INTERVIEW | JOAKIM OJANEN

Swedish artist Joakim Ojanen uses his work to communicate pieces of himself that are hard to express because they border the socially acceptable or simply because words do not extend. Through a visual vocabulary of comic book-like characters and expressive paint strokes Joakim talks about essential human emotions, relations and insecurities.

Joakim Ojanen is born in 1985 in Västerås, Sweden and is now living in Stockholm, where he finished a Master of Fine Arts in Storytelling from Konstfack, this summer. His character-based universe revolves around deeply personal subjects and can be perceived as kinds of physical manifestations of his own thoughts and feelings. “I see my work almost like a diary, where the characters express the feelings that I don’t normally show when I’m out in the public. Feelings that are not very socially accepted.”

While working on his Master project last year Joakim wanted to explore the idea of communicating all the different parts of himself through individual artworks, and thereby assemble a full picture. In some sense that might be what every artist tries to achieve over a life time, and Joakim decided to narrow it down to one isolated issue. “I always get an urge to crack the tension that’s in the air when something gets too serious. There is something in me that just can’t sit still and give the topic the energy and engagement that it deserves. Every time I do this, I always regret it afterwards and I lose some respect for myself. The exact same thing happens when I talk about something that means a lot to me. My work means a lot to me.”

Through his art Joakim manages to articulate very essential human emotions and by investigating and communicating his inner self he has found a really unique and appealing language. Joakim’s visual style reminiscent of comic books aesthetics, the late work of Philip Guston, expressionism and zine culture, and since the very first glance we were drawn in by his weird and wonderful universe. We took a chat with the extremely talented swedish artist to get a better understanding of him and his work.

What made you choose your current path?
One thing led to another. I tried out something that I thought I would like to do, then I did that thing, till I got sick of it, and then I found a new thing that interested me more. I traced comics as a child (a lot of Garfield and Donald Duck), then I got interested in graffiti. I did graffiti for about ten years, then I started working with animation, got tired of that and applyed to Konstfack University College of Arts, Craft and Design and started with illustration. Pretty soon I realized that working with my own projects was much more giving and I started with drawings, zines, paintings and sculptures instead. For the last two years I’ve only been working with sculptures (mostly ceramics) and paintings, and that is something that really works for me.

Can you tell us about your working process?
When I paint I usually do a small sketch of an idea. Not much bigger than a few centimeters. I just get the main things that will happen in the painting on there and find a composition that I’m happy with. After that I start to paint and once I’ve done something, there is usually a lot of problems that start to show, that I’ll need to find solutions for. So basically I try to solve all the problems in the painting until they are all gone, and then the painting is finished! :)

When I do a sculpture there are two ways to start the process; either I get an idea of what I want to do. If that’s the case I either do a small sketch of it or I just start modelling with the idea in my head. Or, if i don’t have an idea I just start with a shape and let the material help me find an idea on the way. Working with clay has its limitations and it’s those limitations that can help me find something while working with it. The mode I’m in while working gets reflected in the work a lot, I think. That is probably because the work really takes shape in the working process and not in the initial sketch.

Do you have a project that you are especially proud of?
Last week I showed an installation for Galleri Thomassen at Market Art Fair in Stockholm. The installation was entitled The Rack and was built up with pallet collars to create a shelf, which I filled with sculptures. If you look at a single sculpture of mine, you’ll experience one or a few feelings, just like if you were looking in a diary and read one page; you get a quite good idea of how that day was, or at least what the most important happening or feeling was, and that can be really fun or interesting. But with the The Rack it’s like reading a longer part of the diary, and thereby you’ll get a bigger picture. I found that really interesting.

I’m also very happy with how the pallet collars and the glazed ceramic worked toghter. I think it was a good contrast between the worn out wood and the shiny ceramic. I also added a few other elements wich I had in my studio while working on it; one of my favourite caps, a plant, a brick and two bought ceramic figurines, one of which I’ve used to mix paint in.

What are your biggest source of inspiration/influence at the moment?
I think I have to say music. I listen to music almost all the time in the studio and whenever I’m alone. I think that effects me a lot. The energy in my work would probably be totally different if I didn’t listen to music. Latley I’ve been listening to Drake, I love makonnen, Montana of 300 a lot. It has been mostly rap, both american and swedish for quite a while now…

What are you working on right now? Can you show us any work-in-progress?
Today I actually just installed a commissioned work for The City of Gothenburg and last week it was the Market Art Fair. So I don’t have too many images to show I’m afraid. Soon I’ll start working on a solo at The Bries Space in Antwerp, Belgium this autum.

What are your hopes, dreams and plans for the future?
Next thing on the to-do-list is the show in Antwerp. I will also be in a group show at Sprit Museum curated by Bill Arrning and Rick Herron in Stockholm later this year, with some work of Keith Harring and a lot of totally amazing artists. That is going to be sick!

At the beginning of next year I will be in a group show in New York curated by Peter Schenck, that is also going to be really awesome I think! I will also do a show together with Jeff Olsson at Konsthallen Passagen in Linköping in Sweden in the beginning of next year so there is a lot going on. My hopes and dreams are that I get a good time in the studio before all of these things. :)

Do you have any piece of advice for fellow creatives?
Just do it!

Rikke Luna (f. 1988) og Matias Albæk-Falk (f. 1988) er stiftere af idoart.dk, og driver derudover formidlingsbureauet I DO ART Agency samt forlaget I DO ART Books. Rikke og Matias bor og arbejder i København.