EK Interview: Birgitta Sundström

art blog - Birgitta Sundstrom - Empty Kingdom

Birgitta Sundström was recently mentioned in our feature on CabinOdd.  Now you get to hear her  speak for herself!  She uses simple colors that seem to hold my attention in a way that’s hard to break away.  Check out her interview:

What’s the largest piece you’ve ever worked on?  How long did it take?

My largest painting is 270 x 170 cm. It had to be big because it’s about love’s complexities! It shows a girl reclining in a milk bath surrounded by black ducks; in the bath and on the floor around it. The ducks’ heads are human male heads.  I made it for a solo exhibition in Edsvik konsthall in Stockholm last year that featured over 40 of my works. This particular painting took me 5 weeks, working around the clock. The whole solo exhibition was very daunting because I had 130 meters of wall space to fill, but I was happy with how the work turned out, and the show was really well-received.

art blog - Birgitta Sundström Jansdotter - Empty Kingdom

How do you start a new piece?  What is your process?

My pieces begin with impressions from the internet, TV or what’s happening around me or in my own life. The works take shape as a collage of all kinds of different impressions. After that, almost ‘automagically’, I get a kind of vision about what I want to paint. My work usually revolves around human relations and interactions and often combine personal stories, mirrors of the society, and dreamlike worlds that give a certain sense of estrangement and mystery.

art blog - Birgitta Sundström Jansdotter - Empty Kingdom

When did you decide that acrylic on canvas was your preferred medium?  Have you experimented with other media?

I have experimented with different mediums in the past: textile, sculptures (clay) and  photography. Eleven years ago, before I moved to The Netherlands from Sweden, I was making clay sculptures and painting in acrylic. When I first moved to the the Netherlands, I worked less because my ex-partner and I started a family, but within 4 years I had a studio again and was again painting regularly.  Since I found my studio in Gouda I have been focused on mainly painting, but I will probably go back to experimenting with clay again some day. As for my acrylic paints, they are old friends. Acrylic allows me a lot of latitude in representing figure-ground relationships. I don’t have to worry about chemical reactions in the paint, I can focus solely on painting.


Besides the scope, what is the difference between large and small pieces?  Is there a difference in your approach?

I wouldn’t say there is a big difference in approach because my inspiration and beginning of the creative process remain the same. Some subject matter just demands more space and therefore more of everyone’s attention. Smaller works aren’t less important to me, they’re just a different technical challenge. I like making small work. They’re more intimate statements, somehow. And I like that they’re more affordable to a bigger group of art lovers and collectors, who may not have big walls or big wallets. I have plans to make more smaller work.

art blog - Birgitta Sundström Jansdotter - Empty Kingdom

How has your work evolved from your first show in Luleå to the recent show with Cabinodd?

I have always painted portraits. The work I showed in Luleå was made with a different approach: the paintings evolved as I was making them. I was finding the story of the painting through colour. My process changed radically when I came to the Netherlands. These days I arrive at the canvas with a definite idea of what kind of character I want to portray, and how.


The two paintings currently on view during The Artery Show are inspired by my own life and my friends’ lives. One painting shows twins on a mission to have fun, and the other shows a woman who is taking it easy with love. She’s not soft, though. If someone pushes her, she’ll push right back. Maybe a little bit harder, too. There’s also an hourglass marking the passage not of time, but of love. My involvement with Cabinodd has been a positive impulse for me as an artist. Ella Buzo (Cabinodd’s director) has been really supportive of my work; finding venues for it at art fairs, galleries and within various curatorial projects, like The Artery Show.

art blog - Birgitta Sundström Jansdotter - Empty Kingdom

What’s it like having your own studio?  What is Gouda like?

I’m lucky to have a big studio in Gouda and a smaller one at home. This may sound like a luxury, but I really need to be able to work at home in the evenings and sometimes through the night. It also makes childcare and child-related logistics much, much easier.

Gouda still has a lot of old world charm, but it’s deceptive. Gouda is actually a very vibrant city with a lot going on. Because of it’s size and location it’s a great base for an artist.


How do you decide to allow someone to show in your studio?

I really only show my own work in my studio gallery. The gallery is attached to my studio; it’s around 25 m². It’s a better place to show work than my studio is, and in that way, the gallery is like my studio at home: it gives me more freedom to work when and how I want.

From time to time I hold special viewing evenings in the gallery– they’re just like opening receptions. The viewings are so that people who follow my work can see what I’m up to. And I also show my paintings in the annual Open Studio routes.

art blog - Birgitta Sundström Jansdotter - Empty Kingdom

When did you open your studio?  What kind of art do you show there?

I have had this studio for 6,5 years now. I show my own paintings and some of my sculptures.


What do you use, whether music, substances or otherwise, to get into the proper mood for a piece?  How do you emotionally prepare yourself, how do you sustain the mindset throughout a piece?

If you count much coffee as a substance, then yes I am a substance-user! 🙂 I also like to listen to music or sometimes I have the TV on in the background. Bands like Triggerfinger, The Editors, Selah Sue and VNV Nation get my creative juices going. However, I get a lot of energy just from the act of beginning a painting. After that, the momentum of the figures and stories coming to life keeps things going.


Are you right or left handed?

I am right-handed.


What is your favorite colour?  What is your favorite brand of paint and what makes it the best?

Black is my favourite ‘colour’, but I also like blue and cerise. I usually use Amsterdam Acrylic because of the good quality and price.

art blog - Birgitta Sundström Jansdotter - Empty Kingdom

What is better, apple or orange juice?

No contest: I go for orange juice every time!!