Peter Jeppson, (b. 1985), is a visual artist from Stockholm, Sweden. He works in the field of painting, primarily with oils but occasionally with acrylics and air brush. Apart from painting, sculpture and ceramics are a frequent outlet for his creations.
Jeppson only works within the field of figurative art and often tend to focus on the character since that is what really interests him. To do so, he has scaled down working with backgrounds, happenings or other concepts in the painting process. Peter tends to work long and hard on the depression of the character, which is what he finds the most fun – looking for complexity in the emotional register.
I am wildly amused by giving objects a living form and an emotion register; pencils, buckets, fruits, vegetables etc. I like the idea that traditionally “dead” objects have a soul and a thinking mind as well (who knows, maybe they do?). This goes hand in hand with my biggest cultural reference as well; old cartoons, such as the 1930’s mickey mouse or even more up to date series such as sponge bob etc. etc. Quite early on I was fascinated with these objects turning to life and being able to act as humans, The fish in The little mermaid, The chandelier in The Beauty and the Beast and so on. When giving life to objects we don’t face on a day to day basis the palette is much more free the experiment with the composition of the face, the distance in between the eyes, the length of the nose and so on.– Peter Jeppson
Hi Peter thank you for sitting down with me. So as you know, this is always my first question… How does a regular day look like for you in Stockholm?
Hi man! I am the one to thank. Really great reading you provide and I am honored to be a small part of your inspiring construction.
My days atm, are quite generic parental leave-life in a country like Sweden; get up, eat breakfast with my kids, drop one off at preschool then enjoy the day with the smallest one. Pure luxury of course. Later on we pick up the eldest, dance, play, draw and then it’s dinner time, followed by getting them to bed in a descent time, after reading a bit to them. I have a quite large attic, kind of a home studio space, where I try to paint a few days a week when finding the time.
When being back in business I split my time kind of half and half in between my studio in the south parts of Stockholm and being a project manager for Stockholm City and School of the Arts, where I focus on art – often public projects – amongst youths in their twenties.
Alright, so before we start talking about your paintings, I’m curious. What kind of things did you enjoy doing growing up. Talk to me a little bit about what kind of kid you were.
I was a kid that didn’t like to sleep (does any of them do?) And loved to do things basically. All type of things, being in the woods, going on small bike trips, visit the youth center quite frequently and so on. I am raised that way I think, just do things and make sure to do it. Don’t just sit around. My parents had a lot of trust in me as a kid so I was free to be out during late nights and stuff like that. When getting a bit older that was good because I really got hooked on skating as well as graffiti, so I could skate more and longer than most of the other kids my age and as everybody knows, graffiti is best at night so I could find time to practice in that field as well.
Growing up I was almost solely hanging out with older guys so I guess we did some partying as well, but during the early days I was mostly hanging around, and my older friends kept an eye on me so I didn’t do anything my parents wouldn’t like. Thinking back I feel really warm about the fact that my older friends looked out for me so much. My mentor back then Markus Erenius, also a great artist, and I did all sorts of painting projects as well as some skating. He lived in the skatepark for a while so we painted, skated, filmed, ate McDonalds and had a wonderful time.
Right, so let me ask you this. And I asked Drew Englander this same question. He was also heavily into skating. The question goes: I recently interviewed Erik Foss, Fred Smith and Chris Regner, who also mention that they were heavy into skateboarding. I think that’s pretty crazy and it makes me curious. What do you think it is about skater kids that makes them turn into incredible artists?
That is a good question. I have also spoted the reoccurring relationship in between these expressions. I can only guess and speak from my own experiences, but I would say that both activities require you to invest a lot of time. It sucks people in and if you want to stay (under that spell) you have to continue dedicating your time. I mean, I would not say skating or art is more or less creative, I don’t belive in that thesis and I really don’t like that word, or at least how we use it today. A plumber is just as creative when fixing pipes in dirty water. Although I think art as well as skating is a free form of expression/outlet. The loss of boundaries attracted me a lot. I tried soccer, breakdance and different sports but skating was something else, and as a kid, with a lot of energy, I could go out and skate almost whenever, which was suiting for me. It is interseted to look at this with the glasses of today: Skating is in the olympics and are to be seen more as a sport, so this might change, I don’t know. As far as it comes to art, I guess people have always wanted to study this in schools etc if having the possibility and money, but it is still free, you can pick up a pen, draw in the sand, tie sticks together in the woods etc. It is there if you are interested. I often ask people why they stop drawing for example, since everybody draws when they’re growing up but. when reach they reach a certain age the majority stops. It is sad. I dont think it has to do with time, lack of interest or so, I believe it comes from self consciousness and the fact that we get programmed to utility maximization and performance. I would encourage everyone to pick up a pen and draw a bit, it is relaxing and I think many would enjoy it, if they could step away from their vision of how it is suppose to look.
