Per Kesselmar shows his fascination with light in his works. In his paintings, the Stockholm-based artist mixes different shades of white paint on large sheets of metal. In his sculpture, he works with the existing exhibition space to play with reality and to create an atmosphere for the viewer. The following is an interview with Sabrina Möller, in which he explains his artistic process and his unique relationship with the viewer.
Sabrina Möller: In the 1990s, you were working with colors like yellow and orange, but now your works are dominated by different shades of white. How did that come to be?
Per Kesselmar: I have always been fascinated by light and very bright colors. That came very natural to me. Bright colors have been my main interest from the start. As a painter, I find it fascinating to create light… The most interesting to me is the sublime and to explore our perception: what we see and what we are.
S. M.: At first glance, your paintings seem to be mostly monochrome. But you work with different layers of white paint mixed with small quantities of other colors. In the documentary about your work I’ve seen that you mix these colors directly on the surface of the painting. Why is that? Could you tell me more about what the process looks like?
P. K.: Actually, I used to have all my fingers covered in paint, each a different color, which I then would mix with white. With the various colors, I can tune the white paint to a warmer or cooler tone, the way I want it to. I work in many layers and I work with the transparency to open up the space of the canvas and to see through it.
S. M.: Are there certain criteria as to which color will be next?
P. K.: No, the process is very intuitive. The material I work with is very important. I work with different kinds of metal. I choose colors that correspond with the material.
S. M.: Instead of using canvas, you paint on iron, aluminum, brass, etc. To what extent is the surface of the material important to you and to what extent does it define your work?
P. K.: I find metal very exciting to work on because of its flat surface. Moreover, metals like iron and lead appeal to me, because of there extreme contrast to the light. Metal also darker, which creates a dramatic contrast with the white. I always choose to show a bit of the material underneath at the edges.
S. M.: When did you start to develop this kind of formal language? Is there a kind of an origin moment?
P. K.: It was a moment when I was working on a copper plate print and I thought that the copper plate was actually much better than the print. That was at the Royal Academy in the 1980s. And since then I have been working like that.
S. M.: Where does the inspiration for your works come from? Do you have a certain idea in your mind or how do you develop the subject of the work?
P. K.: I want to give the viewer a sense of the present. The sublime present and the sublime reality of which we all are a part as humans. That is what I want to give the viewer. I also work with the existing room, shadows, and different kinds of objects which reflect light or make shadows. I play with reality to bring attention to what is happening in the here and now—a sort of way of guiding us to the present.
S. M.: The existence of light always implies the existence of shadows. You create light in your paintings, but on the other hand you create shadows with your objects, which interact with the exhibition space. Tell me more between the interaction of the objects and the space and the connection of light and shadows.
P. K.: I like to play with reality. The most important thing for me is to make an atmosphere for the viewer and not to create a single work. It’s about creating an atmosphere for the space into which you’re entering. I use the format of the exhibition to further play with reality, to paint shadows and to catch the viewer’s attention to what’s happening in the here and now.
S. M.: Repetition seems to be a key characteristic of your work. Would you agree with that?
P. K.: Yes, my work can be perceived as repetitive. Sometimes I feel like I’m working on the same painting year after year. However, the painting is never-ending. I see the multitude of paintings as a single continuous work.
S. M.: How important are aspects such as aesthetics to your work? Do you see your works as decorative to a certain degree?
P. K.: The decorative is perfectly fine with me, although I can’t say it’s my main interest. I don’t see the sublime as something decorative, but rather as a sense of belonging to the viewer.
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