Kristian Evju‘s paintings explore the world of fashion and nature simultaneously. They are existential explorations using pattern and design. Check out his interview to go deeper into his world:
Please introduce yourself, how long you have been an artist?
I’m a 6ft5, London based, Norwegian born artist. I have been painting and drawing full time since 2007, and I guess that’s when I started looking at myself as an artist, but I have been drawing my entire life really.
Velvet Bloom combines the feeling of high fashion and nature, what do these two ideas mean to you? Do you always approach a series with a ideological goal, a greater sense of meaning? How did the intent and idea behind Velvet Bloom change as you executed it? What did the series look in your mind before you began?
Velvet Bloom as a project came about quite randomly. I had been asked to do a couple of articles for Artist Magazine here in the UK in 2014, and it was the title of a demo painting I made for them. I hadn’t planned to paint much that year, but really loved working with colours again, so I ended up making 17 large paintings. That was never really my plan.
I like the idea of painting being similar to collage – so I find imagery from all sorts of places and piece them together so that they combine into a different kind of narrative. I ended up choosing a lot of quite beautiful things – a lot fashion based, but also some of places and people I know, and some made up ones. I always add a few imaginary things, just to cement that the works are fictional, despite the real history of my source material. I think painters should avoid striving for the delusion of truth – beautiful lies are more interesting.
I never really sketch – it all happens on the canvas, and I change my mind a lot. So I never really know what a painting will look like until the last few days. I guess there are ideas about what I might want to make before I start, but thought is very different to physically painting, so the real ideas are born on the canvas.
Where does the pattern you worked into Punchcard come from? Where did the inspiration for the pieces come from? Do you wonder about the subjects? Who they were, their names, their passions, desires, and dreams? They were all humans with meaning and love and sorrow in their lives, but most often we don’t pause to consider how meaningful that is. Why? Do you believe in a greater connectedness of the human experience?
I keep a lot of images filed away – sometimes for years before I find a way to use them. Punchcard is a project that I initially wanted to be about the human interaction with devices. I found a lot of really interesting old photos of early computer systems from the 50s and 60s and I really like the way I have no clue how those seemingly simple systems worked, or how to operate them. Makes you think that people might not know how to use a smartphone in 50 years time.
What interests me about this human-device interaction, is that it is some sort of language; a very physical one – buttons to push, cards to punch, sequences of code to type – that very swiftly becomes obsolete as new devices change the way we interact. In retrospect it all looks rather cryptic. I guess that’s one reason I wanted to include the pattern in the drawings. I was looking for a pattern that was a bit uncomfortable to look at, and that could tie the various drawings together, but not necessarily represent the same element in every drawing. Found it on Google.
The people I draw are all unknown to me. I spend weeks with their faces – trying to figure out how I can make them look like themselves, but also change them to serve the purpose I have in mind. It is quite intimate in a way, but as they are strangers, and some of them are even fictive, it is up to me to give them a context and something to communicate. There is a certain arrogance in this, but I also think it is frighteningly similar to the way we project our sense of self onto others. Even people we know well. Having said that, empathy is obviously strongly connected to our imagination, so to draw someone convincingly is a bit similar to really putting in the effort to understand another person. A bit like genuinely listening instead of forcing an opinion onto the person.
To answer your question about a human interconnectedness – I think the experience of trying to puzzle out what it is to be human, is all we’ve really got. You could say that experiences are solely subjective – as they must be, even when they are shared – but the hierarchy – how we rank our experiences – is a complex system that we constantly manage in coordination with each other. We all love the idea of being unique, but I think most of us still long to find an echo of ourselves in other people, and to have them find a similar echo within ourselves.
Your work weaves together grounded and surreal elements, what kind of headspace do you illustrate from? Give us a breakdown of the process of your most recent piece.
