INTERVIEW

SVERRE MALLING

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I like to be between tradition and rebellion, the cultured and the vulgar, the reserved and the flamboyant, the adult and the childish. Men and monsters, clean and unclean

Sverre Malling (b. 1977) creates work notable for its precision and intricacy, entwining together references to classical art, botany, the occult, psychedelia, folk art, and children’s illustrations. After an early debut atOslo’s prestigious exhibition høstutstillingen at 17, he went on to study at Einar Granum’s school of art (1996–97), SHKS (1997–2000) and the Norwegian National Academy of Fine Arts (2000–2004). He has since attracted acclaim on a national scale and has sold works to the National Gallery of Norway, the Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum, and Drammen Museum.


Please briefly tell us about you and your first steps in the art world.

I’ve always liked drawing. As a boy I drew for hours every day, and this continued through my youth. I barricaded myself in my room, where I could explore my imagination with pencils and paper. When kids my age started thinking about career choices, I was full of doubt and lacking in direction. Sure, I had a talent for drawing but had no inkling that this could become a profession. I haven’t really been raised to appreciate arts and culture, so I haven’t exactly been encouraged to become an artist.

I had an awakening at the age of 16 when I watched a documentary about Salvador Dali on my parents’ TV. That made a huge impression! For the first time I got to know of an artist whose works reminded me of my own experiments in my boy’s room. He set me free to explore worlds beyond the grey everyday. In Dali’s world I could escape chores, conformity and schoolwork. This became my point of no return, and as I ventured deeper into the world of art I discovered names like Dürer, Holbein and Grünewald.

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Your first exhibition was back in 1995, during your teenage years. Since then you have been in several prestigious art shows. Can you tell us what, if any, are the challenges or satisfactions you have encountered in this process?

My debut was at the annual Høstutstillingen as a 17-year old. I was still in high school, where I was terribly bored. When I came home from school, I’d sit alone in my room and draw until late into the evening.

After discovering German expressionists like Kollwitz, Kokoschka and Kirchner I wanted to try my hand at graphic works. The result was a Munch-inspired linoleum print I titled “Lindring” (“Solace”). The piece depicts a man being comforted by a woman. I can still remember how great it felt to take the train into the capital to see my own work hanging at the exhibition at the House of Artists. It gave me a sense of being initiated into a secret world.

My enthusiasm for drawing came straight from the heart. It still does. This enthusiasm is typical of young artists and has a tendency to disappear as their education proceeds. In art academies and schools they learn to live up to the rules and regulations, codes and expectations of the art world. I appreciate the need for this process of maturation, but I’ve tried to keep the young Sverre in his boy’s room alive.

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You have been referred to as the 21st century’s Theodor Kittelsen, one of Norway’s most renowned artists due to his original and spectacular drawings. What do you feel about this comparison? 

That’s a compliment I’m not sure if I deserve, but it sure is an honor. Kittelsen was a big part of my childhood. My grandparents had a book about him, and he was the first Norwegian artist I was interested in. I think what really made me enamoured of his art was that he had an almost childlike way of seeing the world, something most of us lose when we become adults. His art also breaks a lot of the expectations people have of art, it is playful and puerile and rude. His world is also scary, a twilight world where untamed beasts and monsters conquer our prudish world.


Many of your drawings are close to the border between the subtle and understated, and the distinctly exaggerated and sometimes in a good way grotesque. What does your work reflect? What is the message you want to convey?
 

An underlying theme in much of my work is the transcendence of opposites. I like to be between tradition and rebellion, the cultured and the vulgar, the reserved and the flamboyant, the adult and the childish. Men and monsters, clean and unclean. Art allows us to break the boundaries society expects us to operate within. We can be as multifaceted and enigmatic as we like.

Another Leitmotif for me is transience. Some of my works are intended as memento mori, with falling leaves, worm-eaten fruits, skulls, rusty car wrecks, failed utopias, forgotten dreams and lost loves. I also have a particular interest in the Dutch still life artists Otto Marseus Van Schrieck and Mathias Withoos, whose studies of plants and insects captivated me. Their world is one where crawling creatures are both carriers of disease and of the principle of life itself, and become allegories for the violence of life. I want to reflect on decay and see it from different angles.

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When you are working on one of your drawings, where does your inspiration come from?

