Amanda Karlsson is an artist living and working in Gothenburg, Sweden. In her drawings, paintings, and sculptural installations, Karlsson creates psychological scenes that often explore human alienation and feelings of melancholy. View more images of her work on her website.
A lot of your pieces seem to implicitly include a viewer-type figure, someone looking in with their back facing outward; it's like we can (physically) place ourselves in the scene but at the same time it keeps the actual viewer at a (more psychological) distance. It feels like an interesting tension between anonymous voyeurism and alienation or exclusion. How do you want the viewer to position herself vis-à-vis the artwork? What kind of relationship is created between the audience and the work?
I always try to convey something that actually needs a response, a reaction if you will. I think that's why it's so important to me to include the viewer, and therefore I try to place my motives in a kind of a reachable perspective. For the viewer not to be a part of what's happening on the canvas but definitely involved—you have to respond to what's portrayed, whether you like it or not. Think of it as a suggestion to a dialogue. I'm asking the question; it would be rude not to answer. I kind of have a problem with the whole narcissistic type of art, art that's only personal to yourself. The potential of art is that you can actually show your creative perception to other people and thus discuss and maybe even learn. This is one of the few ways you can do that, and I think it's amazing.
I'm really interested in your concerns with perspective, both compositionally and more ideologically. Are you interested in showing us a particular point of view, yours or otherwise?
For many years I have been really inspired by the works from the New Leipzig School movement (Neue Leipziger Schule). Actually it's one of the reasons why I moved to Germany in the first place. The way they handled the combination between abstract and figurative, when I see that type of art I always feel drawn into it. The empty spaces where your mind can rest and wander and the realistic parts where you are forced to pay attention.
The facelessness of so many figures in your paintings, for me, created a kind of uncanny melancholy. One of the faces we do see in full is that of a crying child, desperately clinging to his parent's leg; the sense of abandonment is palpable. In another instance, a man trudges out of frame, his cone-head hung low. There's something kind of devastating about all of these. Is your hope to explore or depict any grand human emotional experience, or were these subjects you were drawn to for other reasons? Even the more playful drawings of people climbing the wall suggest struggle!
Well, I think struggle interests me, maybe I even admire it a bit. It's such a visible feeling and very relatable. The melancholy on the other hand could be a Scandinavian thing; I find it quite beautiful even if I often use it in, as you said, a more devastating way. I actually think these emotional surroundings are mostly unintentional. I work a lot with separation and abandonment in my works, probably because it's something that really frightens me so it appears on the canvas even if I try to do something completely different. It's somewhat a burden. Loneliness, or the fear of being lonely, is something that I carry with me. Perhaps it's that struggle that appears in my works.
On the flip side, the title "Accidentally Entering an empty canvas" is funny, and absurd. The title "Don't Be Picky," applied to the two children literally looking for (at) a home, is pretty sardonic. (Plus I think the first portrait shown on your website is hilarious and amazing.) I have two strains of thought regarding the comical and titling of your work: First, why do you think this kind humor or wit, however wicked, is affecting? How do you think the comical or absurd works with perhaps heavier, more depressing realties and themes that come up in your pieces?
And then, how much do you have a title in mind when working on a piece? Is there a sense of juxtaposition or irony you're working with?
When you put things in contrast [they are] often intensified, and I think that's what happens when I sometimes use quite silly puns in the title, or treat the motives with a bit of sarcasm. Dark humor I suppose—it's funnier because it just doesn't fit in. I like it though because it makes people uncomfortable. In that way they are susceptible to the feeling I'm trying to convey. A suggestion to think in the way I had I mind while doing the piece. With the title, I use it in the same suggestive way, if I can think of a good one before I start. So yes, I think you can say that I'm using it in a sense of juxtaposition. Although if I don't know the title before the piece is done I think that the title accidentally becomes a bit ironic, just to distance myself a bit from it.
Do you have different aims or goals working in different mediums? Does working in one, like painting, affect or inform your installations, for example?
I approach both installation pieces and paintings in the same way. I think that's why I'm trying to make my paintings like a scene. To be able to be an anonymous bystander in the play that's acting out on canvas. I actually think my first approach to a subject or a piece that I want to do is to do an installation of it, then I just to try translate it into a painting. With drawing it's slightly different—I'm trying to treat it as a sculpture, with cutting and bending and sticking together and so forth. Quite odd now when I think about it, how the mediums overlap. I am going to make some videos soon and I will probably use it as photography.
How did you end up in Berlin (and are you still there now)? Has your work changed since moving away from home?
Sadly, I have left Berlin. I moved to Gothenburg in Sweden in September after two years in Berlin. It was mostly career reasons really. I have got an amazing studio now and it's a bit easier with paper works. I still miss Berlin sometimes though. My works have definitely changed since I moved from Sweden in the beginning. First when I lived in my not-so-big hometown I always felt excluded from the rest of the world, but when I moved away from there the separation kept turning up in my artworks. That's when the objects I was painting started turning away from viewer.
What are you working on now? Anything new you're particularly excited about?
I am currently working on a solo show in February here in Gothenburg. Slightly stressed about it because I'm doing 100x100 cm paintings so there's a lot of work to be done. I will be going to Sicily in September to work on a project about abandonment, but probably just the beginning of it because I'm going there for a bit longer next year with a bunch of other artists. In the meantime I'm trying to turn my shared studio into a bit of a gallery as well.