INTERVIEW WITH CHRIS ÆRFELDT
Q: WHAT IS YOUR 'WHY'; THE REASON YOU MAKE ART?
I grew up feeling invisible and overlooked.
As a highly sensitive and anxious child, born to refugee parents in Adelaide, Australia, I craved to fit in, to be noticed and feel 'good enough'. I tried to be the best at everything (school, art, singing, tennis) and thought that perhaps my achievements would result in happiness and belonging. But of course they didn't.
Family conversations around our kitchen table were solely utilitarian. My parents were in emotional survival mode, with no spare time or energy that went beyond the basics. No one cared in the slightest what I thought or felt. However, inside I was churning with emotions and thoughts.
At the age of eleven I started making oil paintings in my dad's shed.
I just needed to get away from the noise and have some time to think and express what was locked inside.
With pictures I could attempt to transform and repair all that was not right in my world.
That's why for me, images speak louder and faster than words. And go way deeper. In talk there is too much 'spin' and fluff (and in my family it was secrets as well), so I learned to quietly observe rather than listen to uncover the truth.
As a child I took whatever images I could lay my hands upon to use as source material, and adapted them for my own purposes. I made drawings based on our kitchen calendar photos of the Swiss Alps. I secretly cut up our set of family encyclopaedias to extract reproductions of my favourite old master paintings - I knew no one would ever look to check. Old family photos from the farm in Estonia found their way into my pictures as well as images of pretty women in nice dresses found in newspapers and junk mail. I used whatever was at hand.
Q: WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF YOUR ART?
I get overwhelmed easily - I absorb too much information and somehow need to process and make sense of it.
For me, a picture is a place where I can place a mass of potentially contradictory information and have it co-exist in a truthful yet complex way. There are always multiple situations, stories and points of view combined in each artwork; both the bitter and the sweet. The paintings act like visual filing cabinets - a space for the messy and beautiful to be deposited together.
Going deeper is just what I do by default.
I can't help it. Instead of shutting the door and blocking out information, or escaping to some sort of mindless distraction or anaesthetising activity, I delve inside myself, and simultaneously spend hours researching whatever topic intrigues me at the time. Art is a way to face difficult things head on; processing and ordering aspects of life as honestly as I can.
I am a truth seeker in a world where relativity reigns.
The act of transforming what is complicated, difficult and contradictory into something good and better through pictures is my way of trying to repair the world. I want to look at life 'better'.
When you change the way you see and think about things it changes the way you act.
Q: WHY PAINT?
Paint on canvas is my main medium because I love the humility of using these simple materials. I am drawn to the idea of continuing in an artistic lineage, using art history as my trampoline, and trying to add a tiny piece to the grand story.
We often seem to assume that newest is best, but I see history as continuing to repeat itself and human nature as unchanging, so the choice of paint and the use of painting traditions is a way for me to subtly refer to this.
I quite like the idea of being thought of as slightly retrograde in an art world establishment that is largely in love with newer technology.
Unlike digital or photographic images, each hand-painted mark is a personal artefact; an archeology of a particular moment. Emotion and thought is transferred into an arm or hand gesture where the painting implement meets with the surface in a particular way.
Paint is layered thought.
In contrast to film, music, or performance, paintings don't impose any time constraints onto the viewer. It is totally your choice whether you give a picture a simple glance or choose to spend an hour in front of it. No one is telling you when to start or stop - you decide. This offering of freedom to the viewer resonates with how deeply I value freedom as a principle.
Q: HOW DO YOU CHOOSE YOR SUBJECT MATTER?
I am drawn to everyday subjects - things that we see in everyday life but may not take much notice of. I like to add value to the overlooked or under cared-for.
My language is that of metaphor and symbols, but used in a personal mix-and-match way.
I 'steal' from art history, and have learned a few tricks from high end fashion photography, haute couture shows and luxury magazines .
People often ask, 'Why do you almost exclusively paint women?'
Well, for a start we have had centuries of men painting women, and I am not sure that anyone asked them to explain. As a woman painting female characters, it is bound to offer a different point of view from the past; I am painting the inside story based on my own specifically female experiences.
When I need models I ask friends and female acquaintances. Actually my mother and my grandmother are often my invisible models - I replicate and dramatise some of their life situations.
I transform my characters into heroines and set them off on epic journeys like we see in grand history and mythology paintings.
Everyday life is an epic journey, although it probably bears a closer resemblance to Marge and Homer Simpson than to Homer's Odyssey. I want to add dignity and value to daily tasks which are often overlooked; especially to what is typically seen as ‘women’s work’.
We are on a heroic journey, and in many ways our biggest challenges can be around the so called ‘ordinary’ aspects of life - relationships, daily work, routines...
I like to choose subjects and invent situations that can make me smile. It's not meant to be all serious, in fact humour brings out many home truths.