Born in Trollhättan, near the west coast of Sweden and the now redundant home of the once great creators of motor car, Saab, Benjamin Björklund has enjoyed a varied career as a prison night guard, psychiatric nurse and studied to be a veterinary technician. As a painter he draws upon past experiences and current influences to create in oil and watercolour.
He lives in Uppsala, Sweden.
Spending the majority of his time in Sweden, Ben enjoys a simple life based in a small rustic 19th century wooden farm house shared with his Great Dane and muse, Solomon, and a menagerie of pets including rabbits, guinea pigs, mice and rats.
Hi Benjamin! So you have worked as a prison night guard, psychiatric nurse and studied to be a veterinary technician, all careers where I imagine you see some very interesting things. Why did you decide to focus on painting, and how do these past experiences influence your work?
I tried staying away from seeing painting as my job for as long as possible! I felt more comfortable with having a job on the side to secure my income, and to not let money come in the way of making the work that I wanted to do. But painting takes up so much of my time, I spend almost every minute of the day painting or something that has to do with painting. When I was studying to become a veterinary technician, the only way I could focus on school was to store away all my painting material, which meant I wouldn’t be able to paint for years. It felt okay at first, but after a while I started missing it so much. Thats why I never completed the education. I figured I would try to make a living of painting for a while and see how it felt. It’s been about six months now, and it feels pretty good, I appreciate having the time that I need. But one thing I miss is the all of the experiences that come with working in for example the jail or the hospital. I would leave work with so many ideas, and I realize now that I shut myself in the studio too much, it can affect my work negatively. So right now I’m thinking of maybe trying to have a part-time job and painting for the rest, just to have a reason to get out and experience the real world.
Your work is quite abstract, with soft lines, yet a roughness to your work, how would you describe your style and how did it develop?
I am not sure how to describe my work, it is hard, but I enjoy shapes and enjoy designing the shapes to suit my idea. Thats what I spend most time doing. I like to organize a painting until I can look at it and feel calm about how the shapes and colors work with each other. I have tried to take bits and pieces from different artists that I like. I think that is something subconscious, I look at paintings I enjoy and can sense them reappearing in my own work. But I would say my inspiration in painting is more music than visual arts. I look at paintings for ideas and to see how other artists handle subjects and solve different problems, but music is my biggest inspiration, it just so happens painting suits me more as an art form (also I’m not musically gifted). I think in the past I have made larger work, and I think that has been a way to try and make an impact in the same way music does for me. I would love to make a painting that could be as grand as for example a Godspeed You! Black Emperor song. But I’m starting to accept they are separate art forms and work differently.
“I would love to make a painting that could be as grand as for example a Godspeed You! Black Emperor song. But I’m starting to accept they are separate art forms and work differently.”
In terms of subject, you mainly focus on living subjects, humans and animals, usually isolated in the frame, why this focus?
I started out painting mainly human portraits, it’s always been a favorite subject. I like the simple compositions, the single focus seems to fit my mindset. I have a hard time focusing on multiple things at once and when the canvas gets too busy I can’t really handle it. It’s something I’m working on, trying to overcome that feeling. I have recently started focusing a bit more on landscapes, hopefully that will force me to handle it better.
What strikes me about a lot of your work is the eyes, or lack thereof. Especially with portraits one often says the eyes are a gateway, what do you think?
I can’t remember when the eyes started to disappear in my portraits, it was not a conscious choice, but I often feel painting all the facial features bothers me. It’s not the person or individual I’m painting, it’s more the shapes in a face. The face seems like a good subject to play with the shapes, it’s so recognizable and you can hint at or imply features that reads well.
Would you say you’re more focused on the emotional and physical state of your subject, rather the details of their appearance?
Yes, I like to think so. I am not concerned about getting a likeness, though I probably could not even if I really wanted to. I like to make changes along the way that fit my idea about the painting.
Many of your portraits are larger than life, what effect do you feel this has on the subject and the viewer?
I have started to go down in scale a bit, I feel the larger paintings have been too loud, taking up too much space. But the bigger paintings have been my idea of expressing myself a bit more, making a bigger impact, again referring to music. But now I enjoy smaller paintings more. When I go down in scale they seem to work better, at least for the work I’m doing right now.
You’ve called your Great Dane Solomon your muse, tell me more about this lovely creature, and how painting such a familiar face differs from other portraits.
Solomon is my 183 pound Great Dane. He is 4,5 years old and is my constant studio companion. I have been painting him a lot, almost too much, I have to stop myself from painting him now. It gets easier every time I paint him, I know his face so well by this point. For some reason I like to paint all his features, I guess because in those paintings I want to really capture him as an individual and not just a dog or a pet.
You recently travelled to America, what did you do there and how does such an experience influence your work?
Me and my friend Blake Neubert have been in Los Angeles and Denver doing workshops and demos. It’s been a good experience, although painting in front of people still terrifies me. I think it has been good to open up a bit with painting, it’s been a bit of my secret almost, not in the sense that I have hidden it, but that I close myself in my studio and work alone. Traveling is great for me, I always come back home with so many ideas, and I also photograph a lot, so I have a great base to work on.