in my childhood home, I fantasised about how someone had made that piece so detailed. The piece was so big, and I was so small, making it feel even more powerful.
Another thing that intrigued me was my introduction to Munch; my mother is a big fan and brought me to the museum in Oslo on our visits there to see my grandmother. The carpet made me want to understand how to make something, and Munch inspired me to become an artist.
What does your creative process typically look like when you’re starting a new series like Another World?
All exhibitions or series have their own way of coming to life. With Another World, I started painting flowers every day as a meditation; it calmed me, so I continued drawing the flowers when I took breaks from other paintings. It felt very harmonic and reflective, I could see how flowers and humans are so similar and stronger together. All of a sudden, doing this process over and over again every day made a lot of flowers.
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Another World is said to exude a sense of optimism and vibrancy. Can you share more about the emotions and experiences you hope viewers take away from this exhibition?
The current situation in the world is full of darkness; we are dealing with war and climate change and have lived through a pandemic very recently. I hope that Another World can give people a feeling of relief from this depression and a feeling of hope. People need hope and happiness in their lives to be able to cope with darkness and have the energy to make the changes they need to.
This series represents a new direction for your art. Could you share what inspired this shift and the theme of flora in this exhibition?
Most of my art so far has included my characters. Characters inspired by my heritage from Colombia and Brazil and their mythology. The flowers that I painted for Another World look like they are from outer space or some faraway country. I started to google flowers from my home country and found many similar colours and shapes in the flora of Colombia. This also made me want to expand the world for my characters, where they live and their surroundings, like, for example, the flora. So the surroundings and landscape will be more present for the coming exhibition. So, in Another World, you get introduced to the world where my characters live through their eyes.
The title Another World suggests a departure from reality. Could you elaborate on the otherworldly aspects of this exhibition?
The characters are more central from my earlier exhibitions – Shapeshifting, Monstars and Casa de la Madre –, but you can not determine their surroundings. In the exhibition Another World, you can see everything through their eyes; the exhibition portrays their world.
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Your work often taps into simultaneous realities. How do your mixed Swedish and Colombian heritage and identity play a role in your creative process and work?
The fact that I was adopted from Colombia with Brazilian roots has always been very present in my life and, therefore, in my work. Being adopted makes you an expert in blending in. You were born in one country but grew up in another where you don’t look like anyone else, so you do what you can to do just that: blend in. It has been easy for me to take bites of my everyday life and put them into my paintings. I always say an adopted person is a shapeshifter living in a borderland between two countries.
The exhibition references the interconnectedness of flora in our ecosystems. How does this concept tie into your exploration of human relationships?
Normally, flowers are presented in a group that makes them stronger and more colourful. I value how we, as humans, similar to the flowers, could stand stronger together, and that is something we will do someday once we can accept the mix. The development of humans and what we value is going wrong; instead of valuing nature and our planet, people value money and getting everything first. We need to change our priorities.
Flowers are a recurring motif in your work. What significance do they hold for you, and how do they contribute to the themes you explore?
Nature overall inspires me! My birth mother comes from Ibague (Tolima), where flowers are a big part of their culture and life. So, it is also a process of connecting to my roots and healing.
As a curiosity, do you have a favourite flower?
Heliconia Chartacea.
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