Matthias van Arkel‘s unique, vibrant Silicone Rubber Paintings are very sculptural and is the result of a fearlessness in experimentation and in constantly being curious and investigative of his art. The work has covered walls of large public spaces, as well as paintings and in the form of art cubes. Using a modified pasta machine to blend the various colours of silicone rubber and then slicing them to reveal the inner colours, he forms his paintings without the use of a brush or a canvas. He is one of Sweden’s top contemporary artists, with his work widely exhibited at home and abroad and is in private and public collections including the Museum of Modern Art, Stockholm.
Based in Stockholm, Van Arkel has spent this year in New York, building himself a network and a reputation in one of the most exciting cities in the Art World. Just this month Harper’s Bazaar did a Chanel photo shoot at the studio among van Arkel’s artwork.
When did you make the decision to study Art, was there a moment in your life that you were certain that was what you wanted to do?
I was raised in an artistic family, my father was an artist. When I was around 14 years of age I used to follow my father around Skåne (Southern Sweden) in a car where would draw our surroundings. It was around that time that I was given an easel as a present and used to paint in the fields of Skåne . In the 9th grade, encouraged by my teacher I continued to study Art in High School and then applied to Art Schools. By my 19th birthday I was accepted into Konstfack, the University of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm, where I studied for 5 years.
Were you always interested in experimenting with your art?
Early on in my career, I was trying to transform the visual onto paper or canvasses. The experimental phase did not come till later, I would say just after graduation from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm where I studied from 1991-1993. I started exploring a little more and went from Monochrome to Polychrome. As with abstracts, I started to experiment at the age of 20 while at Konstfack, when I had injured my right hand and decided to try painting with my left!
You seem to be interested in dissecting your art, in being able to see through it and behind it. You have done this in various ways, why do you do this?
Curiosity has always been a driving force for me. When I was little I would collect and cut stones in half to see the patterns on the inside. They are all coming from painterly ideas, thick oil paint is like clay, I like to investigate that sensuality.
How did you start using silicone rubber as your medium, what excited you about it?
It was at an exhibition at Dunkers in Helsingborg in 2003. I was showing an artwork called “Cut Open” where I had formed a cube out of plasticene, cut in half to be able to see inside the art piece. There was a problem as it was not a very durable material for an artwork. The owner of a big Silicone Rubber factory was there and suggested I visit the factory and make the cubes out of silicon rubber instead. That’s how it started. I like the fact that it is a highly durable material and transparent so you can see the paint right through the cubes. Painting is often an illusion and in the cube you are able to see both the background and the foreground and the space in between. It was also nice to get away from the brush and use machines which affect the artistic control in a totally different way. As an artist I find it interesting to find new ways of handling and expressing my art.
A lot of your earlier work was in monochrome, today you use a lot of colour, how did this change come about?
I shared a studio early in my career with two artists for about 10 years, Per Kesselmar and Richard G. Carlsson, both of whom painted mainly in grey. We had a lot of interesting discussions at the time about this. My early monochromes were mostly grey and brown, but I did paint different colours as well. I started to become more interested in the physics of the paint and started doing installations based on painterly ideas. The real explosion of colours really started with the silicone art.
Do you have a favourite colour, and do colours convey a certain meaning to you?
I don’t really have any preference, I like a lot of different colours. The work that relates most to giving meaning with colour is the installation where I reconstructed my bedroom. I used three different reds to represent the emotional states of a relationship. I used English Red, which is a little more brown, a little more dirty, Cadmium Red Extra Light that resembles lipstick, rather salacious and thin airy layers of Rose Madder which is a false red.
How is working in silicone rubber change how you think and create as an artist as opposed to working with paint.
Paintings are always so sensitive, silicone is a more durable material to work with and allows for more random situations to come into play. When you paint the work of art is always sitting on something else, with silicone it stands on its own, without the need of a base. I feel it has a bigger presence than an oil painting. I also feel that working with machines adds an interesting distance to the working process in having to negotiate elements formed out of my control.
Do you have a plan when you set out on a new silicone painting? How does it come together?
When the silicone is cut I am able to look inside the paintings and at the colours, it is like looking inside the brushstrokes. I am able to control it and listen to the painting as I go along.
How was the silicone Art Cube created? Can you also explain the process?
It is rather like building up a 3 dimensional painting, I fill the mould up with slabs of silicone, choosing the colours that I wish to have on the sides first. The custom made mould can handle up to 100,000 kilos of pressure in the kiln. The lid is able to expand during the process to let out excess material which is then cut away. It takes approximately 18 hours to fire and then left for about 5 hours to cool in the mould. It shrinks when it has completely cooled down before it is taken out. Always very exciting to see the result.
You have done commissions for large public spaces, what are the challenges with big jobs like those?
The challenge is to have control of the whole picture, the drama in the piece is happening as I go along. It is controlled in some ways and in some ways there is also an element of letting go of control. If I am working for 5-6 weeks for 15 hours a day, I do worry about remaining totally absorbed and not losing the continuity and flow, not to lose contact with the idea.
How important is it for a Swedish artist to break into the International Art Scene? What does it mean to you?
There can be a tendency to get too comfortable in Sweden. I also would like to broaden the market as the Swedish Art Market is quite small and rather limited. I feel the need to push myself, to have something that keeps me on my toes, and, growing up I was attracted to American Art History. It is exciting to be here, meeting really interesting people from so many different aspects of society who all converge in the art world here.
Is there a dream project that you would like to work on?
In August I worked on a project with spray painting all the elevator lobbies on ten floors of a building in Washington D.C by Morris Adjmi Architects.
I would love to work on a big lobby for a skyscraper in Manhattan with my silicone paintings.
What can we expect to see from you in the months to come?
An Open Studio in New York on the 10th of December, 255 Canal Street. In January I have a solo exhibition for 8 weeks at Morris Adjmi architects in New York. In February a solo exhibition at the Cecilia Hillström Gallery in Stockholm and in May I have a commission working with a 14 metre wall for the new Stockholm Harbour Terminal at Värtahamnen.
Jakobsberg Bus Terminal. Photo: Erik Lefvander
An artwork in progress.
Spray Painting lift lobbies for the Atlantic Plumbing Building, Washington D.C. M.A Architects.