Linnea Strid on Her Paintings, Life, Becoming a Mom & More

by Rubén Palma
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Linnea Strid (b. 1983), is a Swedish artist with a knack for realistic and photorealistic painting, but who also enjoys exploring more surrealistic motifs. She dives deep into personal themes, portraying her subjects often in a very vulnerable and distressed emotional state. There’s darkness in most of her paintings but always with a glimpse of hope.

Strid has been showing her work in galleries worldwide since the age of 16, and has been working as an artist full time since 2009.

Hi Linnea, thank you for sitting down with me! First question. How does a regular day look like for you in Gävle?

No problem, thank you for having me! Oh a regular day in the life of me. I would say around 7 in the morning I am awakened by my soon-to-be 4 year old son Love. Who needs an alarm clock when you have kids right? We proceed to eat breakfast and after that we take our bikes and ride to his preschool. After dropping him off I head back home and go to my studio that’s situated in the basement of our apartment building. I start painting immediately. I work for about 4 hours and then it’s time for a quick lunch and after that I bike back to pick up our son. The rest of the afternoon I spend with him, outside playing, going to the library or just hanging out at home. I cook dinner in the evening and when my husband gets home from work we all eat together. After that Love goes to bed and I either work for another hour or I watch something on the tv with the husband while cuddling the cats. That’s about as glamorous as it gets around here haha. 

It has been a conscious choice of mine to cut back on studio time to be able to spend more time with my son. I know that if it’s something that I don’t want to regret as I get old, it’s that I didn’t spend enough time with him when he was a kid. As hard as it may be some days, this is still something that I know I will cherish for the rest of my life and hopefully he will as well. I’ll able to get back to full days (and nights) of painting soon enough. 

I know that you started drawing and painting very early in life. And knew that you wanted to become an artist, very early on. My question is. What did your parents say, when you expressed your wishes. What was your support system like?

My parents were very happy about it! Neither of them are working artists but my dad is a self employed engineer who’s got tons of patents behind him. He’s very intelligent and creative and also has an artistic side to him, we used to oil paint together when I was a kid. Unfortunately he doesn’t paint anymore but he’s a huge art lover and is very excited about my artistic endeavours and wants to hear all about it.

My mom was and is equally excited about my career path. She is also a very creative person (but is too humble to ever admit to have any sort of artistic talent) who never felt comfortable having a normal 9-5 routine, so she happily quit her job when I was born just to take care of me. She’s a very free spirit. She is also a huge lover of arts and music and literature and was really doing a great job as I grew up exposing me to all kinds of art. We went to a lot of museums as a family and honestly back then I thought it was pretty boring, but today I’m very thankful for that persistence. It planted a little art seed in my brain for sure.

At some point during your childhood, you and your family move to Spain. What was the occasion? And can you walk me through that experience?

My parents had bought a small summer house on the Costa del Sol in 1995. This was at a time when you could get houses for very cheap down there. We went there during summer vacations and then in 1999 when I was 16 and about to start high school we all talked it through as a family and decided to try living down there permanently. Since my dad travelled a lot for work, it didn’t really matter where in the world we lived and it seemed like a fun adventure for all of us to embark on. 

I didn’t speak any Spanish at the time so I attended a Swedish private school during my high school years. However I started dating a Spanish guy shortly after moving there, so I quickly learned to speak Spanish and after a couple of years I was speaking close to fluently. I also got my driver’s license there which today seems completely mental to me because of the traffic, but thankfully when you’re 18 you’re an idiot who thinks you’re immortal haha.

I started exhibiting my paintings shortly after moving down there. The galleries and artists were just very open minded and welcoming. There were a lot of painting courses and competitions, in general there was just a big focus on culture and they seemed to enjoy having a young “guiri” (foreigner in Spanish) making art with more established artists and other happy amateurs. Everyone was just happy to be creative together and make art.

