Johan Carlsson: “Paint as Ugly but as Carefully as Possible”

Johan Carlsson is a Swedish artist enjoying the struggle that is painting. In a fauvist-like, expressionist style he paints scenes from the life he see around him and the moments he holds dearest in his memories. Hoping that by putting in so much effort and energy into their realisation, those moments can be special for others too. We contacted Johan through his instagram account @j.p.c_wip where he shares his works and got to talking about art, artists and instagram itself. Here’s how it all went down…

When did you begin painting?

“I think I still have an oil painting from when I was 10 years old. The motif was a couple of trees and a road, painted in my grandfathers garage where he used to paint. I started a drawing course when I was 13.  I studied art during the first year of high school. At that time I was really tired of school so eventually I dropped out of high school at the age of 15. I took a year off and then I got in to a preparatory school of art for two years. “

“I still remember two quotes my art teacher told me there: ”look really close down in the gravel and you will see the beauty in it” and ”paint as ugly as you can but as carefully as possible”. Even if I hardly understood what it meant back then, it stuck with me and I think it taught me something about how to approach a picture.”  

What do you enjoy about painting?   

“I enjoy the struggle. It’s always a struggle when I paint. I purposely make weird choices and try to correct them along the way. It sort of works like keys in the process, to set a tone and a composition in the painting.”

What do you aim to express with your art? 

“I like a painting that has got a sense of movement and a bit of mystery in it, where the spectator can fill in the blanks. I want to make ordinary scenes and object look powerful and interesting. Nothing revolutionary I guess, haha. When I don’t paint from life I use memory pictures from my head, from places that stuck with me. I’ve read somewhere that Van Gogh wanted all his sunflower paintings in his room his last days in life. I can relate to that. You put so much effort and energy into something, and sometimes, hopefully, it can give meaning to others as well.”

What do you think is the point of art in general?

“Good art can tell a story, ask questions, provoke or just be mind-blowing. I think art is a reflection of life and I think it should move people, and at its best, change people or widen their senses. I’m not there yet though, haha.”

Your use of colour is bold, what guides your decision making on this? 

“I can have an idea of what I would like the end result to feel like, not look like. And in the process it can change colours, compositions and lighting several times until it feels right.”  

Are any works of other artists important to you?  

“What first comes to mind is the movie Le Mystère Picasso. Picasso paints an oil painting for over eight hours and it’s cut down to a few minutes: a beach scene where he turns day into night and makes everything happen in between. I watched that over and over as a kid. Also, I grew up near the beach so I guess that’s why that scene often has been a go to memory for a motif when I’m uninspired. There’s always a lot of movement and I like the contrast between the people relaxing and the ones moving.”  

Who are your favourite artists? 

“There are several. Lee Krasner, Willem de Kooning, Cecily Brown, Sigrid Hjerten, Picasso. Matisse of course. I like the sense of simplicity in a Matisse painting, how he sometimes only used two or three colors to make a painting pop out. I love how Bonnard composes a painting and the warmth in his bright colors. The look of ignorance in a Basquiat also appeals to me. I often tried to paint as him as a teenager.” 

What role has Instagram had in your life as an artist? 

“I followed some painters at my ordinary account. Michael Kirkman sure was a great inspiration for me to start my own account. I liked the nakedness; how he shows his working process, and his sketches and drawings. A week ago I thought about starting my own account, so I put up some of the pieces I made in the last year and a couple of old life nude sketches from the art school years. So Instagram sure helped my creativity.” 

 Do you have any ambitions for your art in the future? 

“I’m applying for an art school in Gothenburg this fall. Hopefully I will continue making art after that. I would love to be able to work as an artist full time one day.” 

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