The art world is a constant adventure for me. I like to stay updated on the gallery scene and searching out new artists, as well as watching classic art in museums. While I am in awe of the great masters, I have an affinity for outsider artists such as Austin Osman Spare and Richard Dadd. I’m also a film buff and I read books and comics, especially stuff that’s a bit outside the mainstream. I enjoy surprising myself by letting new influences into my art.


In a previous interview you mentioned that your mind is constantly creating art. Besides drawing, in what other art forms do you enjoy expressing your creativity?

I like dressing up and interior decoration to explore the relationship between these necessities and my art. My apartment is pretty much a curiosity cabinet at this point! I also love classic cars and drive 1965 Volvo, the same that Roger Moore drives in “The Saint”. Long drives in the country are both cathartic and inspirational for me. I guess I’m a bit of an aesthete!

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The alphabet you created for Higher Ground strikes us for its originality. What is the concept behind this series?

“Higher Ground” is the title of a Stevie Wonder song that the Red Hot Chili Peppers recorded and placed in the charts in the 80s. The lyrics deal with spiritual awakening, and how spirituality can conquer the baser, perhaps even evil instincts in man. In my drawing I use the tension between the utopian and the ruinous as a backdrop. I’m pointing towards both a higher harmony and a primal chaos. Perhaps this vantage point is somewhere we might find ourself and our relationship with nature?


“Hotel California Postcard” was one of your featured drawings representing the banality of popular culture. How did you came with this idea and why?

Hotel California Postcard is, as the title indicates, a fake postcard. I picked up the idea from Cornelius Gijsbrechts well-known work Reverse side of a painting which again is pretty self-explanatory: The back of the painting is the painting. Hotel California Postcard of course refers to the Eagles track, where Hotel California becomes a claustrophobic space where one must confront monstrous forces: “The Beast”. An urban legend claims that the song is about Anton LaVey and his Church of Satan, and exploring this demonic element in what is possibly the ultimate dad-rock track is perhaps indicative of much that goes on in my art: The Devil in the details, hiding below a deceitful surface.

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As your art continues to grow and achieves widespread recognition, what do you hope people are getting from it?

I hope my drawings constitute an unending chain of ambiguous symbols, suggestions and allusions. Hopefully my works will enter new contexts where the audience will find new meaning in them.


Could you tell us some interesting, and perhaps less known, facts about your life?

I’m a veteran Kiss fan, and when I was a kid I really thought that Ace Frehley’s very Freudian solo track “Rocket Ride” was about space exploration…

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What advice would you give to a young artist?

The advice I’d give to young artists is to be open to other people and to life itself. Be curious and embrace what life throws at you.


Are there any exciting future projects you would like to share with us?

Right now I’m working on a solo exhibition in London in 2020, where I’m showing a selection of new drawings. I’m very excited to have an exhibition outside of Norway, and feel grateful for the opportunity to show my works to a new audience.

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I like to be between tradition and rebellion, the cultured and the vulgar, the reserved and the flamboyant, the adult and the childish. Men and monsters, clean and unclean

Sverre Malling (b. 1977) creates work notable for its precision and intricacy, entwining together references to classical art, botany, the occult, psychedelia, folk art, and children’s illustrations. After an early debut atOslo’s prestigious exhibition høstutstillingen at 17, he went on to study at Einar Granum’s school of art (1996–97), SHKS (1997–2000) and the Norwegian National Academy of Fine Arts (2000–2004). He has since attracted acclaim on a national scale and has sold works to the National Gallery of Norway, the Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum, and Drammen Museum.


Please briefly tell us about you and your first steps in the art world.

I’ve always liked drawing. As a boy I drew for hours every day, and this continued through my youth. I barricaded myself in my room, where I could explore my imagination with pencils and paper. When kids my age started thinking about career choices, I was full of doubt and lacking in direction. Sure, I had a talent for drawing but had no inkling that this could become a profession. I haven’t really been raised to appreciate arts and culture, so I haven’t exactly been encouraged to become an artist.

I had an awakening at the age of 16 when I watched a documentary about Salvador Dali on my parents’ TV. That made a huge impression! For the first time I got to know of an artist whose works reminded me of my own experiments in my boy’s room. He set me free to explore worlds beyond the grey everyday. In Dali’s world I could escape chores, conformity and schoolwork. This became my point of no return, and as I ventured deeper into the world of art I discovered names like Dürer, Holbein and Grünewald.

