Straight line fever
We talk to the artist Kristoffer Nilson. A painter that works in the field of conceptual minimalism and despite the serious character of his work has a charming and expressive personality.
Why did you become an artist?
“Well I dont know really but I remember that when I was a kid when we lived in Stockholm, my grandmother took care of me during the days and she was an artist working with pottery. We spent the time in her studio and she showed me how to do sculptures in clay and kept me busy, it was a wonderful time. I guess it was there everything started.”
“Then my brothers and I moved to the US with my mother who had separated from my dad, we lived in Santa Monica, CA and Boulder, CO where I continued to make art all the way trough school.”
“I was getting into the american youthculture a bit too much so my mother had to send me back to Stockholm to stay with my father. He put me in restaurant school where he was a principal.”
“I had a possible career in the restaurant trade where I worked for a while but I hated it. My goal was to get into art school so I started with two years at Pernbys artschool which is a preparatory arteducation in Stockholm. I then applied to Konstfack and KKH-Mejan in Stockholm. After applying a couple of times I got into Konstfack-University College of Arts, Crafts and Design.”
Tell us about the idea and execution of your artworks.
“I was looking for a symbol, an everyday item that nobody really pays any attention to. Finding the form for income tax return was the turning point, the dry bureaucratic forms that everybody has to do once a year was my great inspiration for a painting.”
“What I did was to remove all the text and numbers so that only the grid on the form was left. In this way the painting is exactly correct geometrically but totally anonymous, you have no idea what it is really but it looks stunning.”
“So I started making these works and the process was quite labourintensive. I use mdf board exactly cut to correspond to the enlarged A4. I paint the surface with a special mixture of glue and paint that creates a hard surface, up to 40 layers are applied which I then sand. Then I start to transfer the gridwork to the painted surface, a lot of intricate measurements are done and then I start the tedious work of filling in the pattern with graphite. Then when the whole gridpattern is completed I have to clean up the surface and borders with an eraser, the final touch is fixating the graphite with a soft spray layer of fixative. This takes up to 2-3 weeks.”
Was the works well received or did the artaudience find it incomprehensible?
“No no, they embraced these paintings almost at an instance, like there had been something lacking thematically in the conceptual minimalist painting tradition. This idea of mine was unique, nobody had really done this before. Of course i adore artists like Donald Judd and Sol Lewitt but I belive my works took everything a step further. As an artist I make the desicions what to do or not and these series of paintings called System is a way of letting the form control the artwork. Especially here in Sweden we are somewhat bureaucratic and follow almost anything the government tells us. I would like to see it as I disrobe the states social and fiscal control. You have to work with the system in order to gain control over it.”
“I actually sold a lot of these works. Imagine, selling images of empty forms to collectors willing to make an investment, the power of economics!”
It sounds like you have been reading a bit of Deleuze. But how do you develop your work further?
“After a couple of years and several exhibitions I was looking for new inspiration.”
“I heard from a fellow artist who worked at the postoffice distribution department that it was an interesting place to work at. I needed to break away from the everyday routines and get a change of scenery so I signed up for parttime.”
“As the society became more digitalized and everything was being done on the internet, physical paper forms was in decline. At this distribution departement for parcels I discovered something else that was quiet interesting. As everything could be ordered on the internet there was a huge increase in the transportation and distribution of parcels and to control these enourmous amounts of shippings a system of labels has developed with intricate coding and colorschemes. As the shipping is very physical, paper labels are vital for the system, they still need them. This was my new body of work, to paint these labels stripped from digits just the abstract forms looking peculiar and unpredictable, the only common parameters is the measurements and the barcodes. This series of works were called “Fronts” and now the artwork was not only white but had different colors due to where they came from. I used the same technique in making these artworks as the erlier ones.”
“It is quiet fascinating how the handling of the goods becomes more automated. At work robots take care of labelling and scanning but the human prescense is still vital.”
Words by Axel Mörner
Kristoffer Nilson is represented by Galleri Flach.