Moving apartments can be a stressful time in one’s life. Try balancing that with a successful soaring art career and it all begins to pile up. Luckily Fredrik Åkum was willing to give up his time to answer a few questions for us. We delve into the mind of the artist from his early childhood growing up in Sweden, the psychedelic undertones of his euphoric photographs, the beauty of the female form and why he sees the notions of wanting and longing are distinctive from nostalgia and memory.
Introduce yourself to our readers through the medium of song lyrics.
Since I’ve been institution-bound for so long now I would maybe quote Abe Vigoda’s Skeleton: […] Feel the bricks break. Take them today to see my old place. Skeletons in jail are singing and dancing. Skulls clacking loudly say "out there I’m nothing, so don't break me out […].
You grew up in Gothenburg, Sweden; what was your childhood like?
I grew up in Kristinehamn, still in Sweden though. I moved to Gothenburg for art studies when I was 20 and I still live here, just got an apartment. My childhood was terrific; if I’d get kids I’d also get proper performance anxiety.
How did you get into art and ultimately become an artist? Had you been educated in the practice?
I just finished my MFA, and over all I’ve been in art related studies for 10 years. Art has always been important to me. However, now that I’m in this post-school situation it feels like this is the beginning.
Talk us through the process of creating one of your works from start to finish. Where do you source of inspiration come from?
I don’t really have a manner or a recipe. It’s important for me that there is an evolving process from work to work, and that the process doesn’t become safe. But in general there is an abstract thought of something, or a longing for something that I feel a great need to work with. Then, if there’s ever any work that comes out from it, I try to figure out if the medium it was executed in was the ultimate medium or if I could work with it in some another way, like make a zine out of it or make a textile installation etc. But I’m trying to follow inspirations and when the work is done, I think about what I’ve done and if I’m going to show it to anyone. What inspires me is work that I stumble upon every day in blog feeds, movies, and magazines or from fellow artists.
Your paintings capture a youthful euphoric mood. Would you say this is reflected through your childhood past?
Nah, it’s more what’s happening now, what my friends and I are up to at the moment I’d say. We are quite childish and young you know. But I’m fascinated about longing, but not in the nostalgic way.
Viewing your works there seems to be a recurring tread of psychedelic images drained of their once initial colours and an idyllic fading dream. Would you say this is a fair assessment?
I’ve been asked about the psychedelic relationship before, and to be honest I think it happened because of how I wanted to develop my painting. I didn’t want to end up in a tradition of muddy Nordic landscape painting so the choice of color became like a personal revolt a couple of years ago. It didn’t have much to do with the sub-culture of psychedelics though, I couldn’t say. The dreamy part is also something I hear about my work. I don’t start off thinking “This is going to be a dreamy painting.” I want to work with qualities of painting like timelessness and loss of geography and that is maybe something that ends up a bit dream- or utopia-like?
What artists are inspirational to your work?
The hardest question I was ever given was something like, “namedrop your top-ten artists”. At the time of this assignment-like question it felt like I had to solve a good answer. But I haven’t yet, or at least not an answer that feels satisfying. I rather not mention anyone to forget someone of importance, there are too many. I’m most inspired by my colleagues and friends in the way of motivation. I also find feeds of images or documentations very attractive. In general I’m rather picky; it’s most often about particular artworks, or artist’s relation to the process, my subjective interpretation of an artist's approach in a process or it could be a certain palette/composition in an amateur snap-shot that inspires me.
Do you feel your work sits within the language of painting or within the language of photography?
Painting. The primary grounds for me in my process are to work with different qualities of painting, but a painting as a result is not always the final artwork. I’m also interested in the relation between photography and painting so I’m often referring to photography. Briefly I see photography as frozen moments and painting as the counterpoint. And that’s why both of them are important to me; the space in between becomes my working area.
The colour palette you choose for your works varies from quite muted copper tones to very vivid stark colours. What's the process you go through in choosing what colours to paint in? Does the colour you choose define the way in which the work is viewed and primarily interpreted?
I always look back at my work, and often feel that I need to move on. Last year I worked with a palette of a Henri Matisse painting The Palm (1912), or at least a digital reproduction of it. I also saw the original painting but the colors were not as appealing to me in that situation. What’s happening next in the palette is still a good question.
Does the constant growth of digital and social media play a part in the development of your practice and creation of your work?
A couple of years ago I started to play with images found “in the feed” to re-work them and see if they ended up in the same feeds automatically or if the author (which from the start often was un-credited) would find my work. I saw it as some kind of wordless communication, like so many self-curating blogs are today. I still find this interesting of course but I would say that I work with it in different ways now. I still see the Internet and it’s many feeds as great, free galleries or museums that are accessible to a wide range of people, and I find it important as a political stand. That the art (or the representation of it) works with its purpose in a way, to be viewed and reflected on.
Great part of your work features the female body. What do you find interesting in depicting the female form?
Most of my friends are female, so many of them are depicted in my work. I’ve never thought of them as “female forms” they are my friends, people close to me, which I respect the most. And whenever I’ve used found source material to work from, it has been representing people close to me. To use found material can be pretty smart to avoid nostalgia. Of course I have some male friends, but we don’t escape together that often and maybe that’s why there’s a loss of male representation in my artwork.
Is there one piece that you are particularly proud of?
There are a few milestones, not just one, where it has felt like I’ve found out something new to work with, a development in the right direction. At the moment I can look back at works such as Teenage Wasteland (2010), Plants (2012), Valley III (2012), Ode to the Loss (2013), Anna-Lotta & Found Leaf (2013) and The Palm (2013) (2013) and feel proud.
Sum up a Fredrik Åkum work of art in no more than 140 characters a la Twitter.
An artwork executed as a painting, reproduction, installation or printed matter is dealing with the notion of loss and longing.