Some artists find a synthesis of style and subject that causes their work to resonate deeply within us. We experience new memories and ideas while we look at their images. The paintings of Simon Stålenhag do just that. They feel like Polaroids from a childhood we never had in the future. I’m thrilled to present Stålenhag’s artwork and this interview.
My name is Simon Stålenhag and I’m an illustrator from Stockholm, Sweden. I didn’t go to any art schools, I started drawing as a child and learned from people around me and by studying artists that inspired me, like Gunnar Brusewitz, Lars Jonsson and Bruno Liljefors.
When I look at your paintings, there is a sense of lonely intimacy within them that reminds me of the American slice-of-life painter Edward Hopper. What are you describing in the world of your paintings?
My artwork deals with my own experiences of growing up in the countryside outside of Stocholm in the late 80s and early 90s, plus a sprinkle of robots and dinosaurs. The sci-fi elements are an extrapolation of the actual technology that surrounded me as a kid. The dinosaurs and robots are what I populated my surroundings with as a lonely kid taking the long way home from school.
Technology in your paintings is surprising and inventive, but always feels like it is a part of the world around it. How do you feel about technology in your own life?
Technology surrounds us and is an integral part of our society. It is a tool, and it can be used for both good and bad. For me, technology is very important and most helpful – for instance I do all of my illustration on a Wacom Cintiq Companion. My general stance on technology is cautious optimism – I’m reminded of Carl Sagan who said something like: we can use our technology to destroy ourselves, or we can use it to carry us to the stars. And to continue on the Carl Sagan line of thought – my real concerns about technology is how society is increasingly depending on it yet there’s no corresponding curve in people’s understanding of it. Technology must not become this kind of magical force that people use without understanding the basic concepts that governs it. Then we have this kind of booby trapped society. Now think of what Jacob Bronowski said about science forty years ago: “Fifty years from now, if an understanding of man’s origins, his evolution, his history, his progress is not in the common place of the school books, we shall not exist”.
Do you have a favourite art medium or material?
Well my work is almost exclusively digital so that obviously my medium of choice, although it gets very tedious staring at digital displays all the time. I love using ink and pen on plain paper for a change, it’s a wonderful feeling working with an input output device that is limited to the grain of the paper, the composition of the graphite in the pencil, the properties of the ink or ultimately the coarseness of my senses – instead of being limited by a matrix of pixels.
Which of your paintings has had the biggest impact?
Actually its the picture with the two kids, the robot and the police bus – Fjärrhandske. It’s quite clickable I guess, it summarizes what I do pretty effectively I guess. But in terms of virality, I think it is the sum total of all my pictures seen together that gave them impact. Had I just made one or two I don’t think anybody would have cared.
Thank you so much for doing this interview Simon, and sharing your artwork with us. One last question: what is your favourite colour?
I’m tempted to say it’s like asking a piano player what’s his favorite note is, but having adjusted my pictures for print I can say I clearly avoid certain colors – to a point where it’s almost dangerous in terms of printing. I seem to slant towards blue and purple and shy away from sepia. One of my favorite color is the yellowish light from sodium vapor street lights, the tint of my childhood that is now suffering a world wide extinction in favor of LED lights. LED’s much more energy efficient so I guess in the end my environmental concerns will overcome my nostalgia.