Hawk Alfredson, Artist/Interview
Icon for an Unknown Religion | Oil on Canvas | 39″ x 33″ | 1999
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But Not Sublime
with Mike Foldes
If to describe Hawk Alfredson’s paintings as dreamlike goes without saying, why did I bother? Because they’re his dreams, not yours. To those of us simultaneously inside and outside this Swedish-American painter’s world, the images reach far and wide, as far back as Scandinavian and European legend, as far forward as tomorrow when an understanding and appreciation of his craft and skill blend seamlessly with the work itself. Easily recognizable are the armored knights and stone castles, but why then mix that into a visual cacaphony occasionally interrupted by the cold calm of river stones and embellished vortices. These images derive from a wide-ranging portfolio of influences the artist says often come to him at the threshhold of wakefulness. It is this “awakening” we are fortunate to observe in Alfredson’s art.
Alfredson was born in Orebro, Sweden in 1960. He arrived to New York City in 1995. From 2001 to 2010, he and his wife, photographer Mia Hanson, were residents of the Hotel Chelsea, where his work was commonly seen in staircases and hallways. He was interviewed by Abel Ferrara in “Chelsea On The Rocks”, and many of those paintings can be seen throughout the film. Hawk and Mia moved to Washington Heights; the hotel closed in 2012. Neither of them has a studio at the moment; Hawk paints in a small area on the floor in the apartment, and Mia works where the jobs take her. Each has numerous commercial pieces to his/her credit, including book and album covers, magazine covers and advertising.
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Ragazine: What was your work like as a child, and how long did it take for you to actually develop drawing skills?
Hawk Alfredson: I just returned from Sweden two months ago and in my mother’s attic I found an old suitcase filled with childhood & teenage drawings. Early on, I remember it was in school at about age six or seven years when I realized that I was more advanced at drawing than the other kids my age and I really enjoyed doing it. Every year in school thereafter the teachers would pin my work up on the wall and the other children would crowd around to look at my work. Relating to this somehow, I’ve believed in reincarnation since I was 16, and feel today that I must have been an artist in one or several of my life-times. I guess it took a couple hundred years or many more to develop my skills, but I finally believe that I have become in this life the artist that I was always striving to be.
Q) Did you receive a lot of encouragement from your family? Were they interested in your art, or did they direct to other pursuits?
A) My father was a hobby painter and my mother and I spent a lot of time drawing and painting watercolors together when I was very young. When I was around the age of six, I vaguely remember watching a documentary about artists and realized then that this was to be my path…my calling. When I was seven or eight years old I announced to my parents that I wanted to be an artist after previously wanting to be an archaeologist. It was at this time that I finished my first oil painting, a black & white whale jumping out of the ocean. My father helped guide me through this. I remember thinking how much more difficult it was to paint well than it was to draw. It was a bit intimidating so I went back to drawing on my own for a couple years. Throughout school my teachers would often encourage my artistic skills to the point that it became natural for me to expect that I would move north to Stockholm to attend art school after finishing my compulsory education. And so this is what I did when I was 16. I left my small village in the south of Sweden and never returned.
Tight Antic II | Oil on Canvas | 59″ x 79″ | 1992-2007
Q) Your paintings remind me of Albrecht Dürer; perhaps that’s the Old World influence some reviewers have spoken about in your work. Was that an evolutionary or conscious process to arrive at that point?
A) I was never interested in artists who basically just throw some paint on a canvas & then smear it out with a broom or something. I’m always drawn to painters that work with a skillful technique. Because of this, very few contemporary artists really affect me. Visiting the great classical museums of the world, you come across great older works that share a commonality: technique. However, sometimes a painter might have “it” but they might fall short on technique. Technique in general isn’t everything. Many times the most important quality an artist must have is a life experience that comes across lucidly upon the canvas. I enjoy being surprised by work like this even more. As Dali once said, “An artist must have hands that are guided by an angel,” or words to that effect.
Q) With which of the classical surrealists did you or do you most closely identify?
A) Back when I was in art school in Stockholm in the late ’70s, it was Dali and Magritte. Today, Magritte doesn’t do much for me anymore, but Dali’s strongest work (from the ‘50s and ‘60s) is still fascinating on many levels.
While in art school I traveled all throughout Europe. And in my early 20s I had a very profound experience in Paris when I saw a Giacometti painting. It totally mesmerized me, and put me in a ghostly, dreamlike hypnotic state of mind where time and space disappeared. No other painter has ever managed to do this to me. What is absolutely unbelievable to me is that he is better known for his sculptures.
V10N5 Hawk Alfredson
Hawk Alfredson Paintings, V10N5
Soaraurora[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n5-hawk-alfredson/thumbs/thumbs_these-senses-never-sleep.jpg]160These Senses Never Sleep
These Senses Never Sleep[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n5-hawk-alfredson/thumbs/thumbs_a-dim-immortality.jpg]150A Dim Immortality
A Dim Immortality[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n5-hawk-alfredson/thumbs/thumbs_lost-world.jpg]150Lost World
Lost World[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n5-hawk-alfredson/thumbs/thumbs_icon-for-an-unknown-religion_72dpi.jpg]170Icon for an Unknown Religion
Icon for an Unknown Religion[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n5-hawk-alfredson/thumbs/thumbs_fungicide.jpg]150Zen Window
Zen Window[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n5-hawk-alfredson/thumbs/thumbs_chance-meeting.jpg]110Chance Meeting with Circlings
Chance Meeting with Circlings[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n5-hawk-alfredson/thumbs/thumbs_stebuklingas-drugelis.jpg]110
Stebuklingas Drugelis[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n5-hawk-alfredson/thumbs/thumbs_the-dragons-mreath.jpg]120The Dragon's Mreath
The Dragon's Mreath[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n5-hawk-alfredson/thumbs/thumbs_the-preposterous-proposal.jpg]80The Presposterous Propos
The Presposterous Proposal
Q) How much a part does music play in the formulation of your work?
