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Artist Interview with Johan Björkegren

Johan Björkegren's talks to Amelia's Magazine about how his landscapes and portraits explore an idea of the 'ugly' frequently championed by the comic artist Robert Crumb.

Written by Sally Mumby-Croft

Illustrator Johan Björkegren talks to Amelia’s Magazine about his relationship to Robert Crumb and the organic nature of drawing landscapes. As Johan’s production is nearly entirely composed of detailed black and white charcoaled drawings, this appeared to be the logical place to start our conversation…

Do you mainly draw with a black and white colour scheme?

Yes I almost always only work in black and white. The use of lines and textures to describe the form and expressions are the things I am interested in and not so much the colours. A few months ago I bought some oilcolors and started to paint, which I have not done in years. I think working with colours is really hard.

What do you find harder about working with colours than in black and white?

I think Colours are harder becouse its another choice to make. Its a whole other thing to consider when describing form, expression or a texture with lines. And I really have not found the right material that I like. I have worked with colours, but I dont think I have really found the right way to use them yet.

How did the series of portraitse develop?

As I worked with people and their expressions in some of my landscape drawings, I began to find it interesting to focus only on their faces.

Are these characters based on people from life?

Both yes and no. The faces are not portraits of a real life person, but they are inspired by people I know or have seen. I like how you fantasise about pictures of people you never have or will meet. You make their personality up yourself. I make them and their personalities out while i work. I am also fascinated by hair and and the structure of it and how to draw it. I also like the way it expresses ones idea of your personality.

What is it that interests you about populated and unpopulated landscapes?

Faces and landscapes are the same I think. Even when I draw pictures from my mind, its something all can relate to. In the populated landscapes I work with the people in the drawings and their relation to the landscape. In the unpopulated it is more of yourself going into the landscape and another dimension. Now I work more with the unfinished picture as a way to also step into the picture and make the drawing process more alive in the picture.

Which artists or illustrators inspire you?

Many people say that my work reminds about Robert Crumb, and thats right. Im a big fan of him and his technique. I also like Henry Darger and Edward Kienholz. I also get a lot of inpiration from film makers such as Werner Herzog. People who live tough for their works and for whom its a question about life and death.

Could you talk a little bit about Robert Crumb’s Techniques and your own?

Yes, its hard to talk about your idols, I think you can see that I am influenced by the underground comics of the 60s and 70s. Robert is one of the most skilled artists I think. I’m more in to his style than the stories. I like the way he describes forms and the way he works with faces and expressions. It was when I saw the movie “Crumb” that I really got to like his work. I think that my own technique is most like his in the way to describe forms and that its all a little ugly.

What first interested you about working with charcoal? How did you come to use this material?

When I started as a illustrator, I worked only with with ink, but I grew tired of it quite fast, I think that you can get much more expression with charcoal, ink is too sharp I think, charcoal makes a much more living drawing. However I still use ink for some things I draw, typography and in my smaller sketchy works, but not for the bigger drawings.

You have had numerous commissions do you see yourself solely as an illustrator who experiments with Graphic Design?

I see myself as an artist that does comissions, rather than an illustrator sometimes doing free work. I like working with commissions becouse it is a whole other thing than free work. The free work is more meditative – you dont have to think about an assignment. Whereas with commissions you have to relate to the project and the “uppdragsgivare” which I think is fun and challenging, you have to relate to something else than yourself.

I have a bachelors degree in Graphic design from Beckmans college of design, and I’m really interested in graphic design and typography. I like commissions where I can work with both.

Do the landscapes come from your imagination or do you use photographs of places you have or have not travelled to?

I make them out as I draw. Landscapes are so organic, you can build up the structures as you draw out of your idea. I never use photos for the landscapes, some become inspired from memories of pictures I have seen and memories from my travels.

What is your process for deciding what type of landscape to draw?

If I get an idea that I think works, I start to draw, and if it is a good idea, you can get it down on paper quite fast. Otherwise I tear the paper to pieces and start all over again.

Is everything hand-drawn or do you occasionally use the computer?

Most is hand drawn, in my free works I never edit the pictures. In the illustrations I use the computer to make a good and working composition, sometimes but not often I use it for typography and graphic elements.

What interests you about typography?

Communication and how the letterforms can change the meaning of words. With illustrated text it is more abstract than my other drawings, its interesting to work with forms. I like the decorative side and the forms of more functional typefaces. The function and aesthetics of the text body itself is also interesting.


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One Response to “Artist Interview with Johan Björkegren”

  1. Faye West says:

    always a pleasure to be introduced to some one so original and instantly awe inspiring. love.

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