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Your first exhibition was back in 1995, during your teenage years. Since then you have been in several prestigious art shows. Can you tell us what, if any, are the challenges or satisfactions you have encountered in this process?

My debut was at the annual Høstutstillingen as a 17-year old. I was still in high school, where I was terribly bored. When I came home from school, I’d sit alone in my room and draw until late into the evening.

After discovering German expressionists like Kollwitz, Kokoschka and Kirchner I wanted to try my hand at graphic works. The result was a Munch-inspired linoleum print I titled “Lindring” (“Solace”). The piece depicts a man being comforted by a woman. I can still remember how great it felt to take the train into the capital to see my own work hanging at the exhibition at the House of Artists. It gave me a sense of being initiated into a secret world.

My enthusiasm for drawing came straight from the heart. It still does. This enthusiasm is typical of young artists and has a tendency to disappear as their education proceeds. In art academies and schools they learn to live up to the rules and regulations, codes and expectations of the art world. I appreciate the need for this process of maturation, but I’ve tried to keep the young Sverre in his boy’s room alive.

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You have been referred to as the 21st century’s Theodor Kittelsen, one of Norway’s most renowned artists due to his original and spectacular drawings. What do you feel about this comparison? 

That’s a compliment I’m not sure if I deserve, but it sure is an honor. Kittelsen was a big part of my childhood. My grandparents had a book about him, and he was the first Norwegian artist I was interested in. I think what really made me enamoured of his art was that he had an almost childlike way of seeing the world, something most of us lose when we become adults. His art also breaks a lot of the expectations people have of art, it is playful and puerile and rude. His world is also scary, a twilight world where untamed beasts and monsters conquer our prudish world.


Many of your drawings are close to the border between the subtle and understated, and the distinctly exaggerated and sometimes in a good way grotesque. What does your work reflect? What is the message you want to convey?
 

An underlying theme in much of my work is the transcendence of opposites. I like to be between tradition and rebellion, the cultured and the vulgar, the reserved and the flamboyant, the adult and the childish. Men and monsters, clean and unclean. Art allows us to break the boundaries society expects us to operate within. We can be as multifaceted and enigmatic as we like.

Another Leitmotif for me is transience. Some of my works are intended as memento mori, with falling leaves, worm-eaten fruits, skulls, rusty car wrecks, failed utopias, forgotten dreams and lost loves. I also have a particular interest in the Dutch still life artists Otto Marseus Van Schrieck and Mathias Withoos, whose studies of plants and insects captivated me. Their world is one where crawling creatures are both carriers of disease and of the principle of life itself, and become allegories for the violence of life. I want to reflect on decay and see it from different angles.

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When you are working on one of your drawings, where does your inspiration come from?

The art world is a constant adventure for me. I like to stay updated on the gallery scene and searching out new artists, as well as watching classic art in museums. While I am in awe of the great masters, I have an affinity for outsider artists such as Austin Osman Spare and Richard Dadd. I’m also a film buff and I read books and comics, especially stuff that’s a bit outside the mainstream. I enjoy surprising myself by letting new influences into my art.


In a previous interview you mentioned that your mind is constantly creating art. Besides drawing, in what other art forms do you enjoy expressing your creativity?

I like dressing up and interior decoration to explore the relationship between these necessities and my art. My apartment is pretty much a curiosity cabinet at this point! I also love classic cars and drive 1965 Volvo, the same that Roger Moore drives in “The Saint”. Long drives in the country are both cathartic and inspirational for me. I guess I’m a bit of an aesthete!

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The alphabet you created for Higher Ground strikes us for its originality. What is the concept behind this series?

“Higher Ground” is the title of a Stevie Wonder song that the Red Hot Chili Peppers recorded and placed in the charts in the 80s. The lyrics deal with spiritual awakening, and how spirituality can conquer the baser, perhaps even evil instincts in man. In my drawing I use the tension between the utopian and the ruinous as a backdrop. I’m pointing towards both a higher harmony and a primal chaos. Perhaps this vantage point is somewhere we might find ourself and our relationship with nature?


“Hotel California Postcard” was one of your featured drawings representing the banality of popular culture. How did you came with this idea and why?