It must have been a culture shock, moving back to Sweden, after you had everything going for you back in Spain. What was that experience like? And what are the biggest contrasts between the art-scene and culture in Sweden and Spain. Any noticable differences? 

It was a quite big culture shock moving to Spain, but I wouldn’t say the shock was as big when I moved back to Sweden. Even though I left at a pretty young age and had gone from being a child to an adult in another country the Swedish culture was still ingrained in my dna. It was over all a very enriching experience, and I think it was very good for me as a person to live in another country and try to learn their language and adapt to their traditions and way of life. It makes you humble for sure. It also made me appreciate things in Sweden that I used to take for granted, but I miss a lot of things from Spain and I think back on the time there with great fondness. The openness of the people and how laid back they are, the delicious food, the language and definitely how they appreciate arts and culture in a different manner than we do here. I feel like they enjoy the handicraft in a way that I don’t see here in Sweden as much, where a lot of people would gladly just settle for a cheap mass produced print from IKEA instead of investing in an actual piece of artwork. 

I also feel like they were a lot more welcoming to young artists like myself who were just starting out, in comparison to how it is here, where an art degree is everything and basically you’re not allowed to join without it. But of course this was also years ago, back in the early 2000’s and a lot may have changed since.

Alright, so at some point, you reach the ultimate goal for every artist. . You’re able to live off your paintings. Are there any specific moments that led up to that? And what was that feeling like?

One day I just decided that I was going to work as an artist. I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy so I had some money saved up. With art sales you just never know. You might get a big chunk of money one day and then it could take 3 months before you sell anything the next time. So you need to always be prepared for that, get used to having minimal living expenses and always have money saved to be able to pay the bills. Because you’re going to be a terrible artist if you don’t have a roof over your head. Thankfully I’m not very interested in shopping and buying new things so I’m good with living this way. It has always felt like a blessing, never a sacrifice. To be able to live my life doing what I love every day is the best feeling ever. 

Some years later though, in 2017,  you decide that you don’t want to be represented by a gallery any more. What was the reason behind that? Can you talk to me about your thought process and that experience?

I had received incredible support by having gallery representation and it helped me a lot to become “someone” in the lowbrow art community. I’ll always be very grateful for that. However at that point in my life I was experiencing some serious growing pains. I had recently gone through a personal trauma and was still hurting from that. I had this feeling that I needed to be completely free and do things on my own. And try new things, whether it would work out or not. I just wanted to experiment. The whole gallery grind was burning me out. So it was scary but I just had to be free, so to speak. 

In 2019 you welcomed your second child. Becoming a mom.. has that affected your creativity in any way?

Becoming a mom has been a life changing experience in so many ways. These days I can hardly even remember what it was like to have infinite hours in the day (and night!) where I could paint as much as I liked. And just sit around and procrastinate, what is that!? And “wait for the inspiration to strike”, that doesn’t exist anymore. I go to work and the inspiration will come to me as I paint.

I also think they have helped me mature a lot when it comes to subject matter and themes for my art. I look deeper inside myself and bring it onto the canvas without hesitation. I feel like I’m more honest now, and I’m slowly but surely finding myself in my art. Those things take time and you really can’t rush it.

In other interviews, you’ve mentioned that not having an art-degree, was kind of holding you back. With social media and the resurgence of galleries, Do you still feel that way in 2023? 

It was a feeling I had when I first started out in 2009 that it was perhaps holding me back a bit, but I really can’t say it does now. On the contrary I’m relieved I don’t have a big student loan that I need to pay back. And social media really has helped a lot, even though I must admit it is exhausting being a painter, promoter, art dealer, administrator, etc etc. it’s something I talk about regularly with my artist friends, “ONE DAY when we’re rich and famous we’ll get that assistant..”

Ok Linnea. Let’s talk about your paintings now. Your photorealistic painting style. How long has it taken you to perfect it? And what is it about that look, that resonates with you?

