The eXTra finGer

...''He was counting on his fingers.One two three four five six seven eight nine ten eleven.Eleven?Had he been born with an extra finger?''...

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Interview with Christer Karlstad

q)please tell us a brief info about yourself.

a)Well, I'm a Norwegian figurative painter, born in 1974. My family on my father's side were farmers, and my last name is the same as the name of our family's farm. I was born in a municipality about 30 minutes from Oslo called Rælingen. It actually means a village which is situated in the outskirts, and that feels pretty accurate. A couple of months ago my girlfriend and I moved from our tiny flat in Oslo to a smaller city nearby called Drammen. We now live in a big house with a garden, and I can finally have my studio in my home.

q)Tell us about your humble beginnings, When did you you first realized that you wanted to be an artist?

a)While growing up, becoming an artist wasn't really something I considered an option. But when I was five or six, while visiting the neighbour, I spotted this dramatic landscape painting by a norwegian artist of the 18th century called August Cappelen in an encyclopedia. A little black and white photo of his painting Waterfall in lower Telemark was the most amazing image I'd ever seen. After that my mom took me to The National Gallery, so I could see it "in the flesh". All my favorites were paintings of old, crooked trees and intimate landscapes.

I've been drawing all my life, but I didn't really know to what use until I was about 18. Uptil then I'd kept drawing and going to schools to learn more about shape, colour, composition and art-history without any real plan. Everyone told me it was impossible to make a living as an artist and I had to cut off an ear and commit suicide before anyone would notice my art.....and I sort of believed them.

I never could see myself as someone with a regular job, or working for someone. Gradually I, and later my family, understood that the only possible path for me was becoming an artist. It's sort of my destiny, which at times has felt like a curse.

q)What are your tools of the trade and why?

a) I only work with oil, either on canvas or plate. Before I start painting, I draw everything with charcoal. I stick to the old methods (using chalk, linen, rabbit-skin glue, linseed-oil) because I trust them, and they're fantastic to work with. My paintings are detailed and worked on over a period of months. No other surface can take as many layers as a canvas prepared from scratch.

q)Who or what gives you inspiration on your morbid art?

a) Morbid? Well ok. There are many other words I would use to describe my work before morbid, but I see what you mean. I do walk around a lot in nearby parks and forests with my camera, and a sketchbook. Nature, animals and people are inspiring in themselves. But the first spark of an idea usually comes when I'm about to fall asleep, and my brain is about to shut down.

Most of the time my visual ideas are about some sort of edge, portal or border that's about to be, or is being crossed. A terrible or fantastic transition that is about to happen. I've come to the conclusion that most of my ideas are born out of fear. Fear of all kinds of loss, and fear of change. At the same time a there's a longing, a longing for an end, and a new beginning. That's it, fear and longing for change simultaneously.

q)Is your artistic background self-taught or did you go to college to study?

a) I studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Oslo under painting professor Jan Sæther's class during a period where you could get classical figurative training (1996-2002). The training I got there, and the inspiration from my fellow students (some are still among my best friends) has been essential to my development.

q)What are some of your current projects?

a) Right now I am participating in an exhibition called Black Romanticism (at Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum) and I'm preparing a separate show (at Kunstnerforbundet in Oslo, February 2010) and another group exhibition at The Kistefos Museum later in the summer. All my works for these exhibitions are part of the same "project". The title of my soloshow will be Good Night to All, and its about dreams, sleep or death or some other otherness taking over normality.

q)Which of your works are you the most proud of? And why?

a) I aim to master every possible approach to create a painting, and make the complex seem clear, without loosing emotional impact or beauty. In paintings like Hunters and Collectors, Ghost Train, and the recent Land of Gloom I think I've successfully combined all my ambitions. But really, I'm proud of all my work produced over the last five or six years. Some ideas are just smaller than others.

q)Are there any areas, techniques, mediums, projects in your field that you have yet to try?

a) Yes, plenty. After experimenting with different genres and mediums in my early art-school days, I kind of lost interest in the "jack of all trades, master of none approach". I want to grow as a painter, making more sophisticated, complex and intriguing work every day, but my technique, medium and project is given, but hopefully "always different, always the same".

q)What do you do to keep yourself motivated and avoid burn-out?

a) Uh... I was always broke and nobody paid any attention to what I was doing until about three or four years ago. I suppose I survived on some sort of stubborn motivation alone (and a little help from my family). I try to stay honest and I never pay attention to what anyone else wants or expects from me. Lack of ideas or motivation hasn't been an issue yet. This is my life, and my paintings define me. It is not something I do just because we've all got to do something.

q)how do you spend most of your free time?

a) Listening to music at home, in

my studio, playing music and drinking beer at a nerdy club, attending to concerts, exhibitions and seeing as much dance/ballet as I can. I read about the mythologies of the world and tales, the rise and fall of civilizations, religion (christianity) and the occult. Collecting images, records, religious kitsch and all kinds of old stuff (junk). Trying (and managing quite well) to create my own bearable universe along with my girlfriend and my friends.

q)What contemporary artists or developments in art interest you?

a) Except colleagues and friends that I associate and sympathise with, most of the art that interests me, are not made by contemporaries.

What I'm really into is Mannerism, especially Bronzino's portraits, Caravaggio, the Spanish Baroque including Goya and artists of the romantic era such as David Caspar Friedrich. I'm also interested in the european, (especially the belgian) symbolist/decadent movement with artists such as Fernand Khnopff. Practically every variation of the whole romantic era is important to me. Including everything from Victorian illustration, artists of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and french salonpainters. And although he is considered a realist, Gustave Courbet's self-portraits are sublime.

I'm inspired by the movies of Werner Herzog and Ingmar Bergman, classic horror, Monty Python, Twin Peaks and Carnivale.I dig 60's-70's jazz, B-movie soundtracks and kraut/progrock. I love all chamber music by Dmitri Shostacovich, and everything poor Franz Schubert composed after he got syphilis, became serious and discovered Beethoven, is deeply moving. Lately I've been obsessed by a fellow countryman of yours, a totally obscure composer/percussionist; Egisto Macchi! This, and cartoonists such as Windsor McKay and Chris Ware means more to me than "Contemporary Art".

I guess you can say that a development in contemporary art that does genuinely interest me, is that the climate in the art-world seems slowly to be changing, and every year I feel a little less like an outsider or a freak. Paradoxally I'd rather look at Piet Mondrian, Mark Rothko or Jasper Johns than most figurative paintings made during the 20th century.

q)We really like some of your pictures, how can we get our hands on them? Do you sell them? How?

a)I'm glad to hear that. Yes, I do sell them. I've got a few paintings in my studio, and some are spread out in different galleries in Norway. A lot (not all) of the works from 2007 or before are already sold.

The easiest way is to contact me by email: or on my blog:, and I'll guide you. I hope my homepage will be up and going soon too. In my forthcoming solo-show early in 2010, all works on display are new. All those paintings will be for sale through Kunstnerforbundet.