Hotel California Postcard is, as the title indicates, a fake postcard. I picked up the idea from Cornelius Gijsbrechts well-known work Reverse side of a painting which again is pretty self-explanatory: The back of the painting is the painting. Hotel California Postcard of course refers to the Eagles track, where Hotel California becomes a claustrophobic space where one must confront monstrous forces: “The Beast”. An urban legend claims that the song is about Anton LaVey and his Church of Satan, and exploring this demonic element in what is possibly the ultimate dad-rock track is perhaps indicative of much that goes on in my art: The Devil in the details, hiding below a deceitful surface.

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As your art continues to grow and achieves widespread recognition, what do you hope people are getting from it?

I hope my drawings constitute an unending chain of ambiguous symbols, suggestions and allusions. Hopefully my works will enter new contexts where the audience will find new meaning in them.


Could you tell us some interesting, and perhaps less known, facts about your life?

I’m a veteran Kiss fan, and when I was a kid I really thought that Ace Frehley’s very Freudian solo track “Rocket Ride” was about space exploration…

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What advice would you give to a young artist?

The advice I’d give to young artists is to be open to other people and to life itself. Be curious and embrace what life throws at you.


Are there any exciting future projects you would like to share with us?

Right now I’m working on a solo exhibition in London in 2020, where I’m showing a selection of new drawings. I’m very excited to have an exhibition outside of Norway, and feel grateful for the opportunity to show my works to a new audience.

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I like to be between tradition and rebellion, the cultured and the vulgar, the reserved and the flamboyant, the adult and the childish. Men and monsters, clean and unclean

Sverre Malling (b. 1977) creates work notable for its precision and intricacy, entwining together references to classical art, botany, the occult, psychedelia, folk art, and children’s illustrations. After an early debut atOslo’s prestigious exhibition høstutstillingen at 17, he went on to study at Einar Granum’s school of art (1996–97), SHKS (1997–2000) and the Norwegian National Academy of Fine Arts (2000–2004). He has since attracted acclaim on a national scale and has sold works to the National Gallery of Norway, the Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum, and Drammen Museum.


Please briefly tell us about you and your first steps in the art world.

I’ve always liked drawing. As a boy I drew for hours every day, and this continued through my youth. I barricaded myself in my room, where I could explore my imagination with pencils and paper. When kids my age started thinking about career choices, I was full of doubt and lacking in direction. Sure, I had a talent for drawing but had no inkling that this could become a profession. I haven’t really been raised to appreciate arts and culture, so I haven’t exactly been encouraged to become an artist.

I had an awakening at the age of 16 when I watched a documentary about Salvador Dali on my parents’ TV. That made a huge impression! For the first time I got to know of an artist whose works reminded me of my own experiments in my boy’s room. He set me free to explore worlds beyond the grey everyday. In Dali’s world I could escape chores, conformity and schoolwork. This became my point of no return, and as I ventured deeper into the world of art I discovered names like Dürer, Holbein and Grünewald.

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Your first exhibition was back in 1995, during your teenage years. Since then you have been in several prestigious art shows. Can you tell us what, if any, are the challenges or satisfactions you have encountered in this process?

My debut was at the annual Høstutstillingen as a 17-year old. I was still in high school, where I was terribly bored. When I came home from school, I’d sit alone in my room and draw until late into the evening.

After discovering German expressionists like Kollwitz, Kokoschka and Kirchner I wanted to try my hand at graphic works. The result was a Munch-inspired linoleum print I titled “Lindring” (“Solace”). The piece depicts a man being comforted by a woman. I can still remember how great it felt to take the train into the capital to see my own work hanging at the exhibition at the House of Artists. It gave me a sense of being initiated into a secret world.

My enthusiasm for drawing came straight from the heart. It still does. This enthusiasm is typical of young artists and has a tendency to disappear as their education proceeds. In art academies and schools they learn to live up to the rules and regulations, codes and expectations of the art world. I appreciate the need for this process of maturation, but I’ve tried to keep the young Sverre in his boy’s room alive.

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You have been referred to as the 21st century’s Theodor Kittelsen, one of Norway’s most renowned artists due to his original and spectacular drawings. What do you feel about this comparison? 