It has pretty much taken me my whole life, since I started making art at 2 years old. I’m not sure if it looks that photo realistic though but maybe some pieces. I don’t know, it’s difficult for me to judge haha. Anyway realism has just always been the most natural style for me, for some reason. Nowadays I’m trying to experiment a bit more with surreal elements combined with the realism. It has been something that I have wanted to do for many years but I’ve lacked the confidence to try it out. But now I just turned 40 and I’m like fuck it, I can do what I want! It might be my midlife crisis talking. Haha

With that in mind. Looking back at your work, shower portraits, human emotions and water, are recurring themes. Why are those topics important for you to document? And does the water symbolize anything?

When I first started painting water portraits in 2009 it was just a fun challenge, I liked to paint portraits but learning to paint water would be awesome so I just decided to do it. There really wasn’t anything deeper behind it than that. But with time, these paintings have started to mean something more for me, I’m increasingly starting to develop my own symbology within my work. With everything that has happened in my life, the water has started to represent pain and sadness. Because no matter how happy I am and how much I love my life, there is this part of me that will always feel a deep hurt, and the pain will be me for the rest of my life. That’s why there’s always such an abundance of water.

Most of your protagonists are women. Is there a specific reason for that? And also, who are they?

The easy answer is that because they’re mostly self portraits. I paint myself a lot because I’m always available when I need a model, and I don’t have to ask anyone to pose in awkward positions in the shower haha. But I also have a bunch of wonderful, inspiring female identified (and non binary) friends and acquaintances who are kind enough to let me paint them. I know a lot of inspiring men as well but I see the world through my eyes and I’m a woman, so that’s just what I’m painting. My own experience.

The various scenes in your work. Most of them look like they could be from a paused movie or a dream/nightmare. My question is.. how do you come up with those scenes?

Most of them I come up with sort of on the fly but sometimes I get a complex idea for a concept when I’m in bed late at night and am about to fall asleep (those ideas usually suck when I review them the morning after), or when I’m out for a walk, or in the shower. What I need to be inspired is a moment by myself to just reflect and just let thoughts flow through my head. 

Details are a huge part of your paintings. Have you always been detail oriented? And where do you think your attention to details come from? 

I guess I have always been obsessed with details when making art, and I have no idea where it comes from! I’m really not pedantic in any other way, and I can be pretty absent-minded and not paying attention to details at all in other situations. So yeah, it’s a mystery haha.

Can you walk me through your creative process. From beginning, to end result?

It starts with a vague idea, then I gather props if I need them , I stage a good setting for a photo shoot and just start taking pictures. Next I need to go through all the photos and see which ones make the cut. If I’m lucky I’m able to use a lot from the same shoot so I can do a series. After that I prep panels or whatever surface I’m working on, I put on multiple layers of gesso. After that I do a sketch, sometimes it takes more than one to get it right. After that I trace the sketch onto the panel/canvas/paper and then I start painting. These days I record video clips and take pictures as I go because social media tells me that’s important for me to stay relevant. And well, one day, boom! I don’t know how it happened but the painting is done! 

What do you hope that we, the observers take with us after viewing some of your paintings?

That’s a tricky question. I don’t know. Honestly I’m just very happy if anyone is able to resonate and enjoy what I make. And in this world of fast scrolls and boredom if it makes anyone just stop and look and feel whatever feelings they feel for more than five seconds, then I’m thrilled. 

Now to something a little more light hearted… How would you describe a perfect day?

A perfect day would be started off with a good few hours of painting, then I would love to spend the rest of the day with my family, eating nice food, and just enjoying each other’s company.

Alright Linnea. I always ask these two questions at the end of an interview. The first is. What’s your favorite movie(s) and why?

That is so difficult because there are sooo many great movies. I have some favorites that I have loved since I was a kid, it’s Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa because it’s a beautiful classic. And of course the original Star Wars trilogy (episode 4-6). I’m a huge Star Wars nerd and sci fi fan. 

The second is. What song(s) are you currently listening to the most right now?

Somebody to Love – Queen.

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