Updated: Mar 18
Artist Markus Åkesson leads us into a fairy tale-like, dreamy landscape, where one explores his inner-child, captured between self-doubts, fears and discoveries. The figures in most of his portraits become one with the floral background, textiles or tapestries, thus obscuring both their emotions and identity. His artworks have been revealed in galleries and institutions all over Europe. Find below the exclusive interview with the Swedish artist that reveals more about his vision and future plans.
∎ Coming from a beautiful, rich in nature region of Sweden, you must have a special connection to nature. Of course, due to your artworks and exhibitions, you are also surely travelling a lot. Do you have any favourite place, where you feel you can recharge completely?
Well, I always love coming to Paris. It’s a very open and inclusive place that gathers artists from all over the world. We visit so often that we come to feel at home there in some sense.
∎ The exhibition Let me sleep through the night in 2018 proved to be a great success, but also your previous exhibitions in Sweden. How did you start exactly? Did you ever question your artwork at the early stages or even after?
I started to exhibit very locally, at libraries and these kind of venues, then moved on to exhibit at galleries, locally at first but then more nationally and eventually internationally. It is a slow journey but also a very educational and humbling one. I am very grateful for the great opportunities I have been given. When I look back at my art that I made 15 or 20 years ago, I see that I have developed a lot as an artist and that’s all part of the process.
∎ Your art contains a wide array of motifs that keep appearing in your artworks: vases, flowers, animals, insects, furniture. What are you mostly attracted to, in your daily life and in your surroundings?
Our home and my studio actually look a lot like my still life paintings. It's part of the same visual world. I’m a big collector of objects that inspire me.
∎ Many see your paintings as unsettling, hyper-realistic representations of mental imprisonment, portrayed by figures hiding behind rich flowery tapestries. You also tend to play with the light and the way it conveys a certain dreamlike mystery to the painting. Do you think you improved your art over the years? In which ways did you develop or change as an artist?
I think I have advanced in a technical sense, but the narrative is somewhat the same. But as I have moved forward in my way of painting, I have been able to realize some of the ideas that I wasn’t able to execute properly in the beginning of my painting career, like painting textures and patterned fabrics.
∎ Describe your artwork in three words.
Meditation, my universe.
∎ The painting Now you see me has been among the most controversial. It seems that you play a lot with the idea of hiding/appearing and ultimately the identity of somebody. What exactly did you want to get out of the artwork at the very beginning? And did this change in the meantime?
At first I didn’t really realize why I did these kind of paintings, I just made them by intuition. I’m not really sure now either but I think they have something to do with the hidden, untold and secretive.
∎ Your art combines a lot of fantastic elements with beauty through vivid colours and realistic representations of animals or forests. The painting Sleeping Beauty created some controversy and debate in the art world, after it was commissioned. It brings to mind a dark fairy tale, that frightens and impresses at the same time. How important is, in your view, for art to create these debates, questions, musings or mixed feelings?
I am not really interested in raising debates. When I paint, I do it for my own sake. I think it can be nice and interesting when people debate or interpret my work, but it is nothing that drives me when I do them. The debate around ”Sleeping Beauty” showed that there is something powerful in art that impacts and moves people. It actually took me by surprise.
∎ For many years you have been creating these paintings across multiple continents and countries. Is there a painting that you would consider your personal favourite? And if yes, we would like to know why ☺
My latest painting is always my favourite, but when it is finished, I have to let it go, emotionally and put all my effort into the next one. For example, my family has been modelling for me many times and those paintings will always have a special place in my heart.
∎ People often say that a mixture of talent, luck and perseverance leads to success. The prizes you received in the recent years from the Swedish Arts Grants Committee are clearly a sign of it. Which factors do you believe to have had a big impact and contribution to the success of your paintings?
Honestly, I don’t know, I’m just very grateful that there are some people that like my paintings. But on a personal level, I think everything starts with hard work.
∎ Name a few of the people (also, artists) that inspire you the most.
The painter Lucian Freud and the lyrics of Bob Dylan have inspired me greatly.
∎ In your view, should art become more accessible to the public nowadays? Any opinion on how artists can make this possible?
I think Instagram is a great way to view art, even if you can’t compare it with the real experience, of course. But it's very accessible for everyone.
∎ Girl with an enamel tongue definitely strikes one, as an interesting representation of a little girl, drawn in a fairy tale style. Does art necessarily have to have a message for you? Or could you also just create something only for the beauty of it or because you are interested in it?
I really need to have an interesting subject in order to make a good painting. Otherwise I would feel that it's more of a job to pay the rent. Which would be easier in some ways, of course. But to make art is a personal journey for me, a world of my own. Even if I don’t get paid for it, I would do it anyway.
∎ Which future projects or plans would you like to achieve? What can we expect from Markus Åkesson?
Next up is a separate exhibition at Galerie Da-End in Paris. It opens on the 14th of May and I am really excited about this one. I will show new paintings which I have been working on for a year or so.