A) Music of all kinds has always influenced me. If I hadn’t become an artist, I probably would have found my way creating weird, uncategorizable music. The past years I don’t listen to music very often while I paint. I’ve found it to be too distracting, especially if there’s lyrics. However, if I do listen, it’s usually ambient music. The painting process needs total focus. Sometimes I get into a deep space within and nothing is of a distraction. It takes a good run of a couple days of intense work to get there, though. Generally, I’ve noticed the surrounding cacophonous noises of NYC are enough of a distraction and take the place of music. Paintings are sensitive objects. I believe they act as mystical recording devices soaking up the surrounding energy and music of their environment. If anyone can hear music seeping through my paintings, which some have said they can, then it’s most likely from all the sound energy involved in the painting process.
Q: I would imagine any artist coming to NY trying to make it in this scene would have great dreams, and unfortunately not everyone can make a living at it…. Who is your dealer now, and what would you say to someone just coming to New York who’s looking to make that kind of connection?
A: This question is actually quite complex. Basically, things have changed dramatically in NYC since I first got here in 1995. For instance, back then I had a show going on every day of the year for the first two years I was here. I would hop from one show opportunity to the next. The underground art scene was vital and still alive in the 90’s, especially in the East Village. And SoHo was of course going strong with established galleries. The neighborhood wasn’t overrun with fashion boutiques and aggressively competitive rents. These days, it seems artists have no place in a city that is desperate to make money simply to feed a machine. It’s an entirely different situation for the young artist coming to NYC now. For success, the young artist depends on an art establishment that is open to fresh ideas and is capable of taking a chance on an unproven talent. This is not the NYC we have post 9/11.
Q: Who are your current dealers?
A: I have kept an affiliation with my private art dealer in Stockholm since 1994. His name is Jan Linder. Here in the states, I’m represented by Limner Gallery in Hudson, New York. I also work closely with a couple other private art dealers here in New York City.
Q: How did you meet your wife, Mia?
A: We met at a gallery in Park Slope, Brooklyn, in 1997. I was having a solo show there and she walked in one day when I wasn’t around and took a good look at all the paintings hanging from floor to ceiling. She was immediately hooked and tracked me down. A couple years later we were living together in Stockholm. A Swedish journalist wrote about our meeting: “It was love before first sight. Mia felt Hawk’s presence, his language, yes his entire being just through studying the detailed paintings.”
Q: Your N.Y. history includes a long stint living at the Chelsea Hotel. In an artistic sense, I can only imagine it was a creatively communal experience. While you grew and prospered there, would you agree, “It’s not for everyone”?
A: Nine years at the Hotel is very difficult to put into a nutshell. We had insane neighbors sometimes. One actually accused me of painting her breasts when I had never even seen her naked… ever! I had a couple of my “Circling” paintings hanging in the 4th floor corridor where we both lived and she complained to the management that I was painting her breasts. The “Circling” paintings I had started long before I ever met her and honestly, I don’t even associate them with any part of the human form at all. For all of those nine years I had paintings hanging in the staircase, as well. Also in the lobby and in a few V.I.P. rooms. There were over 50 paintings of mine displayed in the Hotel. It was an amazing and very unique situation. The owner of the Hotel, Stanley Bard, encouraged me to hang as many paintings as I wished throughout the Hotel. And so I did. Unexpectedly, I noticed it wasn’t too long after I started hanging my oil paintings in the open spaces in the staircase that other resident artists did so, as well. There were some few paintings throughout the 10 floors of the staircase before Mia and I moved in – this was in 2001 – but it was sparse and uninspiring to be honest.
Q: Do you have any shows coming up?
A: I have work showing at Minerva Gallery, however outside of this I’m pretty open right now. I’m interested to hear from anyone who has an offer!
Q: Anything you would like to tell our readers that you always hoped someone would ask about but never did?
A: Verbal communication is not something I usually put a lot of effort into when it comes to my own artistic process. You will never see me giving a lecture or teaching a class on the subject of art. It’s difficult to talk about the intuitive artistic process so I’m glad I haven’t needed to delve into that too deeply here. To be honest, the more time advances, the more reticent I feel toward verbalizing my art. What I can say about my artistic process is that I am always hunting for the mysterious while I paint. When I begin a painting I have no definitive destination. Rather, while I work I encourage subliminal ideas and cosmic forces to collaborate with the process. In any case, I’d like to circle back to one of my favorite quotes from any artist- it’s from Jean Cocteau: “An artist cannot speak about his art any more than a plant can discuss horticulture.”
For more images, see www.hawkalfredson.com, and facebook:
To purchase a copy of Alfredson’s book, click on this link:
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About the interviewer:
Michael Foldes is founder and managing editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in About Us.
This interview was conducted via email between February and May 2014.
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