Swedish painter Benjamin Björklund has something of his own. Living in a cosy and somewhat decadent house previously owned by a painter, it constitutes the artist’s own statement. Beautifully rooted in his native land, the paintings he makes take you to another sphere, reminding you of a non-existent world lying above our heads.
Trying to define Björklund’s work is sort of an impossible mission. Inspired by the Swedish countryside, cows, rats and humane subjects, he creates an identity embowered by talent, personality and a strong and secure self coming from within, difficult to find somewhere else. Talent goes hand in hand with Benjamin Björklund’s work, so pure and mature reflecting a way of living – that of a poet following the message deeply buried in the nature of things and life.
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Hi Benjamin. Could you give us a brief overview of what your work is all about?
Unfortunately, I don’t have a well-written artist's statement, and my own ability with words is very limited. I realize now how fortunate I've been to be able to paint in solitude, with little input from the outside, not really been associated with a school or a group of painters. I have been free to create what I want, working normal jobs and painting alone. I struggle to express myself with words, which is probably why painting feels so important. Painting is for me the natural way to react to the things happening around me, making their way into the paintings.
Some pieces of your painting seem to be, in terms of colour, closely related to the Swedish landscape. Do you really think it is a part of huge importance whenever you face a blank canvas? Does it make you think before proceeding to start a painting?
I have always enjoyed the cold, cool mood of northern painters, especially the skagen painters (P.S Kroyer in particular) so that definitely has had an impact, and picking up the colours around me feels natural. Going back to my early work, I have always preferred painting with a cooler palette, but I try not to get stuck in a certain recipe and adjust it after seeing what I am painting. Very warm colours can make me feel a bit claustrophobic.
What kind of emotions or other human feelings do you try to capture? At the end of every painting process, have you ever reached that point in which you question yourself about the very meaning of it?
I try to capture something sincere and honest. Not to stay far away from the things I have experienced and know. Working with people in both a jail and a psychiatric ward has definitely had an impact, and the way I perceive myself is also reflected in the paintings I create. I question what I do a lot, “is it of any importance?” I don't know; I hope so. I like to believe I haven’t spent all this time learning how to paint just to make something that looks good. When I feel good about my work I can get very excited, it is almost like an adrenaline rush. The next day it can feel terrible, it is very uneven and I don't even understand it myself. But those few moments where everything falls into place and makes sense are a well-needed counterbalance to all the doubt I usually face when painting.
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Your work reflects a deep sense of emptiness and solitude. In fact, your whole personal portfolio is full of this, let’s say, “general image” of lonely subjects, or even couples, facing themselves with uncertainty and all alone. Is there any reason for that?
It is true; most of my work is focused on a single object. I prefer having a single focal point; I think that is why I like making portraits. If the canvas gets too busy I get distracted and confused. I can relate to this in my workspace for instance, where I need my tools to be in a certain order, or else I get nervous and unfocused. I try to convey a sense of stillness or hovering, not a frozen moment.
In most of your paintings you leave half of the subject covered by light, whereas the other half has been left in the dark, submitted to chaos. Is it another way of expressing the way you see the world, with half of the humanity living, let’s say surreptitiously, with no interest whatsoever in what the other half is currently facing?
Oh, I wish I was clever enough to think of this! Unfortunately not, it is more of an aesthetic choice, working with light and shadow is just a way for me to convey shapes and in some places to focus on a certain point, but I do like your take on it.
At first, you mention the impossibility to link you to a certain group of artists and seeing how personal and thoughtful your painting is. How would you define your panting, then?
Oh, what I meant was that I have never been in an environment where other artists have surrounded me, really. None of my friends paint; some of them are musicians, but not painters. So I haven’t been part of a group that way, I am not sure how that has had an impact on my work but I am thinking maybe the way I have tried to approach some challenges has been a bit unacademic. I used to have very little confidence in drawing, and still do in some ways, but I accepted that fact and worked around it somehow. It took me many years to be able to finish my paintings, I was very unhappy with what I made, until the gap between what I wanted to create and was able to create lessened. I think maybe those solutions we come up with are what’s considered “style” most of the time, and learning to use what you have in the best way possible. I find that a lot of the work I am interested in has that in common in some way.
