Why They Work: Benjamin Björklund
Benjamin Björklund is a contemporary Swedish painter living and working in Uppsala, Sweden. He is self-taught and spent years painting on the side while working as a psychiatric nurse and prison night guard, both of which provided ample inspiration for his artistic works. He later put his painting aspirations aside to pursue an education to become a veterinary technician, but the call to paint was too strong. In 2015, he abandoned his studies and has worked as a full-time painter ever since. He cites Marie Krøyer and the Skagen Painters as his main influences, though his more contemporary inspirations come in the form of music.
Influenced by his Scandinavian environment in the same way as the Skagen Painters, Björklund paints in a primarily cool palette. He likes to use black and white photos as reference because of the freedom they grant him to experiment with his color choices. Making no attempt to portray colors accurately, Björklund’s color choices come from all over the spectrum, harmonizing in unsuspecting ways to capture his target mood. The subject matter of his work is a reflection of his surroundings. Björklund lives by a river in the Swedish countryside, and paints primarily portraiture, though not only of humans. Mice, rabbits, cows, and most frequently his dog, Solomon, often serve as the subjects of his paintings.
Björklund tries to be honest with his work. His paintings possess a level of sincerity that as a viewer, can almost feel as though you’ve stumbled upon an intimate moment that wasn’t meant for you to see, as if you’re looking directly at someone’s memories.
Björklund’s paintings possess a dreamlike quality. They live somewhere in between familiarity and obscurity. His forms often feel like they’re shrouded in the mist of a hazy memory. Presented as isolated figures, there’s just enough information to inspire nostalgia, yet enough omitted to keep you wondering why.
Björklund tries to “convey a sense of stillness or hovering, not a frozen moment” and his masterful control of edges plays a large role in doing so. It’s interesting that a portrait painter would choose to omit parts of the face, but there is good reason for doing so. Photographs betray the true nature of memory. We don’t experience the world in such sharp focus and this is perhaps the magic to the strange feeling of familiarity one gets when looking at Björklund’s paintings. By omitting specifics, he allows viewers to project characters from their own lives into his work. Though his figures often possess soft, out of focus features, they also have moments of extreme clarity – a sharp nose or well-defined musculature will pierce through the fog in high fidelity, perhaps the parts that leave the biggest impression.
Mainly working in oil and watercolor, his choice of medium fully supports this style of painting, allowing edges to blend and bleed into nothing. An overabundance of soft edges can quickly lose attention, but Björklund is a master of shape design. The way he organizes his edges, alternating between soft and hard feels rhythmic, as if they were playing out in accordance to some pattern we’re not privy to.
At just 32, Björklund has a long career ahead of him. His command over color and edge, and his ability to create an interactive experience for the viewer make him a stand-out contemporary talent, and that… is why they work.
Taylor is the Managing Editor of Notes on Design. Taylor is a graphic designer, illustrator, and Design Lead at Weirdsleep.