Jockum Nordström: 'Sometimes I'm completely inside another world'

The Swedish artist tells us why this is the right time to unleash his quietly kinky drawings, collages and sculptures on London
Jockum Nordström ('One More Lap')
'One More Lap'Collection Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall
Jockum Nordström ('Back in the Garage with my Bullshit Detector', 2000)
'Back in the Garage with my Bullshit Detector', 2000Hort Family Collection, New York, © the artist
Jockum Nordström ('Tiddlywinks', 2004)
'Tiddlywinks', 2004Collection Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall, © the artist
Jockum Nordström (Installation view at Camden Arts Centre)
Installation view at Camden Arts Centrephoto: Andy Keate
Jockum Nordström ('The Final End of Childhood', 2001)
'The Final End of Childhood', 2001Collection Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall, © the artist
Jockum Nordström ('View from the Studio', 1995)
'View from the Studio', 1995Private collection, © the artist
Jockum Nordström ('Child of Nature', 2010)
'Child of Nature', 2010Private collection, © the artist
Jockum Nordström ('Stepbrother', 2009)
'Stepbrother', 2009courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York
By Martin Coomer |

Jockum Nordström’s art pits child-like naivety against the complications of adult life – and it doesn’t make for comforting viewing. There’s much pleasure-seeking but not much pleasure-finding in the deceptively simple drawings and collages of this 50-year-old Swede. Men and women, often frolicking in top hats and costume-drama dresses, are tainted with themes of boredom, cruelty, anguish and lost innocence. Nordström's matchbox sculptures, meanwhile, look like modernist buildings on the razz, degenerating from order into undignified disorder. In Camden Arts Centre’s garden, Nordström talks about his influences and the themes of a show that, drawing on two decades worth of work, is a feast of weirdly atmospheric delights – and one of the highlights of the summer.

You could have shown anywhere in London over the past ten years. Why Camden, why now?
‘You know, for a long time I had only one commercial gallery because it just seems like a lot of stress to have more. Waiting this long before showing in London gives me the chance to make a selection of my work. And I like Camden. It feels hidden, a bit secret. It suits me.’ Who are the Victorian types in your work – ancestors, ghosts?
‘Sometimes the people are from 200 years ago, sometimes 500. It all depends on what other pictures I’m into and what I’m reading. I like Hans Christian Andersen, things like that, so sometimes I’m completely inside another world.’

There’s a collage in your show called ‘In 100 Years’ but nothing much appears to have changed…
‘That’s because I think human beings are basically the same and always will be. It could be me in the top hat, it could be you.’

What are the main themes of your work?
‘It’s about relationships, about the Western world – how men treat women, how the bourgeoisie treat poor people. There’s a kind of sadness to it.’

Very Swedish…
‘Yes, but sometimes I want to make a joke of it too.’
Do you ever feel alarmed by the images you create?
‘Sometimes after a year I might think, “what’s this?”, but when I’m making them it’s more like dreaming. There’s a lot of self-representation involved – even with a woman or an old man or a tree. You go into yourself so much that they all become part of you. You don’t leave them before they have a character.’

What about the buildings in your pictures? They seem quite characterless…
‘I grew up in a Stockholm suburb in the 1960s, it was very modernist. We played inside, played hide and seek… That was my landscape.’

Did you want to be artist when you were a child?
‘No, I wanted to be a sailor. I had a lot of fantasies. I wanted to go around the world, I wanted to go to China. But when I was ten years old my teacher’s husband, who was a sailor, told me “Don’t be a sailor, it’s so boring”.’

You were a commercial illustrator for a while, did that shape your work?
‘I worked on a big morning paper in Sweden and every week they called me up to do an illustration for the music section. One week it could be the London Philharmonic, the next week it could be Billie Holiday. It was always so different so it was perfect for me – but after 100 weeks it was torture.’

Were you making your own art at the same time?
‘Yes, always. This was just for money, for food, for beer.’

You also worked as a children’s book illustrator, but your own art doesn’t seem very child-friendly. What do your own children think of it?
‘It’s really hard to say because they grew up with this strange world. They’re in their twenties now. Sometimes I think they think I’m an idiot.’

Which do you prefer – making drawings, collages or sculptures?
‘When you draw you feel your way, find something. Collage is much more simple in many ways – you just cut. I’ve always made sculptures but I’ve only showed them in the past six or seven years. They’re more like play for me. I’d say making drawings is the most important because it’s the most difficult thing for me to do.’

Read more art interviews

Art, Film and video

Fiona Tan

The Amsterdam-based artist known for her immersive film installations talks to Time Out about her two London shows: ‘Inventory’, which takes inspiration from the eclectic Sir John Soane’s Museum, and ‘Ghost Dwellings’, an installation which focuses on natural and economic disasters in Detroit, Cork and Japan.  You don’t live in London, so what attracted you to Sir John Soane’s Museum?‘I noticed that when I was preparing for a show in Rome I kept thinking about Soane’s. I had been doing a lot of research into collections and considering how long we’ve had public museums, and his place is very much a starting point to think about that. And of course, it’s fantastic.’ What aspects of the museum did you want to focus on?‘I focused on the areas (where) he hung what he called his “marbles”: all the architectural fragments and things he collected from ancient Rome and Greece. I’m not interested in trying to replicate the museum. Why should I? It’s a unique place and everyone should go – and everyone does, I think. Instead, I was very interested in the idea of the original and the copy, because there are a lot of plaster casts on display. It got me thinking about the medium.’ Is that why you chose to shoot the film on six different formats?‘Basically I decided to choose not to choose. Usually when I’m preparing a piece I make tests with different cameras and I thought maybe it’s interesting to bring that to the forefront in ‘Inventory’ – the fact that there are all these mediums a


Sanya Kantarovsky

Moscow-born, New York-based painter Sanya Kantarovsky has teamed up with performance artist Ieva Misevičiūtė for his show at Studio Voltaire, which is inspired by Mikhail Bulgakov’s surreal, satirical novel about the Devil’s visit to Moscow, ‘The Master and Margarita’. On the opening night, Misevičiūtė performed on a stage shaped like ‘Behemoth’ – the book’s diabolical black cat. A film of the performance is on show in the gallery foyer, while the cat remains as a sculpture-cum-bench from which you can admire Kantarovsky’s spellbinding paintings. Time Out caught up with him. How did the show come about?‘The show came out of a collaborative process with performance artist Ieva Misevičiūtė. Most of the figures in the paintings are based on a series of gesture studies I made of her movements in my studio. When she performs in the gallery space there’s an indexical relationship between her body and the gestures in the paintings.’ How conscious were you of making work for a former church?‘I was responding to the history of the space as a church, which made sense with the novel's Christian meta-narrative.  I approached this as a site-specific installation rather than a straightforward painting show. There was an internal debate about how the space would exist after Ieva's performance because her presence throws the status of the paintings into question. When Ieva is on stage, they comprise an environment for her performance and become contingent on her body.’  It’s very dramatic

AA Bronson & Ryan Brewer, detail of 'Red', 2011

AA Bronson

Time Out falls under the spell of this trailblazing artist


Carol Bove

The sculptor talks about experiencing art, bringing colour into her palette, and her love of crushing things

Snap up exclusive discounts in London

Time Out's handpicked deals — hurry, they won't be around for long...