Interview: Erik Sandberg


Erik Sandberg likes his school-children pink and side show circus hairy-faced and his romantic floral arrangements with eggs hollandaise. Eat your heart out, Dutch “pronk” still lives- Sandberg even has a steak with his bouquet. His paintings look like a great/horrible place to spend a hungover Sunday. Read the full interview after the jump.

Can you talk about how you approach creating a work? What’s your brainstorming process, or where do you find ideas to begin creating a painting, to its final inception?

It usually starts with something, and idea, I find interesting. Whether it’s a story in the news, some dysfunctional family I see walking through Kmart, a picture…things that stick out to me in observations of daily life. After I have an idea, it’s more of a grappling of intuitive material choices. It becomes a constant push and pull, edit, rework….find some sort of sense of communication I’m settled with.

So you are a fellow Los Angeles artist….what do you think about the city, the art scene here, and its affect on artistic production, if at all?

I think the Wild West is great. It still has a huge amount of room to breathe and experiment in. LA is great for production…it has a sort of unique energy, geography, history, cocktail of cultures. It’s constantly surprising in a fruit rotting in the sun sort of way, which can be beautiful and harmful in many ways.


Interior shot of Erik's studio

What do you like about being a freelance artist?

The millions and millions of dollars you make. I’m like that guy making it snow in the club. Honestly, all hours of the day revolve around the current project, or the next project and it’s extremely satisfying to devote all energy to personal projects. I caught myself telling someone the other day that I haven’t worked a 9 to 5 job in 13 years. I work more like 14 hour days, but somehow it doesn’t feel like “work.” It doesn’t feel mundane in anyway. It feels purposeful.


Interior shot of Erik's studio

Can you walk us through a day in your studio? Do you set a schedule for yourself, or what’s the day-to-day like?

I have no set schedule. It solely depends on what I’m working on at the moment. If a show comes up, it’s around the clock for weeks. After I finish a show or a project, it’s a couple days of sci-fi TV or country music binge fest. I also like to get outside and unplug from all the electronics for at least an hour.

In the “Hairy Children” series, there’s something cynically depressing/humorous about the way their faces are both heightened and obliterated by the paint-scratches….what was the inspiration behind these works?

The complex effects of contemporary pop culture on children….the increasingly uncomfortable expressions of today’s elementary school photos…news reports claiming traces of Rogaine, Viagra and other various pharmaceuticals found in tap water….


You also studied printmaking extensively….what do you love about this medium?

The fact that there’s no command Z… It’s a labor of love. Craft becomes an ideological part of the work. Its process driven, which is a huge part of my natural working vernacular. It’s physical, gritty… I need to make art that has physicality…washing out with a spray gun, rolling the top roll, printing a gigantic cyanotype. Art that has physicality is a necessity for me.


Do you use source material or work from imagination?

I work extensively with materials and components, such as: 3D polygon models, airbrush, oil, acrylic, alternative photo processes, glitter, resins, found photos…the complex construction is dictated by the conceptual underpinnings of the image or series.

I love “The Equilibrium of Glamour” series- bizarrely apocalyptic, religiously inspired, absurd…..there seems to be a certain narrative element inserted perhaps, in the text quotes your characters are saying….what was the inspiration behind this series?

The unique living characteristics of Los Angeles…. I came to LA from a conservative Midwest suburb in 1996. I went from the land of flannel shirts and snow, to the land of everything else. The text elements allow for a snarky commentary on aspects of LA living that connect to the narrative idea in a way that creates dialogue between the image and the viewer. Part of it highlights the underbelly of what appears to be glamorous. It’s some of the more perverse scenarios that occur when living in an entertainment-fertilized culture.

The bouquets are interesting, painting something romantic and idyllic with kind of mundane/unsophisticated foods….like “Bouquet with Country Ham and Lemonade” or “Bouquet with Beef”….what lead you to create these?

Their inception came just after the hair kid portraits. I was thinking heavily about genetically modified things, like color genes of flora, and how man’s contemporary influence and science can radically modify nature and vice versa. Personally exploring what that means, looks, and feels like are some of the underpinnings of those works, its better living through technology.

Who are some of your influences and favorite artists around, and what do you admire about their work?

Tim Hawkinson and his approach to everyday materials…Matthew Barney for his perverse narratives and how they function in multiple states (filmic, sculptural, and photographic) …Kerry James Marshall for his material and cultural explorations…Christopher Wool, Wangechi Mutu, etc…….


What projects are you currently working on?

At the moment, I’m working on my first Berlin solo show at Johanssen Gallery. The show is titled, “Picture Day in the Garden,” opening July 10, 2009. Also, a special show at SCOPE Miami Dec 2-6 2009 during Basel this year titled “There’s Still Life” (


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  • john brown

    Beautiful work Erik. I especially like the portraits. There are a lot of people painting dense narrative paintings with crazy stuff going on but the portraits have an erie sensibility to them that you just don’t see that often. I’d like to see more paintings with single figures…

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  • River

    Wow. This is some of the most compelling work I’ve come across in awhile.
    The images are both beautiful and haunting at the same time. I think you’re
    making some relevant points. I respect that you’re not just another “command z” artist.
    The layers and use of different materials definitely add to the concepts. Looking forward
    to seeing what else you’ll be doing in the future. Amazing stuff.

  • I especially like the blue background behind the hairy girl with the bright pink ribbon and flowery shirt. It is really great to see the studio shot with the tape on the wall, and the air compressor on the floor, it gives some information about the working technique. It was interesting to read about the 14 hour work days, because it is evident that the paintings involve really thoughtful material, composition, and color choices that I think come from long hours painting and drawing, and falls under the “painting is a sport” category, where practice makes perfect. This was a really interesting interview.

  • River- I am so excited that you were as compelled by Erik’s work as I was!
    And Bill….I think the hairy children paintings are by far my favorites as well, such an odd concept! I will keep your comments in mind and try to incorporate some of the technical aspects about their work space and technique in future interviews. Keep your eyes peeled! One will be live soon!

  • Super tolles Interview und tolle Bilder. Wer sich von Euch in die Eric Sandberg Hairy Children Portraits verliebt hat: Der neue Ă–kostromanbieter verlost in einer Kunstaktion u.a. ein Hairy Children Portrait und andere wervolle Kunstwerke.

    Great Interview and great pictures. If anybody is in love with the Eric Sandberg Hairy Children Portraits : raffles of e.g. a Hairy Children Portrait and other great pictures.

    good luck!

  • Incredihel. deserves an osxar.

  •, how do you do it?

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