Eva Hild is one of Sweden’s most respected contemporary artists. Her organic, ethereal clay sculptures are hand-built, all in the same thickness, then sand papered, fired and painted. Her large metal forms grace public spaces both in Sweden and abroad. As delicate as these thin, meandering, continuously flowing sculptures look, there is also a tension to them; the duality of the inside and the outside, between the mass and the empty spaces. As the artist explains, they express a tension between presence and absence, and her questioning of internal and external realities. One can’t help but be completely taken by them. Eva Hild is also a recipient of the Prince Eugen Medal, an honour conferred by the King of Sweden for outstanding artistic achievement. With gallery representation both in Stockholm and New York, her sculptures can be found in both private collections and in museums both in Sweden and worldwide. She lives and works in the southwest of Sweden.
Photo by Anna Sigge.
You had a degree in physiotherapy before you studied art. What brought on that change in your life’s direction?
Art was meant to be, but I had a wall of indecision and irresolution to climb over. Growing up with physicians as parents, it took some time for me to realise there was a wider horizon, further possibilities and other ways to go.
The physiotherapy was a compromise, a detour, but maybe also a shortcut. I had a genuine interest in the human being – balance, structures, how the physiological state affects the physical body. After the medical roundabout way I threw myself into the world of art, handicraft, materials and expression. In retrospect, I appreciate my extensive physical and psychological knowledge and could see how it has enriched my artistic practice. But my focus is the inner state, more than the physical condition.
Why did you choose clay as your medium of expression?
The directness of it. The immediate contact and prolongation of movements, intentions and thoughts. It is cheap, classic and has a long tradition and easy to understand (not so ”arty”). I have explored the material in many ways using different techniques and purposes. I really like the craft aspect, to be in physical contact and follow the process. In the limitation of choosing a material, I gain knowledge and at the same time develop my own expression.
I also appreciate how clay could be quick and also really slow, giving me a continuity to get back to the work everyday.
I see my work in clay as a flexible, organic, ongoing part of me – a development, a diary, a dialogue. The clay offers a universe of possibilities. It is a medium you could use as a direct expression in itself – or just as a medium to reach a goal.
You have since moved more into working with cast aluminium, why did you make this shift?
I have always related my sculptures to bodies and inner landscapes. At the same time I could see them as architectural structures, imagining how to enter and interact with them. It is an idea of closing the circle, using an abstract emotion or idea, giving it a body (shape) and being able to experience and explore it with my own body. I could see early on how my sculptures could work out in a bigger scale, how they could interact with the surrounding landscape and with the human body. It took some years and mistakes to find out how to translate the smaller intimate ceramic sculpture into a bigger and more sustainable metal material. It has been a challenge to change the size, material and context and yet still keep my artistic core.
What are the challenges with both clay and cast aluminium? Is one easier to work with than the other?
Size and material matters. The same source but different ways to go. The intimate ceramic sculpture is limited in size, thin walled and both strong and fragile. The direct product of my hands, always the starting point. I am totally in charge on my own in the studio.
The bigger metal sculpture is open and defined and interacts with the surrounding. It is the product of a longer procedure, a translation and transformation.
In these processes I am working with other professionals, full-scale modelling, casting companies, painting, logistics. I am in charge, still very much hands-on but also a project leader. The clay work is my everyday work and passion. It’s the base that I build where I explore, develop, work hard, rest, relate and interact with clay.
At the same time I need to explore other materials, techniques and ways to go. The bigger and monumental metal sculptures are important, nourishing and energizing projects.
What do your forms communicate and represent to you?
My sculptures are abstract self-portraits that represent my inner landscapes, emotions and experiences. At the same time they are bodies that are relatable. The duality of the inner and outer room, the open and closed spaces, the interaction with volumes, air and light, I am occupied and possessed with these ingredients. Also how the thin wall in between could be both strong and fragile, flexible and firm. The binary of our lives.
Can you walk us through your process when you start a new piece, is there a sketch first? Do you set out knowing how big it is going to be?
I do sketch and draw, but more for general ideas. Questions such as what is the theme of my life and work? What kind of extension and relation do I want to describe? Most of all, my work is an ongoing process moving from one series into another. I work slowly, I need to try out and work things through. I could never know beforehand exactly where it’s going to end up. One experience and shape leads to another.
It is like writing and I am using my language to tell a story. Things will happen during the process. Sometimes I change my mind and need to go in another direction. I cut and continue. I like to be surprised in my controlled and slow working process.
Could you tell us a little about being chosen to design this year’s Right Livelihood Awards prize sculpture?
It is an honour to be asked to create a prize sculpture for an organisation like this. The sculpture will continuously be used every year, as a symbol for the Right Livelihood Award. I created the sculpture for the award winners, brave and courageous people, working for human rights in different parts of the world. It is a symbol for the organic, unbroken line, the openness. Also the material in the sculpture is very special, Humanium metal which is material made of recycled metal from gun destruction programmes in Central America. I wish I could follow the prize sculptures as a fly on the wall!
Is there a favourite sculpture from all the work that you have done?
RUBATO, so far my biggest outside sculpture which is around seven meters in height, in white painted aluminium. It is placed outside Malmö Live in the south of Sweden. The big buildings, Congress and Concert Hall, in red and yellow are lining the river. The sculpture is really adding and interacting with the surroundings, both as a symbol and as a physical object.
Are there any artists whose work you particularly admire or have been inspired by?
I have been impressed and inspired mostly by sculptors. During my early years of education I saw Louise Bourgeois for the first time. Antony Gormley, Tony Cragg, Anish Kapoor, Bård Breivik, Lynda Benglis, Alice Aycock, all important artists working and storytelling in different materials. I am drawn to the physical aspect of art, the materials, performance, shape and space.
How do you think your art has evolved over the last 20 years and yourself as an artist?
I think I have been very consistent, for good and for bad! I have followed my story, my red thread, not looking too much around. I have tried to be really true to myself and to dig deep. I know and I can see how my work has developed over time, in themes, in expression, in size, in colour and in material. My career has been a long journey of learning in both a practical and technical way, but it is also how I get into my processes and find the core, the energy and interest. I am always struggling to find new ways to be more open, and to widen my palette and to look around but still be true to myself. I do work a lot, and continuously. I am very much what I create. We are inseparable.
Your art has been an international success and you exhibit and have collectors outside of Sweden. What are your thoughts on the artists who work with ceramic sculptures here, is it still an under appreciated art form?
It is appreciated more and more I would say. There is no clear distinction between art and craft, it could be crafted art, it could be arted craft. The presentation and context is important – what are these objects? I think we are looking for more genuine and unique artworks whatever their material and expression.
How has the pandemic year affected you as an artist?
It has affected me mostly emotionally. In a practical way galleries are closed, projects are put on hold. Still my plan was to be tranquil in the studio this last year, exploring new ideas and materials, drawing, painting, textile and collage. I have tried to keep the plan, I have been continuously working and things are still moving forward, sometimes unexpectedly. But slower, slightly lower. I try to have hope for the future and follow the waves and to do the best in life also in a pandemic.
What are your plans for 2021, when we return so some form of normalcy?
I try to make the best of everyday. What is normal anyway? I hope to be able to continue my work, passion and mission with humility. And to think big, wide and free, expand in my work and reach out to the world.