The idea that our sense of reality is pieced together by quite random bits of information, that we really know very little about, is something that I want mirrored in the way I work. The Argentine writer Borges wrote about ‘Poetic Truth’ – the idea that truth is less important as long as the story is both entertaining and convincing. I want my work to reflect this. There has to be enough elements in each piece for it to appear convincing, but I like to break with it a little by adding a few things of my own.
My most recent piece was actually a commissioned painting in the Velvet Bloom series. The collector that bought Velvet Bloom XV and XVI wanted a third in the series, and I didn’t feel quite finished with the series, so I agreed to do it.
The two earlier pieces were really a diptych, so to make them a triptych I really had to adhere to some of my earlier aesthetic and compositional decisions.
I spend a lot of my time gathering visual research – meaning images I find browsing the internet, physical markets/ car booth sales. I also do some photo shoots in collaboration with models I know or even my friends. All the research is organised into files, and these archives serves as a visual palette for me when I start a new work. I always start with my sketchbook, but I rarely make conventional sketches. Instead I usually make small rectangles or squares where I decide on a composition. These are really just shapes in black and white, and I work freely until I find something that might work. Then I try to find some photos that might fit into the design I have in mind. I normally end up choosing a few elements from different sources – a bit like a collage really. Then I decide on the format and start sketching onto the surface itself. This is an old habit born out of the fear that I might stumble across something brilliant, only to have it trapped on a useless surface, so I use a properly prepared one. This is easy on a painting, as I can tidy up mistakes later. On a drawing I have to use a very hard pencil in a vary loose and careful manner so I can remove the marks later. On large paper formats I break my no sketch rule and sketch small, then project the composition onto the larger format, as these surfaces take a long time to prepare.
Then it’s all a matter of careful decision making from there on in. A painting like Velvet Bloom XVII takes on average a month to finish.
How does the tone of work change when it is black and white versus color? Why did you choose to make Dark Skies a black and white series? How is the perception of the viewer changed when color is removed? How your connection to the piece changed?
The reason I have worked so much in black and white, is that it is much easier to create a more serious tone to the work. It is often a lot more convincing somehow. I blame the documentary film tradition. As I often mess about with a few surreal elements, stripping them of colour makes it a bit easier. With Dark Skies this was quite important, as I wanted a documentary feel to it. Plus I think it adds an extra barrier between the viewer and the content – both in terms of how real it feels, but it also makes it a bit more timeless perhaps. I quite like the neutrality.
Your work seems to access a variegated emotional spectrum, how have you changed and evolved, personally and ideologically, with your different series?
I think there is always an element of action/reaction in any artist’s practice, and I can easily see it in mine. Dark Skies was a reaction to the slightly surreal feel of the works I had made immediately before – I wanted something darker and a bit more serious. Immediately after my first Dark Skies solo show, I needed the fairly light and beautiful series Memoirs of the Other as a relief from this. It is one of the reasons I always work in a series, rather than making singular pieces – it always takes me more than one attempt to explore any idea that I might have. Having said that, I think there are certain subconscious ideas or thoughts that keep resurfacing in all the various projects, and in that sense I guess every drawing is just another way of exploring different sides of the same concept.
What are you working on now? What are you excited for?
At the moment I am working on what I believe is the penultimate Punchcard drawing. It is the largest in the series as of yet, drawn on paper stretched onto a nice, circular birch panel. I am testing out some new MONO 100 pencils, so am quite excited about that. I am also very excited about going to New York again for a residency in April. Other than that I will be showing with my German gallery Venet Haus at the London Art Fair in January, and have a large solo show in Norway in May, so lots to look forward to.
Name your top 3 favorite sandwiches:
I love a good sandwich, and bake my own bread, so this is a tricky question for me as there are so many favourites. I quite like a New Yorker if I have to grab something when I’m out and about, and I am quite addicted to avocado, so anything with avocado it really. When I was a kid I made a massive sandwich every night with pretty much everything I liked in the fridge. Made for some strange combinations. Not sure if any of those would make the top three to be honest.