Let’s stay on this topic a little while longer. Yoou mentioned that you were into graffiti. Is there anything you’ve learned from being in the streets doing what boys do, that is in any way visible in your art?
Today graffiti is not that visible in my art. But when I was working with pencils, people often asked about my relation to graffiti. Today I am almost a bit allergic to the mix of spray cans and markers upon canvases. I try to do the opposite. Today I would rather want brushstrokes than spray. Graffiti is still something I watch and think of though. It is present in my life and I am inspired by a lot of things in the culture, and like skating, it is always inspiring when people invest time to progress and not necessarily having money-making as the ultimate goal.
Quick question. When did you start taking painting seriously? And pursue being an artist?
Ever since I was about 12-13 years old I knew that I wanted to making a lot of art, in some kind of way. Back then I thought most about graphics, logo designs and such, but I had a strong feeling I didn’t want to take just any job to make a descentt living. In the years to come I painted a lot of graffiti, and I started talking to my municipality about decorating a tunnel, and basically got it realized as a summer job. I brought my two friends and my brother to work with me and we ended up getting a nice salary (bare in mind we were like 15 at the time), and best of all keep all the cans when being done. After that, I think my mom or my dad told me: “See you can make a living out of art”.
Alright Peter. So I know that you’re actually able to live off your art if you wanted to and that you stay at home taking care of your 2 kids during the day, while painting and sculpting during the evening / night. My question is. How do you juggle that and what has been the biggest obstacle so far?
There are definitely a bit less sculptures being made, since I spend less time in the studio right now, but I get a fair amount of painting done. One solution has been the attic space in our house for sure, the accessibility gives you time to spend. Today I don’t live solely off my own art since I have a part time job, within the field of arts though. The toughest thing to juggle is for sure the amount of hours during one day. I don’t want to be a lazy dad with no energy for my kids, so I try to be strict on gettin my own sleep and I try to paint faster. The last one might not be completely true but I can see how I have scaled down on the details a bit since my last kid, but I feel like that has more to do with me being so stoked on painting, when finding time in the studio, so I can’t spend the time on filling background. The day could use a couple of more hours..
With that in mind… Having your income being mostly from art. What’s your honest opinion on it. Is it worth it? And is it something you would recommend for current and future artists?
That is really interesting. I guess it is worth it if you are happy and making the money you need to live the life you want to live. Before I had any kids I lived off doing illustrations and a fair amount of commissioned public works for restaurants, hotels and other companies. I made enough money on this to live the life I lived back then. After a couple of years I started to repeat myself and it grew to become more of a job, and I was no longer happy when people wanted me to paint at theirs. I had trouble finding the inspiration and still had comnissions coming in. This led me to take a good thinker of what I wanted to do, and after a while I decided to put away all my tools for the murals, and give the computer a rest and just go back to the studio, which looked more like a warehouse at that point. I cleaned up, bought oil paint and decided to take a whole year where all I did was paint. I declined all works that I was offered, and could do so since I had some money from previous work. Three years later I got my first kid and a year with dadlife made me realize that I wanted some luxuries and this project manager job revealed itself, so I decided to try it out. For me this was a way to get structure, something I had never had before, and by then I was 33 years old, so I thought it was about time to try.
To go back to the question I think I have realized that I want some things at this point in my life, I want my car, I want my house and a separate studio, I want to have vacations with the kids and so on. And that cost quite a bit, living in Stockholm city, and even if my art would keep me floating today, when I do this, I am at a point where I don’t dare to trust it fully yet. I really like working part time with youths and passing on some of my thoughts and theories. This meant a lot to me growing up, having mentors and people helping me out, I can feel that it helps me grow. I don´t know what I think about me, being in my own head all the time. I dont know if I am that relevant sorta speak. Just before my parental leave, i managed to finish all ground work for a public metal sculpture in the north parts of Stockholm, and this is done almost entirely by youths. I don’t know if that has ever been done before in Sweden..? I get a lot of energy from this.
To sum this question up, I am basically just so happy to be able to live this life, and being able to make part of my living from my own art, is like a dream to me. It is still hard to believe, and I am not taking it for granted, I am beyond grateful. If I am in this position in ten years I am a happy man, that is for sure!
