4 Dec 2012: IKEA, ABBA and meatballs aside, Yrjö Edelmann is one of the next best things to come out of Sweden. Born in 1941, he moved from Helsinki in Finland to Sweden with his family at the age of 10, and has since adopted the country as his home. His passion for art started early, but he pursued his talents and went on to study freehand drawing at the University College of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm, and then at the Famous Artist School in Connecticut, USA.
As a collection of his hyperrealistic oil paintings of festive and colourfully wrapped parcels from the series ‘Wrapping Up the Force of Perspective’ makes its debut in Singapore, we catch up with the man behind the paint.
How did your career as an artist begin?
I started with portraits and illustrations for books – I did the covers for all the James Bond novels – then started exploring Surrealism in 1973. Then one day in 1976, I looked out of the window in my studio and saw just this one single cloud. If I’d just painted that it would’ve just been an ordinary landscape painting, and I didn’t want that, but then I suddenly noticed a piece of crinkled paper on my table, and so I cut it to the shape of a cloud, and painted that against a realistic landscape.
Is that how your fascination with painting paper started?
Yes. I found it very interesting, so then I started creating whole landscapes using paper.
What sort of paper do you prefer to use?
In the beginning, mostly brown parcel wrapping paper. Now, I use all sorts.
How long do you usually take to create a painting?
It’s hard to say because I usually work on eight to 10 paintings at one go. I need to wait for certain areas to dry before I can continue, so I paint other ones in the meantime.
Do you prefer using natural light or studio light?
Both. It depends on the painting, as long as the lighting stays the same throughout because I need to keep the shadow constant.
And how do you achieve that?
I have my photographer [Kjell Nilsson, whom Edelmann has worked with for over 35 years] take a photo of the parcels before I paint. He would take 20 shots, then we would choose 10, then 5, then paint from those.
Be honest – do you ever get bored of painting the same thing over and over?
No, I find it very exciting when I go into the studio every morning. I am a very disciplined artist – I go into the studio from 9.30 in the morning until 6 in the evening.
Do you have a favourite piece?
Every painting is a favourite, or else they won’t be displayed. My friends sometimes ask me why I don’t just display the photo, but it’s because it’s not as interesting. My paintings are like the photos – but better.
What’s your secret to creating these super realistic paintings?
A lot of training and a bit of talent.
What are some of your more unique works?
I painted the Royal Castle in Sweden wrapped up in paper for the King [of Sweden]’s 50th birthday; it was commissioned by his friends. I also did an advertisement for the Absolut Vodka campaign between 1995 and 1998. The works from that are now up in their museum in Stockholm next to Andy Warhol and Keith Haring. I also did a painting of a wrapped-up McLaren and a 4m racing car for Felipe Massa, but unfortunately it was stolen from a museum in Stockholm 2 years ago and never found…
Have you ever turned down commissions?
Oh yes – I’ve refused good commissions just because they tell me too much. If someone sees my art but it’s already bought and they want me to create a similar one for them, that is okay. But they can’t give me too much information because in the end that is up to me.
Do you keep track of how many paintings you’ve done so far?
[Laughs] No. But I do about four shows a year, and I create 12 to 15 paintings for each show – this one in Singapore is a bit of an exception because it has 19 – so you do the math!
Is there anything inside the parcels when you photograph and paint them?
No – nothing.
Surely you must sometimes imagine what could’ve been inside…
That’s up to you!