Astrid Sylwan is an established and prominent name in the Swedish Art Scene. Since graduating from Konstfack, Sweden’s College of Arts, Crafts and Design in 2005, Astrid has built up a large and varied scope of work. She has had several grants, been nominated and won Art Awards and has exhibited widely in the Nordic region, participated in Biennials and Art Fairs internationally and has had work commissioned for public spaces. Her paintings are in the collection of prestigious Art Institutions in Sweden, among them Moderna Museet, The Museum of Modern Art Stockholm.
It was a thrill to visit the artist in her studio, a bright airy space in an old shipyard. The place is bursting with energy from large canvasses with explosions of jewel-like colours. She paints with broad brushes, knives and scrapers (mostly bought from DIY stores), sometimes pouring paint directly on the canvas, occasionally letting it run. Expertly applying layer after layer of paint, the strong abstract forms take shape eventually resulting in a complex visual symphony. Astrid is represented in Stockholm by Galleri Andersson/Sandström. Her largest project to date is the art installation of ceramic tiles in the new underground station T Centralen.
Was there a pivotal moment that you realised you wanted to be an artist?
I have always been painting and had the need to express myself. But there was a moment when I was 19 years old when I saw an exhibition by Per Kirkeby at Moderna Museet in Stockholm, that was just that moment. That exhibition had such a profound impact on me that when I walked out of there I knew for sure that I was going to spend my life painting.
Were you exposed to art as a child, a part of your growing up?
My grandfather painted. Not professionally but a lot. He died when my mother was only seven years old, but I grew up in a home surrounded by his paintings. It had a huge effect on me.
What did you study in those 6 years at Konstfack?
The years at Konstfack were very free. You could basically pick and choose your own education. I spent a lot of time in my studio, painting is a very time consuming activity. The most important part of my education was all of the studio visits by teachers and professors. There you had the chance to discuss your work both technically and with regards to the content. I treasure those talks.
You were exhibiting your work and had commissions before you graduated from Art School. How did that come about?
I was relatively old when I started Konstfack witch meant I was quite ready to take that step. I also had a bit of luck. I met Björn Springfeldt ( former director of Moderna Museet Stockholm) almost by chance and he offered me an exhibition at Vikingsbergs Art Museum during my last year at Konstfack . That was quite a turning point. When you have an exhibition it is like closing the books. You have to finish what you have started and define where you are at that very moment. which is a very good exercise, although a costly one. You never feel as vulnerable as you do when you are about to open an exhibition.
Was there a lot of experimentation in the early days, would you say you have found your means of expression now as an artist?
I think that every person has their own individual painting voice within themselves, just as you have a singing voice. You just have to find it and nurture it. It takes time and you have to try out different methods to get there. Personally I have a very classical painting background. I spent years at Art Schools painting Models and Still Life before I started Konstfack. This gave me a sense of space, the line and technical painting knowledge that is very useful for me today even though my paintings look very different.
How did the collaboration with renowned Finnish textile company Marimekko happen?
I received a phone call from Minna Kemell Kutvonnen, the chief designer at Marimekko. When she presented herself on the phone my immediate thought was that I wanted to work with them! I had never wanted to do any kind of design work before but I trusted my gut feeling that this would be an exciting venture and it was. Our collaboration received Elle Interiors Design Award for Fabric for 2012.
What were the challenges working with textiles?
The hardest part of designing a textile is that the pattern has to repeat without feeling as if it has an end or a beginning. It took a lot of thinking. I would never have been able to make it without the genius pattern maker Petri Juslin at Marimekko.
How does inspiration come when you start a new painting?
Each painting guides me to the next one. There is always something you forsake in each painting that you can use in the next. It is like a constant flow of ideas that I want to try out. Each time I start a new painting I know what I want for it but as soon as the first paint touches the canvas you have to start to rethink that thought and start being present with the painting. Painting as I do is a practice in mindfulness, in the here and now. You have to throw away all your preconceived ideas and look at what is there at that very moment. It is a balance between trusting what you know and freeing the mind.
Do you generally work on one or several paintings at the same time?
I always work on two or three paintings at a time. There are two reasons for this. First it is practical. A lot of my time is spent waiting for paint to dry. If I was only working on one painting it would take forever and I would be very bored. Secondly it makes me braver. There is nothing as limiting as being afraid of ruining a painting if you want to try out an idea. It is easier to take that risk if you have a few on going paintings.
What do you think was essential in your life to create the celebrated artist that you have now become?
That is a very flattering question. It is a mixture of luck and hard work.
Did you find gallery representation very early on in your career, and how has that helped you?
I started working with Galleri Andersson Sandström as I finished school. This gave me a platform to work from. I think one of the biggest advantages of having a gallery to work with is that you have a filter to the world outside of the studio. This means I do not have to concern myself with part of my work such as sales and contacting people. That would take a big toll on me. Now I can concentrate on my studio work and leave the rest in Andersson Sandströms excellent care.
Do you have a favourite among the colours that appear in your paintings?
I have always answered pink to that question. Pink is such a beautiful colour and it has no great representation as in how red represents love and passion and blue longing. It is quite neutral as far as a colour goes. If anything it is a girly colour and I like that too. But to answer your question; No. I have colours that I find difficult though such as brown and ochre but saying that, I try to use them every now and then to challenge myself, and then I kind of like them as well.
How do you feel when one of your paintings is sold and goes out of your possession?
There are mixed feelings of joy and loss. When I first started selling my paintings it was sometimes heartbreaking, but with time it has become easier. These days I try to think that no matter where they are in the world they are still my paintings and I rest in that thought.
You won the commission for Artwork in Stockholm’s new Central Underground Station out of 1,500 artists. Could you tell me a little about this Project?
I am doing two paintings for one of the new platforms at T-centralen . They are roughly 14×7 meters. I have painted with glaze on ceramic tiles. It had preoccupied me for almost two years now and I finished the last of 1200 tiles this week! Now it is just the big work of mounting it that remains. It is all very exciting but also scary. Working with one tile at a time I have never had the opportunity of seeing it all at once. I am keeping my fingers crossed that the puzzle will fit in the end.
Now that you are at the top of your career, what do you strive for?
I don’t feel as if I am on the top of my career. Only time can tell. I feel as if I am in a constant flow. I strive for love, piece of mind and challenges.
Carnegie Art Awards Video
Exhibition at Artipelag Here/Now. 10 prominent Nordic artists painting directly on the walls of the Gallery.