Maybe my advice would be to keep having goals, but at the same time enjoy the ride, try to appreciate what you have, because if you’re in a position where this question becomes relevant, you’re probably doing just fine. And if you like something, never stop working for it, nothing comes for free. Take it from me, I have worked and worked, again and again, days and nights, for years. I think most people that reaches certain levels of success, or whatever you want to call it, has.
Thank you for that insight Peter. That was great! As I mentioned before, and you’ve brought it up a couple of times as well, you actually make sculptures too. What is it about those two genres that makes them your preferred mediums of expressing yourself.
I have always been drawing and painting, but sculptures has always interested me. I had a commissioned job building a gallery space in a central recycling room, in south Sweden. For this project I built sculptures out of recycled materials and build podiums, storefronts, painted walls etc.. and this project really got me hooked on doing my own sculptures. I followed this way of working using textile animals found in different thrift shops, stitched them up and put them back together. Finalizing them by casting them in plaster and wax. Later, this lead me into ceramics, and today I experiment with my own kiln in my studio. I am hoping to get something good out towards the end of this year. There is something special with three dimensional that has always have fascinated me.
Alright so what did you do before digging in the rabbit hole called art? And when exactly did you get into painting and started taking It seriously?
That would be skateboarding, up until like 2015. We skated and filmed movies all of the time. We were a little crew fortunate enough to get boards, shoes and the gear needed from different sponsors and we were 100% into skating. Early on, my friend, a talented director named Jersper Ei Karlsson, bought a camera and edited a lot of movies. During our most active periods we did one movie a year. I am still proud of this and the mindset is still with me, to just do the things you want to do. I painted a lot at home, nights and days of the board, but not as much as I do today. When I met my partner in crime, Josefin, I lived in a small apartment, in a smaller town called Norrköping, and since this was my “studio” as well, the entire floor and most of the walls had plastics on them to prevent colors from spashing all over the place. Part from this I had a computer, a bed, a huge desk and a chair. Good times! After 2015 I have focused on art in different forms. I started to take it more serious and started my own first company in 2015, with a lot of guidance from the man behind a Swedish brand called Urskog, Christoffer. He let me into his space and ever since then, I have had my studios with him. He is also one of those people I tend to stick to, people that want to do something and just does it. Working from a state of mind that everything is possible and that you can learn things your own way. School is not for everyone, and so on.
Okay let’s talk about the core of your paintings now. The various cartoony characters in your paintings. I know that for the time being they’re predominately fruits and vegetables because of your current solo show. And I will get to that in my next question. This question is: How do you come up with those characters and what do they symbolize/represent?
I have always been inspired by cartoons, especially the earlier ones from like the 80’s. I can not say that I have consumed magazines or watched a lot of cartoons, but I have always felt attached to like plastic figures when I was a kid and later on when painting graffit, i was so impressed by the writers working with comic like figures. With that being said my paintings is always figurative, they have never been anything else I guess. I prefer to put a face and humanize objects, like bottles and as you say fruits and vegetables at the moment. Before fruits it was cigarettes and pencils for a long time. I have never been good with realistic painting, so choosing objects formed as phycological creatures is a free way of creating characters without the boundaries that is real life.
Can you tell me about documenting the depression in your characters? Why is it that important to you? And what is it about that emotion that intrigues you?
The depression is kind of like this: I work with the eyes together with the nose, look at the character and then decides whether to paint a happy or a sad mouth – and then I go back to the eyes to work out the entire feeling. It’s like life, it’s not always sun and smiley faces, so for me it’s central to try to cover as many emotional states as possible. It motivates me and interests me. I have trouble painting the same thing over and over as well, so it’s quite frankly also a way of trying out new things.
So you currently got a solo show at Gallery Func, in Shanghai, titled “Fresh Fruits and Vegetables. what’s the background for that title? What made you want to start painting fruits and vegetables? What’s the story there?
After my solo with Primary in Miami were I painted mostly pencils and cigarettes (also the title of the show), I wanted to try something else and experimented a lot at my next solo with Moosey in London, in which I painted some pencils, a cigarette or two, and some different objects that was slowly getting rounder. When I started preparing my works for the show with Gallery Func it just came naturally, I first painted a chili fruit and after that an apple. The round shape was something new and it felt really exiting to work with faces upon these shapes. The face is always central. I can repaint the face a dousin times to get the right one. I am a bit stuck in that fase that kids are, you know. There is a saying in Swedish “huvudfoting” wich means like a head with feet. Kids tend to pain this, all over the world, as a result of how they see humans with characteristics that are important. First the head comes, then arms and legs attached directly to the head, since kids can relate to legs and arms earlier on than stomach and a neck for example. My figures are the same, I use only the body parts necessary for creating a figure with emotions, in some sort of context.
