Joakim Allgulander is a Swedish multi-disciplinary artist. Born in Stockholm, where he also studied at the National College of Arts and Crafts, he is one of Sweden’s most renowned contemporary artists, and currently lives and works in London.
Joakim’s work is characterized by it’s conceptual nature, and the merging of skill of craft with a love of the practical process to create work that evokes both emotion and curiosity. His art demonstrates a desire to explore different media and techniques in the most dynamic and varied ways. There is an existential undercurrent to his practice with an emphasis on contrast; especially between natural and artificial, new and old, moving towards more archetypical opposites such as light and dark; life and death.
Walking into Grace Belgravia on a sunny Tuesday morning, my mood was instantly lifted by the ephemeral light that surrounded me. Huge, brightly coloured canvases against tall white walls allured my attention, each one boasting it’s own unusual intricacy. My initial impression was that this body of work, although diverse in subject matter, was beautifully bound by a common tenderness and an organic quality that complimented the space beautifully. Magnolias, mushrooms and chandeliers were among Joakim’s chosen motifs, which got me thinking about the title of the exhibition ‘Down The Rabbit Hole‘ and how it is connected to Lewis Carrol’s ‘Alice in Wonderland‘. In my eyes, Joakim has transformed an otherwise austere space into a miniature ‘wonderland’ with his memorizing paintings and fluorescent sculptures.
As the artist entered the gallery through a side door to meet me, he brought with him a certain stillness that was instantly relaxing. We began chatting about the work on display and his vision for this exhibition:
ArtAttack: The space and show look fantastic. Can you give a little context around the inspiration?
Joakim Allgulander: I started doing some thinking about painting and the imagination, and came across a copy of Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland‘. There’s so much weirdness going on. I thought about how Alice goes down the rabbit hole to explore the self, herself; [it] almost transforms her into an adult. This made me think about how it all corresponds to my reality. Being an artist, in my case, is in a way about exploring my own weirdness, my peculiarities. So it’s not an exhibition that commemorates Carrol, but it suits my own thinking. I liked the title ‘Down The Rabbit Hole’ because I feel it really relays these ideas.
AA: So would you say that these paintings and sculptures are almost an exploration of your own imagination and natural tendencies?
JA: : Yes, I mean when you look at these chandeliers you can see that they are chandeliers but to me the most important question I ask myself is ‘what do I paint?’ I like subjects that can open up to be many things, contradictions are especially interesting to me. So this body of work might not be as provocative and contradictory as earlier works that I did, because they’re paintings, and paintings have to live a life of their own.Chandelier images, for example, I wanted to represent something other than what the object is: I think a chandelier is a symbol of a better life. But I also wanted them to be their own creatures.
AA: Right, because a chandelier alludes to opulence and extravagance. What’s interesting is that these look like they are underwater or even reflections of themselves.
JA: I mean, I’m from Sweden, where you’re very close to nature all the time. These reflect that as they appear almost like creatures taken from nature, perhaps trees.
AA: True. They take on snow-flake like forms, are really organic in nature. It seems that every painting differs in your treatment of it and takes on new meaning with every version. Is there a reason that you choose to focus on the same motif repetitively?
JA: I’m a multi-disciplinary artist, and am easily distracted. So I have to focus on the same project in order to really grasp it. I think I’ll probably focus on chandeliers for the next while. Perhaps I’ll make three-dimensional versions.
AA: That’s exciting. It seems the more variations you make of the same motif, the more meaning that single motif can take on?
AA: And was this also your thinking behind the magnolias?
JA: Yes. Those are a little earlier. They were the first things I painted when I came to London. They’re more personal. I thought London was only ever grey buildings and rain. But actually it was warm and nice, with so many trees and flowers everywhere.
AA: Yes, I suppose that coming from a country like Sweden, the move to London must have taken some adjusting?
JA: Yes. I lost my way a bit in London and found myself making flower paintings. That was kind of unusual.
AA: Do you see many shows yourself? Or where do you draw inspiration from?
JA: Yes I go to lots of exhibitions. London is great for attracting artists you’ve always wanted to see. Michael Bormans for example, I saw at David Zwirner the other day. I believe in talking to other artists and not only curators and gallerists, because I think it’s important to talk about art, and not just sales.
AA: Right, so when you make art it’s not with salability in mind?
JA: Never. Unless they’re prints.
AA: But your art is so picturesque and tasteful, surely the works are easy for people to buy and hang in their homes?
JA: Sure. If I make work for a specific show I definitely think about the space it will be shown in. This room, for example, seemed to really suit chandelier paintings and so I began to make more on a grander scale to fill the space.
AA: Do you think really carefully about what you are going to paint before you do? Things like colour scheme for example, or do you let that happen organically?
JA: Yes I think very carefully about colours, but my method changes according to the piece. I start with the white canvas, and sometimes I scrub the colour into the canvas with a cloth, and try to allow light to come through. Some canvases are very fast, very direct, others take a month and a half or more.
AA: Wow! A month an a half is a long time to work on one piece. What is the average time a work takes you?
JA: There is no average! Sometimes I begin work on a piece and I think ‘no, that’s shit’ and put it away to take it up later.
AA: Right, and some do appear more resolved then others, it’s beautiful that the process is visible in each piece. I also love the way the light kind of glows from behind the motif, is this technique one that you developed through trial and error?
JA: No, I mean you develop your unique style or skill as you go, but in painting you don’t try to show how skilled you are. I try to make work that is free, loose and easy. You have to stop in time, and not over do it. But also, you mentioned light, and that’s important. I’m very interested in the contradiction between light and darkness. That’s why many years ago I began working with neon I think, couldn’t get enough light out of the paintings, haha.. And I still do, and I also paint things that project light. Even my mushroom sculptures glow-in-the-dark, they’re fluorescent. These were made for this exhibition specifically, they are really fun and playful. They’re made of plaster, but I like the colour because they appear like plastic.
AA: All of your works are quite soft and ethereal, which ties them into the Lewis Carrol theme. Is this something you tried for?
JA: Yes, ‘dream-like’. The mushrooms too, are dream-like. Which alludes to the myth that Carrol wrote the story high on LSD. I don’t think that’s true, I think it’s a myth, but you never know! It’s a cool myth.
AA: On a more personal level, do you think that as you pass through different phases in your life and begin thinking about different things, that your work reflects the inner-workings of your mind at the time? Is that the case with this show?
JA: I hope so. It’s not always easy to express all of your ideas in a space as there are always constraints. My thinking right now is perhaps more existential.
Joakim Allgulander ‘Down the Rabbit Hole‘ is on view at Grace Belgravia until 27th July; 11c West Halkin Street, London, SW1X 8JL; To book a private viewing please contact Grace Belgravia.