“I like to believe I haven’t spent all this time learning how to paint just to make something that looks good.” 
I want to know a bit about your work environment. What are you surrounded by? Books of all kinds, canvases, collected art… How do they influence you and contribute to creating an identity of your own? What has your latest purchase on that matter been?
I live in a house by a river surrounded by trees in Uppsala, Sweden. My studio is on the second floor. There’s a big sofa for Solomon, my dog, a bookshelf filled with art books, and half-finished paintings everywhere. The colours in the house are pretty random; some walls are yellow, some green, some blue. The lady that used to live here was a painter too. She put some posters of artwork up on the walls, and painted over the signatures with white paint for some reason. They are still hanging on the walls. The house had been empty for some years before I moved in, so the decay has slowly started. I enjoy being by myself while painting. Living alone means I can play really loud music in the middle of the night, use saws and hammers at any time (laughs). I think this suits me well, although living alone and painting alone can sometimes become intense, and I think that for the sake of inspiration we all need to get out and experience real life. I used to get that naturally through working at a hospital and a jail. Having a part time job is not necessarily something bad when it comes to art, but art takes up so much time that it’s hard to choose. My latest purchase is quite boring, a roll of canvas (Claessens Synthetic canvas, series 101, in case anyone’s wondering).
Regarding your answer in the second question, would you say colour reinforces you in a way? What are the ones reminding you of certain feelings or emotions? What do they tell you?
I am not sure how the colours around me affect my work. I prefer white open space while painting, but it's not something I have in my studio right now. The floor is green, two walls are yellow and two walls are grey. I tend to work a lot with the same colours, not really taking into consideration what the real or accurate colour of the subject is. I have painted a lot, from old black and white photos, which I really like; it gives me total freedom when choosing colours.
P.S Kroger and Joaquín Sorolla share a rather similar aesthetic. Are you familiar with the work of the Spaniard and the influence it had at the turn of the century in the United States? Would you say your work is related in a way to that movement, which took painting as part of something way more intrinsic, deeper and poetic?
Yes, I saw a Sorolla’s painting Hall of the Ambassadors, Alhambra, Granada for the first time in LA last year. I was so very impressed. He is so free in the way he paints. I've seen some of Sorolla's work but haven’t read anything about him, really. I am definitely influenced by it and look for inspiration in a lot of artists from around that time.
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Going back to the solitude thing you started with. How is solitude part of a painter's work? Do certain states of mind such as melancholy, frustration or any other kind of inner emotions towards life affect you? What kinds of feelings come to the surface and end up resonating with your painting?
I personally prefer painting alone, having a model puts me in a state of stress, and painting a lot of different canvases at the same time, jumping from one to another can make me very unfocused. Painting involves a lot of thinking for me, a lot of doubt about what I’m doing, and a small portion where a painting starts to come together and I can get almost an adrenaline rush. These small moments are worth all the previous dismay. I feel very linked to the state of my paintings; my self-perception follows the way the paintings turn out. I am drawn towards certain moods, which end up in my paintings. The feeling of being able to express that is a huge relief.
It would be so damn good to see the same emotions and therefore the subjects you paint translated into a different artistic medium. Any chances for you to take up sculpture in the short term?
I have wanted to do sculpture for a long time. Working in a different medium will definitely happen, I would like to work with wood and clay and build things. I think it would add a great balance to painting, so, definitely!
To sum up, Benjamin, what projects do you have in mind for the foreseeable future?
For a long time I have been thinking about mixed media sculptures, and hope to get going with that soon! I long to build things, and not be careful.
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