Martha Persson is a Swedish artist that does not take her craft for granted. She perseveres in the very lonely quest for perfection because she owes Art nothing but the best of her abilities. She lives by the code “don’t be a lazy artist” and by looking at her amazing work, you quickly notice that ‘lazy’ does not exist in Martha’s being. Her art is intricate and carries real meaning. She is obsessed with what happens when body parts interact. She seeks to find that magical essence that emanates from touch and feel. You cannot help but admire this eloquent and driven artist that strives to discover and portray something so important and critical to life. Martha really helps us put things into perspective because as you study her hands paintings, you start to realize that every little fragment of life is Art, and this realization is just beautiful.
“Right now, I’m painting women’s hands, based on myself as a woman and my way …”
Please tell us about yourself – place of birth, family, unique habits, quirks, etc.?
Currently, I live and work in Gothenburg, Sweden. This is also where I was born. I’ve always drawn and painted – as an only child this was my favorite pastime. When I was a kid, I could be absorbed in drawing for hours and I guess I always wanted to be an artist. It sounds like a cliché, but it’s really true. As a kid I carried a deep fascination for rocks and minerals and became a member of the Geological Association as the only girl in Sweden for a long while. We went on excursions in mines looking for minerals and other geological treasures. I recently was at the American Museum of Natural History in NY, and recognized some of the minerals from the books that I studied as a child, that was amazing.
My road to art has taken a few detours, via foundation art courses and architectural studies. While studying architecture, a teacher asked me why I didn’t go to the art academy instead. That was a sort of wake-up call for me, and after that there was no alternative than to pursue art.
Please tell us about your earliest art memory?
When I was a little child my mother used to paint copies of Van Gogh in oil. When I was around seven or eight years old she bought me my first Winston Newton set of watercolors that I brought everywhere. I still have it and use it to this day.
One of my most vivid art memories must have been when I visited the art museum and saw a huge painting of some kids running naked on the beach. It was a painting by Jens Ferdinand Willumsen painted in 1910. I remember looking closely at the painting and realizing that the flesh was painted in stripes in bright colors such as purple, green, blue and yellow. From a distance it looked like a solid body and I remembered being fascinated by this optical illusion.
Your art (especially the finger pieces) is vivid and shows a lot of close up details – how did you develop your personal style and what are you primarily trying to portray?
I’ve always seen myself as a storyteller, trying to challenge myself and the many notions we are surrounded with. In the beginning I had a fairly broad approach, stretching from photographic series, paintings and drawings, to animations. But during my years at the art academy, my work began to develop in a different direction, and I started to focus more and more on painting. That is where I began exploring the relationship between body and flesh. Initially, in contexts where bodies in various mental states collided and generated interesting poses. In my current process, I study hands in various constellations and capture both conscious and unconscious gestures and touches.
Right now painting is the most important thing to me. In my paintings I try to represent parts as though they are growing out of a layer of paint, in the attempt to develop spaces for the portrayed bodies to move in to. I’m sort of searching for naturalness in the expression. The size of the painting is important, as a sort of challenge between me and the paper, but also in the encounter between the beholder and the subject.
Something I return to frequently in my work is the encounter, or confrontation, for instance, when flesh meets flesh, or when a body “communicates” with another body. In my work, the hand is a representation of the body, a tool of the flesh. Right now, I’m painting women’s hands, based on myself as a woman and my way of seeing things. It is a kind of inherent curiosity about the physical landscape and conventions. It’s like an ambivalent balancing act, where I oscillate between seductive beauty, and fragility and violence; it’s like a close-up, which in turn becomes an abstraction. I’m fascinated by that boundary, and how it in some way stresses the complexity that exists and resides in our bodies.
What tools do you use in the creation of your art?
Important things for me when making my art are the tools and the ideas I am working with, rather than where I do it. A spacious studio is of course also important, but I think I can work from anywhere.
When I start working I need to make sure that I have all the tools that I use prepared. I need to have my brushes and my cloth to wipe off pigment with. My scotch-brite and my razor blades have to be within reach when I need to scrape off paint that has bled onto the paper. If something is missing, my concentration is disturbed.
When I paint I use a lot of water, letting the colors run into uncontrolled puddles, watching as it dries, and then moving pigment back and forth and letting it dry once more. I process the paint layers using traces of color that eat themselves into the paper. But creating is not only about painting itself but just as much about the process I am absorbed in and the ideas underlying my work.
Routines are also becoming more important. Making space for focused work is quite demanding, it’s almost like a kind of isolation. So routines are good because they lead me towards concentration. My shifts are very long, and I’m trying to teach myself to take breaks. A painting takes up to three months to make, working every day, all day, so it’s quite time consuming.
What artists do you currently admire the most?
I am inspired by many people, both in art and in other fields. Right now, for instance, I am getting a lot of inspiration from Mary Shelley. I recently read Frankenstein while also reading the biography on her life. Her work is very inspiring, you know, she was only 18 when she started to write Frankenstein. Another writer that inspires me is Clarice Lispector and her way of telling stories and expressing herself. Some of the artists I often revisit are Cecily Brown, Marlene Dumas, Georgia O’Keeffe and Louise Bourgeois. There is something about the energy and rawness of Brown’s paintings that appeals to me – it just sort of gets to you. On the other hand, Dumas has a narrative way with color that is both direct and simple, no fuss.
How has art saved your life?
To me, being an artist is a part of life, something I simply have to do and can’t live without. I’ve always put great faith in art, and it has enriched me in many ways. Nearly all my time is spent in the studio, and it is a very lonely profession, for better or for worse. And therefore it is important to have studio talks with other artists now and then.
Do you believe every artist should be able to make a living solely from their art?
I think that introducing an artist salary, or a system with art grants to all artists, could be very beneficial for the art scene and society overall. I don’t think an artist should only survive on producing and selling their work, because the art would not be that good and the commercial value would affect the reason for making art too much. I think art must be able to be genuine and true without the pressure to be sold or valued in money. The income from selling artwork should only be a bonus when this occasionally happens to some fortunate artists.
What is your favorite movie of all time and why?
It is very hard to find one favorite movie, but I recently watched Hitchcock’s Vertigo again, since I love those kinds of movies. I like the Technicolor in the movie and each frame has a good composition with fantastic colors. In addition, the film noir drama is unbeatable.
What is your personal life philosophy?
Don’t be a lazy artist; try to go beyond your comfort zone. I always have to force myself not to get too comfortable.
What article of clothing, accessory, signature piece, etc. do you think every man should have?
Maybe some sort of flower. I know that Morrissey used to have daffodils in his back pocket on stage, I kind of like that.
If you could ask anyone in history “What is the meaning of life?” – Who would you ask and why?
Since this is a men’s lifestyle magazine, I would say Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He is as close to being a god as anyone can get today, and at the same time he probably has all that he wants in his career and life. So, in that sense it would be nice to ask a man who has all this, what the meaning of it all is?
How can people see your works, buy your works or hire you for projects?
The best way is probably to visit my webpage where you can find pictures of my work, my CV and my contact information. So, if you are interested in getting in touch, just send me an email. And, if you are in Stockholm before September 26th you can see my ongoing exhibition at Cecilia Hillström Gallery.
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