That’s a compliment I’m not sure if I deserve, but it sure is an honor. Kittelsen was a big part of my childhood. My grandparents had a book about him, and he was the first Norwegian artist I was interested in. I think what really made me enamoured of his art was that he had an almost childlike way of seeing the world, something most of us lose when we become adults. His art also breaks a lot of the expectations people have of art, it is playful and puerile and rude. His world is also scary, a twilight world where untamed beasts and monsters conquer our prudish world.


Many of your drawings are close to the border between the subtle and understated, and the distinctly exaggerated and sometimes in a good way grotesque. What does your work reflect? What is the message you want to convey?
 

An underlying theme in much of my work is the transcendence of opposites. I like to be between tradition and rebellion, the cultured and the vulgar, the reserved and the flamboyant, the adult and the childish. Men and monsters, clean and unclean. Art allows us to break the boundaries society expects us to operate within. We can be as multifaceted and enigmatic as we like.

Another Leitmotif for me is transience. Some of my works are intended as memento mori, with falling leaves, worm-eaten fruits, skulls, rusty car wrecks, failed utopias, forgotten dreams and lost loves. I also have a particular interest in the Dutch still life artists Otto Marseus Van Schrieck and Mathias Withoos, whose studies of plants and insects captivated me. Their world is one where crawling creatures are both carriers of disease and of the principle of life itself, and become allegories for the violence of life. I want to reflect on decay and see it from different angles.

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When you are working on one of your drawings, where does your inspiration come from?

The art world is a constant adventure for me. I like to stay updated on the gallery scene and searching out new artists, as well as watching classic art in museums. While I am in awe of the great masters, I have an affinity for outsider artists such as Austin Osman Spare and Richard Dadd. I’m also a film buff and I read books and comics, especially stuff that’s a bit outside the mainstream. I enjoy surprising myself by letting new influences into my art.


In a previous interview you mentioned that your mind is constantly creating art. Besides drawing, in what other art forms do you enjoy expressing your creativity?

I like dressing up and interior decoration to explore the relationship between these necessities and my art. My apartment is pretty much a curiosity cabinet at this point! I also love classic cars and drive 1965 Volvo, the same that Roger Moore drives in “The Saint”. Long drives in the country are both cathartic and inspirational for me. I guess I’m a bit of an aesthete!

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The alphabet you created for Higher Ground strikes us for its originality. What is the concept behind this series?

“Higher Ground” is the title of a Stevie Wonder song that the Red Hot Chili Peppers recorded and placed in the charts in the 80s. The lyrics deal with spiritual awakening, and how spirituality can conquer the baser, perhaps even evil instincts in man. In my drawing I use the tension between the utopian and the ruinous as a backdrop. I’m pointing towards both a higher harmony and a primal chaos. Perhaps this vantage point is somewhere we might find ourself and our relationship with nature?


“Hotel California Postcard” was one of your featured drawings representing the banality of popular culture. How did you came with this idea and why?

Hotel California Postcard is, as the title indicates, a fake postcard. I picked up the idea from Cornelius Gijsbrechts well-known work Reverse side of a painting which again is pretty self-explanatory: The back of the painting is the painting. Hotel California Postcard of course refers to the Eagles track, where Hotel California becomes a claustrophobic space where one must confront monstrous forces: “The Beast”. An urban legend claims that the song is about Anton LaVey and his Church of Satan, and exploring this demonic element in what is possibly the ultimate dad-rock track is perhaps indicative of much that goes on in my art: The Devil in the details, hiding below a deceitful surface.

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As your art continues to grow and achieves widespread recognition, what do you hope people are getting from it?

I hope my drawings constitute an unending chain of ambiguous symbols, suggestions and allusions. Hopefully my works will enter new contexts where the audience will find new meaning in them.


Could you tell us some interesting, and perhaps less known, facts about your life?

I’m a veteran Kiss fan, and when I was a kid I really thought that Ace Frehley’s very Freudian solo track “Rocket Ride” was about space exploration…

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What advice would you give to a young artist?

The advice I’d give to young artists is to be open to other people and to life itself. Be curious and embrace what life throws at you.


Are there any exciting future projects you would like to share with us?

Right now I’m working on a solo exhibition in London in 2020, where I’m showing a selection of new drawings. I’m very excited to have an exhibition outside of Norway, and feel grateful for the opportunity to show my works to a new audience.

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