Animals in Clouds
Patrick Nilsson is a master of the paradox and the surprise, of playful gravitas, searing his works with a kind of passionate serenity.
Bruegel and Bosch are influences – two artists who created scenes where diverse, seemingly unconnected actions happen within one landscape, unleashing a riotous disharmony. Such comparisons are clear in the You Don’t Have to be a Weather Girl to See Where the Wind is Blowing series from 2006 to 2013. Characters run amok in seemingly disconnected scenes of whimsical carnage, while the scene appears divided into two or three layers of differing texture: people, houses, clouds.
Revelling in the diversity of pattern and texture, people are jettisoned in works such as Grid Variation 4, which contrasts the man-made mathematical stasis of the grid with the flowing freedom of the clouds.
In artworks such as: The Big Darkness, the gloom-inducing clouds take over most of the paper. Clouds, like the humans Patrick Nilsson portrays, are not forced to live in a world of logic, meteorological or otherwise. In So Never is Most Lonely Man Alone from 2009, the subtly rendered yet unmistakeable form of a rabbit peeks out through the clouds, and in Delta from the same year, a swan moves into view as if to peck at the golden swamp below. The artist has remarked how these sentimental touches may call to mind Beatrix Potter, the beloved children’s author of books such as Peter Rabbit.
So Never is Most Lonely Man Alone is a quotation from American poet EE Cummings; Patrick Nilsson reads voraciously, but also gleefully mishears or misreads. He writes down phrases and words which may apply to the spirit of his works.
Background and Early Exhibitions
Patrick Nilsson grew up on the west coast in Gothenburg. He did not consider being an artist as a child, taking more enjoyment in sport. Art was not around him domestically, although his brother enjoyed drawing from a young age.
Patrick found drawing as a means of self expression in his late teens. “I had a strong need to express myself, but I couldn’t find the medium. Once I started, I realized this was what I had been looking for.”
Whilst studying for his MFA from the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm, Patrick Nilsson spent a year at the Royal Academy of Art in Copenhagen. This formative year in Copenhagen allowed the artist to create distance between himself and others, fostering an enhanced ability to calmly observe. Later, he continued his post-graduate studies at the Valand Academy, part of Gothenburg University. Subsequently, a year in New York was to broaden his perspective still further.
Patrick Nilsson’s art embraces contradictions which include humour and seriousness, playfulness and death, darkness and light. In his words: “I enjoy being sidetracked. I look for contradictions. I look for humour, black and dark. I notice that the best work I do, I feel almost embarrassed by it, by its emotion. There are two Patricks, one social, one artist. They have little in common.”
Whilst his studio is a place of joy, the artist believes that he brings his own energy with him and that any location can provide a sanctuary for work, the result of his chosen path as an artist. “15 years ago, I was hospitalized for a month. I felt I could work there. I just need my notes. As an artist, you are never bored.”
Contradictions as Core
In 1996, he created what seems in retrospect a seminal work: Light Box. A simple video of two candles in a box, being slowly starved of oxygen. The video captured something of the human condition, and featured Patrick Nilsson’s burgeoning use of paradoxical combinations: in this case the presence of the forces of life consuming itself, seemingly alive, but logarithmically moving towards death.
The artist himself embraces the contradiction at the heart his vocation. One aspect to this is the simultaneous assertion and rejection of control. Embracing variety, and not giving the audience what they expect, is a way for the artist to “keep control.” However, an avoidance of planned formulas is key: “To achieve something, I try to lose control and trust the feeling I have.”
Words into Images
Patrick Nilsson began by rejecting the segregation of artistic disciplines – he worked with text until 2005, in conversation with the haunting legacy of the most evil crime in world history, the Holocaust, exploring the mood of a man who wanted to go to Auschwitz on a field trip. “I got a strong reaction, very positive. I still am scared about that work, because I have a middle-class, non Jewish background. It was my take on a grotesque crime from a human perspective. Sens Moral or Death was the title.”
Combining texts and images is a staple of one of the most practical and universally popular domestic decoration: the calendar. Patrick Nilsson marked his own stamp on the calendar (in his Calendar series), later merging this style into his Dead Bastards series. These are images which depict death in macabre yet laugh-out-loud form, as anonymized silhouettes meet their doom in surprising and innovative ways. Dead Bastards is inspired both by silhouettes that were popular in 1800s, and the printed silhouettes used to illustrate criminals in newspapers when he was a child. In a mischievous way they neutralize some of the horror of death, providing an opportunity to seek solace from the communality of our own mortality, whilst recognizing the immutability of man’s most primitive behaviours.
“There is a pattern, reflecting on the human condition. A contradiction between the kindness that humans are capable of and their cruelty and egoism… I have chosen tools , kitchen utensils and such like to emphasize that these are actions that have been undertaken swiftly, on the spur of the moment, and in a riled up emotional state.”