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If you follow the art blogs around the interwebs, Swedish artist, EKTA, may have caught your eye with the massive 36m x 12m mural he painted in Gdansk, Poland a few months back. We delved a little deeper and discovered that, despite being from a skate background, EKTA didn’t emerge from the graff school typically associated with skater-turned-artists. In an extensive interview, the artist gives us the lowdown on his artistic background, his time in London, his current projects and why the graff scene didn’t take his fancy.

Can you give us a bit of a rundown on how you started? How long have you been doing this?

Drawing is something I’ve always been doing, I think I found my ways not that long ago, maybe in 2008 things started to come together more for me. I had some problems adjusting after my degree in 2005. I have a BA in Illustration from LCC and I was confused with myself during the course, and it was even worse in the year after. I made some really awful stuff and lost track a bit of what I really enjoyed doing, but eventually came to my senses again.

I think the first time I thought of making art as really cool, was being 14 or 15, reading Thrasher and Slap skateboard magazines where they used to have a little art section featuring artists with a relation to skateboarding…Gonz, Chris Johanson, Ed Templeton etc.

Why did you choose this path?

I don’t feel I’ve made that many choices in relation to all this, I was into drawing and making stuff as a kid and I think the mentality I got from skateboarding helped me ignore that art is not really presented as an option in life, something you can do when you’re an adult.

I never thought ahead of it as a career, I just kept making stuff and ignored planning my life too far ahead, so far it’s been working out. My parents never gave me any directions as to what I do with my life, when I decided to move to London and skate just after my A-levels and they thought it was cool. I’m really thankful for them not trying to guide me too much, I did a lot of stupid shit finding things out and learning, but I’m happy they trusted me to do so.

What was the most important lesson you took away from your life in London? What did it teach you creatively?

Just being in a city with that much to offer was amazing! The first two years was all about just exploring the city, finding spots and feeling the architecture. A few years later, painting took over completely and I got interested in other parts of the city. I learned a lot living there, but I don’t think I really completely found my way of working until two years after I moved back to Sweden. I think the city was just such an inspiration to me for many years that it made me want to do things and helped me find the passion in making things.

Would you have stayed if you could have? Would you go back?

I moved at the right time, I could have moved a year earlier actually. The last year there I was on the dole and really not doing much else, other than painting or hanging out in the Hackney/Homerton area where I was living. I wasn’t really social and I was not that excited about the city anymore. I’ve been back a couple of times and I enjoy it every time but I wouldn’t live there again, I like things more quiet now.

You moved back to Sweden a few years back. How’s the creative scene there in comparison to the UK?

I can’t really say, there’s a few really good artists in my city and a couple of nice spaces but it’s not so often that I’m into what they are showing. In London there was always at least one thing on that you knew you wanted to see, in Gothenburg it’s more a matter of going to whatever is on offer. Still I think I see more exhibitions in a year now, compared to when I was living in London. Sometimes it’s hard to be open to other people’s work when you have been dealing with your own all day, but I try to go and see stuff as often as I can, I like being at the art museum with my son during the winter too, it’s a big and really nice building with many stairs for him to run around.

Can you tell us a bit about your process? Do you sketch beforehand, or do you let your work happen organically? How much planning goes into a piece?

I have a sketchbook but recently I’ve bee using it less. When starting something I don’t think about a subject or the content of what I will make. I think painting takes the most energy for me, so when doing that, I still use the sketchbook a bit.

Other things like the collages are just starting with a shape and I keep on building until something appears. On a good day everything does itself and I’m just there to kind of supervise the process. That’s on a good day and there are other days too, if I’m having a bad day I usually find something to do that is easy: second coats on a painting or I’ll draw in a sketchbook etc.

I have found my process and have a couple of different mediums to work with, and I rarely get really frustrated or bored. The less I plan an image, the more fun the process is, and I think that feeling will be passed on to the piece.

You work across a range of mediums from massive, large-scale wall murals to magazine covers. What’s been one of the highlights of your career so far?

It would have to be the last wall I did called, The Whole is Greater than the Sum of its Parts. I worked on it for two weeks in September, it’s in a place called Araby Vaxjo in Sweden. I think it’s because it’s the most recent wall I did and also the process of this was really cool.

I had no stress to meet a deadline and I had kept the sketch really open for improvisation. I would paint during the day and draw in the evening, draw stuff from conversations I had with people living in the area walking past, and then trying to find a way to represent this in the painting.

One man for example told me he really loved peacocks so I told him I would paint three feathers for him and he said he would look for them on his way to work the next morning.

I also asked a few kids to draw stuff that they like doing; I reworked a few of the shapes in their drawings and used them in the painting. It was really great to be able to take my time with a big wall like that! Also I had a really good time with my friends at Wall Ride Projects who were in charge of and organised this project.

The wall you did for the Monumental Art Festival in Poland was CRAZY! Can you talk us through it – from its conceptual beginnings to its execution? You did the piece in six days, how on earth did you paint a wall that big?!?!

This year they had invited RUN (Italy), DEM (Italy), PROZAK (Brazil), Joanna Skiba (Poland) and myself to do a wall each. Because the owners of the buildings wanted control, we had to deliver final sketches in advance…I had problems with this as I’m used to starting my process when I’m at the wall.

