'Storytelling' - Pernilla Iggstrom interview

Left: 'Motherland' Right: 'Borderless (Cultural Nomad)' (2019) by Pernilla Iggstrom - Oil on organza
© Wheldon Photographic

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This month we have been thrilled to finally see a solo exhibition by Pernilla Iggstrom in RB12 design space in Shoreditch, as part of the rotating collaboration with Chrom-Art in this venue. We have had the pleasure to work alongside her on a number of occasions through the years and we could not wait to see her new artworks.

Pernilla, who has now participated in a substantial number of exhibitions and international festivals in London and has recently had a solo exhibition in Sweden, has produced an exciting range of paintings in different formats and materials, with elements of surrealism, impeccable technique and colours that explode into beautiful landscapes, transporting us on a journey across two continents, beautiful memories and the search for the artist’s identity. We will find all about it in the following interview.

‘Banana (Interior/Exterior)’ (2019) by Pernilla Iggstrom – Oil on canvas

The search for your own identity is an important theme in your paintings, please tell us about your first ever paintings. Would you say this self search was one of the reasons why you started your art career or did you start for other reasons and then the theme appeared later on becoming part of your artistic evolution?

I started drawing as soon as I could hold a pen. I remember when I was only a few years old drawing on mail order catalogues while my mum was feeding me. I could draw for hours after school and was sure I would do something creative as a grown up. I used mainly crayons and watercolours then. However, I studied languages later on in school and started to travel. Then later on when back in Sweden I started to work in an office and subsequently moved to Singapore. In about 2001 my creative urge became stronger and I started to take oil painting lessons once a week at the home of an Australian artist. Up until then I had been too scared to try oil on my own. A whole new world opened up to me. After 16 years in the corporate world the need to create became too urgent so in 2007 I left everything and moved to London to realise my dream of being an artist. I did a Foundation course in art and design, followed by a BA (Hons) in Fine Art Painting at City & Guilds of London Art School. It was during my BA that I started to investigate my cultural heritage and how my eight months as a baby in Korea has affected me.

Some of your works are strongly figurative almost photographic, whereas other pieces are totally abstract. Can you explain how you use those very different styles?

I am interested in contrasts; dark/light, impasto paint/thin paint, abstract/representational etc, which could stem from my contrasting cultural identity of looking Asian on the outside but feeling metaphorically “blond and blue eyed” on the inside. Maybe my multicultural background makes me express myself in various styles.The freedom of applying paint with anything but a paint brush for mark making onto a large scale canvas is a very physical act. You actively communicate with the materials and the surface you put them on. Whereas there’s another kind of freedom of just trying to copy an image as realistic as possible without the pressure of having to think too much. I was looking a lot at the German artist Gerhard Richter when doing my BA as his art practice contains both large scale abstracts and smaller very representational paintings. Because of him and the support of art tutors, I learned to accept that I don’t follow the tradition of painting in one style which I had struggled with prior to that.For me the figurative elements are narratives and the abstraction explores the emotional and psychological side of an event.

‘The Keystone’ (2019) by Pernilla Iggstrom – Oil on organza

You also move across different formats, how do you approach large artworks versus mid size or small ones?

I am interested in communicating with people both directly and through my art. Apart from my own need to paint in different sizes, the viewer also engages differently with a large surface where they have to step back to see the whole piece or stand closer to feel enveloped by it, and the intimacy of standing closer to a small painting. There is a very physical and urgent act when painting on a large surface and you need to cover more and faster in order not to break the mark. It is very messy as I often use thick impasto oil paint. For large figurative work I often use a projector to get the proportions right and stand back regularly to look. When I paint small I mostly sit by my desk or sit in front of the wall where the painting hangs on nails at various heights throughout the process.

In your last works you are using organza as canvas material, what does it add to the paintings?

All the surfaces I paint on are used for a reason. Organza is semi-transparent. You can somewhat see through it but not too clearly unless the object is right behind the fabric, just as our heritage and family history isn’t always clear and we can’t remember everything from our past unless it has taken place recently. The events are there within us, but not always visible to others and ourselves.

Coming back to the identity. Tell us about the juxtaposition of the Scandinavian culture you were raised in, with your Asian background which I believe you rediscovered at later stage of life, and how is this reflected in your art.

I’ve always known I was adopted, it has been a very natural part of my entire life. My parents have always supported my curiosity about my background. I was obviously aware of looking different when growing up in Sweden; wanting to look more Swedish when young and later on when I was a teenager feeling unique that I looked different. I am very proud of being Swedish and of my Korean roots with their rich cultural heritage and traditions. Korea is a well organised society just as Sweden is, they both have four seasons and are successful countries. But where Sweden is very liberal and on the forefront of equality, Korea is far behind. Up until art school I had dismissed how much these first eight months in Korea must have affected me but once I started to reflect upon it deeper, with the fantastic support and help of my art tutors, I started to realise that these first months when I was surrounded by my birth culture (language and food etc.) must have somewhat made an imprint on me. It is hard to find a “balance” when investigating Sweden, which I know a lot about, and Korea, which I know very little about. I often use colours and diverse landscapes that represent each country but mostly it is a feeling or experience I try to express.

Natural landscapes are also very important in your artworks and we see lots of them in your latest exhibition, can you tell why?

I love being in the nature and I take lots of photos during my walks which inspire my paintings. The flora and fauna of a country reflects its identity and can be very diverse. Although both Sweden and Korea have beaches and mountains, they look quite different. A landscape can be endless and is easily be a metaphor for the inner landscape, a mental status. Although my work is very personal and I am using my own investigation into my past, I want it to be more general and universal in order for the viewer to interact with the piece of work on his or her own terms. A landscape can be the platform for this. A somewhat bare landscape can offer opportunities to place within it any metaphorical objects or feelings you wish depending on what you’re reflecting on.

The use of a powerful colour palette is also central to your work, why you do choose bright and bold colours as opposed to a more subdued, or if you wish, more realistic natural tones?

I like and have always been drawn to strong colours. I believe that you can also convey a sad event using a colourful palette and it might even have a stronger impact than a monochrome piece as there are a unlimited amount of colour combinations. Even if I set out to use a more limited colour scheme at the start, I end up with many colours.

Would you say there are elements of surrealism in your artworks? Which are your main influences?

If I have to categorise myself I’d say I am a post-modern surrealist painter. There are often elements of surreal situations and abstracted areas in my work as I explore themes on identity where I wish to convey the psychological part of it. As the interpretations are as many as there are viewers, I’d like to leave my work as open as I can. I looked at Magritte, John Stezaker and Candice Breitz a lot during my BA. Stylistically I looked at the Danish artist John Kørner and Joan Miro. You can still see a sense of Kørner in some of my work as I often look at his transparent colour grounds and colour combinations. Others are emerging and upcoming artists such as Joseba Escubi, Anna Lytridou and Ian Rayer Smith. I also use photos of landscapes that I take with my mobile. I look at lot at colour combinations in other artists’ work and in my surroundings.

Can you tell us about your next projects?

I am in a group show in Mayfair in May and am currently in another group show at Duff & Phelps in The Shard. Other than that I just want to spend time in my studio to try out new ideas I have in my head, to work towards a new body of work.

“What is important to me is if my work can inspire the viewer to reflect on his or her own cultural heritage and thereby increase an awareness of him or herself and thereby break down stereotypical impressions and pre-conceived ideas. This is the main goal and plans I have with my work” – Pernilla Iggstrom

To find our more about Pernilla’s work visit pernillaiggsrom.com. Follow Pernilla on Instagram!

And if you are in London, come to ‘Storytelling’ exhibition finissage!

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