Getting lost in his own world

The work of Swedish artist Joakim Ojanen may have once been tinged with melancholy but now, with his drawings and sculptures in wood and ceramic, it is a riot of playfulness, fantasy and colour. As his most recent exhibition showed, his is the parallel universe of his surreal imagination – let The Forumist take you there.

With inspiration from childhood comic strips, his youth as a graffiti artist and with a fascination for fanzines, Joakim Ojanen has created a unique place for himself in the often conservative art world. Driven by the desire to give life to something the world has never seen even the outlines of, he has in a way realised his own universe. You won’t regret taking a dive down the rabbit hole that is Ojanen’s art.

Stockholm-based artist Joakim Ojanen recently returned to Sweden from his first ever solo exhibition in Asia at contemporary art gallery AISHONANZUKA in Hong Kong. In just a few years, Ojanen has gained widespread international recognition for his quirky, heart-warming art. With an educational background from the illustration and graphic design programme at Konstfack art school in Stockholm, Ojanen’s art career really took off after he discovered the potential of ceramics. What started as a search for a hobby soon came to be the most significant part of his artistic expression, offering a new dimension to his already unique characters. Today, Ojanen’s work is presented through an organic flow between a range of different art media. Whether the end product is a ceramic sculpture, a drawing or an oil painting, the observer quickly gets the characteristic feel of the endearing yet outrageous characters that Ojanen gives life to.

If the early work of Ojanen best have been described as melancholic, the Asian solo debut in early 2020, titled ‘A day in the woods’, was an explosion of colours and a playfulness with shapes constantly challenging the viewers imagination. The exhibition displays a side of his artistic mind perhaps more oblique than ever before, but without losing the desolate expression his characters have become famous for.

“The last exhibition is a little bit more twisted than the art I did two years ago that was more melancholic in its expression,” Ojanen reasons. “This approach is not really a strategy but something that has developed subconsciously. I have found something that I like and elaborated on it. That’s how it mostly happens when my artistic expression changes. I rarely work with different themes for exhibitions. My work is intertwined and in constant motion, it changes a little bit all the time. I really see my artistic expression as one single piece of art, with the things that I create belonging together.”

In the same way, every glimpse of Ojanen’s art is a new adventure for the observer, just as every day in the studio is a potential new approach for Joakim. The feelings he brings into the studio are an indication of what is about to be created.

“I often return to the fact that my artwork is intuitive. It can be rather driven by my mood and reflect my energy at the time when the art is created,” Ojanen says. He elaborates further on the actual creation process: “It’s a bit different depending on the media I work with. With drawings and ceramic sculptures, it really starts with a vague idea that develops into a complete drawing or sculpture. One shape leads to the next shape and my challenge is to create a unity that works for the completed art piece.”

Something that reoccurs when Ojanen speaks about his own art is the description of his artistic output as a unified whole. The endearingly gloomy, tragicomic, dreamy and surreal characters are all part of the same universe, one that Joakim has been working on for years and which he describes as close to our own but more honest; a place without time where people can show their true feelings without hiding behind a façade.

”The ‘Universe’ that is my art is actually not thought out or deliberate. It’s more like a different way of describing the library of elements that I have in my head. Things reoccur, sometimes whole characters, but mostly it’s small details that change places and, in that way, gives life to new characters. My artwork is intuitive, and I do not have any specific background story for what I create. Maybe it sounds a little bit hollow, but I believe in the force of the actual creation process. If I create something that comes from what we could call nowhere and it feels genuine, I think that there lies a true value in that alone. The fact that it is possible to create something that is completely unique and that no one in the history of the world has ever seen before is quite staggering and cool.”

As the world currently is at a standstill due to the coronavirus pandemic, the parallel universe of Ojanen’s art lives on. The fact that the art could take influence from these extraordinary times is a possibility that Ojanen embraces. After all, the art is very much a reflection of the reality he lives in.

“It’s probably not something that I would choose consciously, but in the end my art is somewhat a mirror of myself. Looking back at my art a few years from now, I might notice how much, or if it affected me. It’s always hard to reflect on your art when you are in the middle of it. Right now, I am in the very beginning of creating the art for my next solo exhibition at Richard Heller Gallery, Santa Monica, in September. I am working on new paintings, drawings and sculptures and I am very excited to see how it turns out.”

Team credits:
Words by Ted Hammerin
Artwork by Joakim Ojanen

Art credits:
1# Oil on canvas “I’m not sure about this hat I like it a lot but it’s so big” (2020)
2# Glazed ceramic “We got this! I got your back, you got
mine. it’s us against the world.” (2020)
3# Portrait of Joakim Ojanen by Frida Vega Salomonsson
4# Sculpture “Mixed ceramic sculptures” (2019)
5# Glazed ceramic “I’m gonna save this moment and pick this up again in February” (2020)
6# Oil on canvas “This is the dance that freezes time and I wanna dance it with you” (2020)
7# Charcoal on paper “Oh this one I wanna keep, I’ve never seen anything like this, so happy, so charming!” (2019)