Anyway, I was told they thought the hand was too evil and I had to make the fingertips rounder. I sent a new sketch of what I thought they wanted, but in the end I painted it like it was from the start; changing the fingers would alter the content and composition too much, I think the owners where a bit pissed off and I was quite quick to finish the hand before they would realise I was sticking to my original idea!

The theme for the festival was ‘love is temptation’, so I made this sort of Narcis character removing a bit of himself to taste, the first step towards consuming yourself completely. I removed the eyes of the character that was in the original sketch because I thought it was more suitable for this type of figure to be blind, also it makes the painting a little bit more dynamic as the head could be a kind of landscape too.

The physical effort of climbing up and down with paint and using the heavy roller was the hardest work I’ve done by far. I don’t have massive problems with heights but I don’t really enjoy being on the top of a scaffolding of that size! The day I had to paint the very top was the only day it was raining, and it took ages to paint as I was moving really slow ‘cos of the problem with the height. Good thing is that when you’ve done that bit everything else is a lot easier. There was a big tree blocking it, so to get a good view of what I was doing I had to first climb down and then up to at least the 8th floor of RUN’s scaffolding. I think it took two days to get into the scale of things, once that happened it wasn’t really a problem to get the proportions right.

The experience was great in general, but really fucking hard. Super good group of artists there, too, and we had a great time hanging out in the evening after a day of painting.

One of the interesting facets of your career is that despite being a skater, you weren’t hugely interested in graff when, for many, the two cultures go hand-in-hand. Why do you think this wasn’t the case for you?

I was interested for a while, but got bored painting letters plus the fact that I was crap! I really don’t consider what I do to be graff, this is also ‘cos I don’t want to take anything from the people who are dedicated to it. It’s something I did on and off for short periods in my life, and I’m sure it has had an effect on my work but I have never really considered myself to be a writer. I’m not interested in productions at all, but I still really like tags and quick stuff.

You’ve also said in the past that you lose interest in your work pretty quickly. Is this still the case?

Not as quick, but yeah…I’m restless and I want to move ahead all the time, if you finish something you think is pretty good you’re more eager to make a new even better piece.

You’re only as good as your last painting ha ha

Is it a matter of ‘Right, the job’s done, let’s move on to the next idea’?

I’m not a robot like that, but as I said, you see new possibilities in something you just did and feel like playing about with that, starting something new. I really hate editing and sorting documentation of projects I’ve just done. When you are just fresh out of the process, you don’t really want to be stuck looking at it for too long.

Your preference seems to be the use of bright, bold palettes. Why is colour important to your work?

I like how colours affect each other, how a colour will change or trick the eye when put next to a different one. I’m interested in playing with colour combinations and as a lot of my paintings don’t have lines, I need to block areas and make shapes with contrasting colours.

Sometimes it’s good just to draw though, as there are fewer options with drawing compared to painting, it’s easier.

Are you still involved with [artist space] ORO? Is sharing a studio a crucial part of your creative process? In what ways?

Yes, I really enjoy this space and the people who have their studios here. I think we are all pretty aware of each other’s process and what each one is working on at the moment, so it’s a luxury to have a person around to ask for a second opinion on stuff. I tend to put my family & painting before socialising, so for me it’s great to have people around when you’re working, you get to paint and see friends at the same time.

We don’t have as many exhibitions these days, mainly because people are busy with their own work but we have some things planned for the future and it’s really cool to always have a venue available.

You’ve also dabbled in a bit of animation. How do you find that process in comparison to painting? Is that a direction you’d want to take in the future?

Animation is great. If painting gives you a lot of options, this is really the killer! Stuff moves and you have sound to work with…I will be doing more of it, but as it’s so time consuming it’s been put on hold for a while.

You’re lucky enough to be able to make a living out of your art. What advice would you give to someone who’s working to be in the same position?

I don’t know, I never planned this out so I don’t really have any good advice to give…I just kept painting and drawing. I don’t expect thing to be like this for the rest of my life and I haven’t really thought too much about what my options are if it all comes to an end.

I’ve worked with the disabled in the past and I know if I had to get a job it would be something like that again as I could never find the motivation to go to some office and put hours into some bullshit company everyday, I would be miserable. I need to be able to justify why I’m going to work each morning, what it’s good for. I will always be making stuff though even if I can’t making a living doing it.

Can you give us some of your thoughts on art and communal space? Whether a piece is illegal or commissioned, why is public art so important in an urban context?

Because you need to see real feelings in the communal space. Everything we are offered is artificial, fake stuff that affects people in a negative way. Advertising is always so clean, too, and clean is often boring!

Working in the communal space is cool because people get a chance to take part of your process and see a piece grow. It’s also the ephemeral side of it; that it will not last forever…it’s healthy and helps me have less affection with the ‘objects’ I make. Sometimes it’s gone real quick and sometimes it’s left for years, constantly changing.

What’s ahead for you? Do you have any big plans for 2012?

I will co-curate my first group exhibition later this year, don’t have much to say about that yet as everything is being planned, but it will be a kind ORO retrospective, featuring selected artists that we have worked with in the past. Other than that I have a few other things and I’m hoping for a little quiet period as 2011 has been nonstop! My son will be turning 4 and I’m looking forward to continue seeing him grow.

See more of EKTA’s work at ekta.nu or check out his flickr.