WALT MORTON: You have an advanced practice of sketching in watercolor to work out designs, and then using that basis to create large oil paintings with the watercolor sketch as reference. I am wondering how you developed that practice? And, now that you do it — what kinds of things are you looking for in a sketch that make you think it would be a good oil painting?
BENJAMIN BJORKLUND: I used to work in a jail as a guard, a lot of twelve hour night shifts. The job could be really hectic at times, and exhausting, but also very slow. If nothing happened in the small town I was working and living in at the time, I wouldn’t have anything to do. So I started bringing my watercolor sketchbook to work, and would spend a lot of time drawing and painting, planning for bigger paintings, looking forward to getting home and start. I feel that watercolor makes me less controlling and stiff when painting, and it helps me loosen up when painting with oils. I often fall into the trap of being a bit afraid of a large white canvas, so the watercolor sketch adds a bit of confidence and momentum. In watercolor my colors naturally becomes more vibrant, the colors are cleaner and clearer. I use this for the oil painting, leaning on the decisions made in watercolor. Also the rhythm of a painting in a small sketchbook is usually more flowing and natural for me than on a large canvas. I try to maintain this as well. I work a lot from photos, and processing the photo into a watercolor sketch first also helps me distance myself from the photo, and force myself away from the idea that it has to stay true to the reference.
WALT MORTON: Much of your painting has been of biological forms. Either humans or animals, dogs, reptiles, etc. And you often finish with creative color very surprising color. What attracts you to this naturalist subject matter, and what do you gain by improvising and experimenting with color?
BENJAMIN BJORKLUND: I like the idea of painting my surroundings (although I never worked out how to paint landscapes). But I never felt the need to stay true to the subject as far as drawing and coloring it, I feel that is one of the strengths of painting, because you build something from scratch, all the tiny choices you make is what makes it interesting.
WALT MORTON: You live in Uppsala, which is not the center of the art world. You travel to London, Los Angeles, and other cities but I am wondering if you feel there is anything specially “Swedish” about your work or thinking? There is a tradition of some great design in Sweden, as well as a few terrific painters like Anders Zorn and Bruno Liljefors. Do you feel any influence or connection with any of that Swedishness?
BENJAMIN BJORKLUND: I don’t feel I am typically Swedish compared to other contemporary painters in Sweden, I think I’m more influenced by the American figurative art scene, but I have been looking a lot at Zorn's work, and learned a lot just by looking at it. But I think growing up in a smaller town in Sweden has helped me maintain my painting, I didn’t really have anything to compare to, and I think I prefer to feel I’m doing it on my own way, in my own terms. But I can feel some of the colors of the Swedish painters from the end of the 1800s/early 1900s keep reappearing in my work (For example P.S. Kroger.)
Born in Trollhättan, near the west coast of Sweden, Benjamin Björklund has enjoyed a varied career as a prison night guard, psychiatric nurse and studied to be a veterinary technician. As a painter he draws upon past experiences and current influences to create in oil and watercolor. Spending the majority of his time in Sweden, Ben enjoys a simple life based in a small rustic 19th century wooden farm house shared with his Great Dane and muse, Solomon, and a menagerie of pets including rabbits, guinea pigs, mice and rats. Finding inspiration in everyday life, Ben regularly seeks to interpret through his paintings the emotions and characters of the beings that surround him. He keeps his compositions and focal points simplistic, ensuring his subjects remain within reach. Subjects such as Solomon, both wild and domestic animals and family members feature predominately, though he also works from old photos and memories as references. Ben's figurative and portraiture work can, at times, depict scenes bordering on the surreal with characters influenced by those around him existing in various physical or emotional situations. These are usually emphasized through the use of abstracted light and darts of color. These, Ben refers to as 'happy mistakes' being borne from spontaneous actions and serving to focus the viewer's attention whilst adding to the emotional impact on the viewer. Having sold work around the world Ben's painting are held in private collections in a number of cities including London, NY, LA, San Fransisco, Melbourne and across Sweden and Europe.
Photo credit: Petar Santini