Simon Stålenhag at INDIO

The Stockholm based production company INDIO represents talents and artists, developing creative projects and strong ideas. One of the artist they represent is Simon Stålenhag – known for his sci–fi paintings of retro futuristic landscapes. November 27th INDIO are arranging an event at Kocksgatan 52, exhibiting Simon Stålenhags work for the first time ever. We asked Simon a few questions.

Tell us about yourself!
– My name is Simon Stålenhag I was born in 1984, and I grew up outside of Stockholm. I have been painting my whole life. When I was a kid, I painted birds in aquarelle. Later, in my twenties, I painted industrial environments in gouache. A couple of years back I started painting digitally. In these pictures I depict Swedish landscapes, extinct animals and strange machines – usually all of it in the same picture.

This is your first exhibition. You got your break-trough as an artist in 2013, when the American online magazine The Verge published an article about your work. What happened and how did it feel?
– I don’t really know what happened. I had been sharing my work on social medias with my friends for almost two years. I have a lot of friends that I got to know while I was still in school, who are now working in different media companies. I guess that the pictures were spread to some kind of interested and critical group of people, and then I think there was a sort of snowball effect. It was fun with all the attention, but to be honest, it was a really a stressful time. I was not prepared for all the attention and I had to take stand to a lot of job offers – some of them I cold not even dream about. I liked being in the countryside painting my brushwood and rusty machineries – and now, suddenly, I was offered jobs in Santa Monica.

Tell me about the motives in your paintings?
– I am picturing my local environment and a self perceived mood of growing up on the Swedish countryside. The environments are being visited by amazing buildings, robots and extinct animals – something that would occur during my childhood. Although, it was in me and my friends imagination.


How do you proceed when you are making your paintings?
– I am working digitally with a special pen on a drawing board. During the last six month I am mostly using Wacom Cintiq Companion, it is a drawing board that works as its own computer. It’s like drawing with a big pen on an iPad. I am trying to make the work feel so “traditional” as possible. I am creating tools in Photoshop, such as brushes and paper structures, which act pretty similar to physical tools and materials. Then I continue working as if I was making a physical painting. I try to avoid digital filters and effects as much as possible. I take a lot of photos every day, which I use as reference and ideas to inspire my sketches. Since I am working in a cottage on the countryside, I am often picturing what I can see just outside my window, I live close to nature. When I have created a mood that I like in the picture, I try to draw a composition that I like; and this is where the amazing animals appear.


Why do you think your painting transcend so well on the Internet?
– I have a background in computer games and film. It is a genre that has a huge online-based audience who like the sci-fi elements in my pictures. And then I think the ordinary environments I am portraying make people recognize them self in the paintings. I think the big amount of pictures that I have done on the same theme has been important. When the pictures were starting to spread on the Internet a year ago – I had like 30 pictures from the same universe, which made them more clickable on social medias.

In the pictures there are anachronistic elements, where environments and objects that usually doesn’t belong together meet – how did you start working on that theme?
– I became interested in natural history about five years ago and I started to paint dinosaurs. At the same time I was beginning to get interested in legendary concept artists such as Ralph Mcquarrie och Syd Mead and started to draw robots and vehicles. I have always loved the Swedish cultural landscape, as a child I very interested in the nature and animals, my role models Gunnar Brusewitz and Lars Jonsson; so I thought that it should not be a problem to mix all these influences into a great mess.

What interests you in sci-fi?
– I have, for a long period of time, been interested in the human relationship to science, technology and the nature. Science Fiction is a field where you can play with this theme, but at the same time it interests me in the sense of “this is so cool”. I still get that same feeling that I had as a child as I was standing in the toy store.


How does your artwork connect to your work as computer game developer?
– I learned the technique from my work in a gaming company as in the film industry . I don’t think I would have been drawn to this industry if I did not have a life long relationship to TV-games and film. As a child, my friends and I played TV-games and watched movies all the time, such as Terminator and Alien. We kept these films and games in our minds when we were exploring the landscapes around us.

You are picturing a childhood in a cultural landscape that is interrupted by machines and dinosaurs – what is happening in that meeting?
– I think the well know gets even more familiar and clear in meeting with the fantastic. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like I am painting robots and dinosaurs- but the fields and brushwood, making the robots and the dinosaurs the bait that I use to make the observer see what we usually take for granted.

Is there anything you want to communicate with your pictures?
– Yes, I often want to communicate the beauty in our ordinary surroundings and the mood from my own childhood – but in the same way I feel that is about to find a design and a scene that is fucking awesome.


Pictures from