The title it self just came after a while, new paintings of fruits and vegetables, which is just what it is. I like working with titles that way, it is partly a way for me to keep track of the paintings/sculptures and at the same time I don’t nessesarily think that titles have to be too complicated. Not in my case anyway. They work as a description of what is absolutely clearly in front of you, and the rest is up to the beholder. I hope people looking at my art can put some of their own thoughts and emotions in there as well as having a laugh from time to time.
With that in mind. Your work has been exhibited all over the world. Do you ever get nervous or do you have any kind of rituals before shows?
The time differences as well as having a one year old back home makes it quite easy. I have not been to any openings yet, since it has been hard to get the logistics to work out. But I will surely be nervous being at my own opening, since I have not done that in a while now. It’s usually a good time, people are there to look at what you have accomplished, so I guess my ritual would be to drink a beer and go around with a smile and be thankful for all the souls that have showed up.
Your matte and kind of blurry style. What is it about that look that resonates with you, and how long has it taken you to develop it? Have you picked up any special techniques along the way?
I am glad I actually seem to have my own aesthetics, this is something that just happened and sneaked up on me after a lot of practice. I looked a lot at painters like Guston and Van Gogh and tried to find my take on painting basically. Since I don’t have any formal training, I have only worked from the concept of trial and errors. Something that is crucial for me is to constantly back up and look from a distance as well as a limitation of tools being used. I aim for the paintings to be vague and in bright colors (most of the time), so I blend colors quite hard with white. I fill in parts knowing that the contrasting color is still wet and that I will smudge it out a bit. I never do detailed sketches, that ruins the moment of surprise and not being in full control.
While we’re on the topic, can you talk to me a little bit about your approach to color?
I usually set a range of ground colors, like a color field of brown for example and then move from there. I put on layers on layers, and end the pieces with the darker tones, followed by some white flares here and there. When breaking it down to details, as I mentioned a little bit above, the white mixing is a central part. Another one is that I like to blend in small parts of gray to get a vague tone. I rarely use the color black, because it feels too dark. These are some of the hang-ups I have. In general I use water mixable oils to prevent me inhaling to many fumes, and also it feels a bit nicer to our mother earth. Otherwise I prefer colors like light blue and pink, always in pastel tones.
I’m curious about your creative process. Can you walk me through it, from start to end result, and what you aim to convey.
I can try at least and we will see if it make any sense at all. I tend to get an idea of what I want to paint/build and doodle this down. I dont use any details or colors or such, just a quick sketch, and then I redo this sketch a couple of times to see what happens if i adjust different elements and compositions. After a while I have quite a good picture of what feeling I am looking for and then I build or start to paint. I never end up with the same feeling when the piece is done and that is important to me. That is one reason I got tired of drawing a few years back, I had to much control over the medium. I am constantly looking for happy mistakes, as Sasha Bogojev nicely put it when he described my process for the show with Gallery Func. The thing is, I want to look at the finished creation not really knowing what feeling it carries and I want to look at those small mistakes and try to figure out why I like those in particular. I have not yet come up with the answer, and more than that I tend to get hyped when finding a certain balance in the composition of a face.
I know you talked a little bit about this earlier, but nothing in detail since the question was regarding something else. So here’s one specifically for this: Cigarettes are a recutting thing in both your sculptures and paintings. What’s the story there?
I think it has to do a little with the fact that I can identify with the physical construction of it and also it can be a clear symbol of life itself; the more you enjoy it the less remains. I though a lot about this when talking to Books at Primary, since the show was focusing on cigarettes and pencils. So a lot of thoughts became concrete during this period.
Today I still like to paint and build pencils, I am showing a pencil right now at Volery Galery for example, but cigarettes have lost my interest a bit, they will surely come back. everything works in cycles right..
Gotya… So what inspires and motivates you?
When entering the studio I always listen to music, preferably load and dance a bit. So music for sure. Part of lyrics or song titles can resonate well with me from time to time. I have used a couple of Mike Skinners titles as exhibition titles as well. He has put words to it very well, why invent the wheel again..
I don’t consume art to much to get inspired. I rarely visit exhibitions for example. I can get super stoked on painting by scrolling Instagram. Since it is/was picture based as an app it was very suiting for posting paintings, I still think paintings work quite well in this digital format. I always tend to remain playful in my creations, and therefore I can get a huge chunk of inspiration from my kids. I feel like my oldest one is exactly where I want to be in my mindset when painting/sculpting.
How would you describe a perfect day?
Well I can paint you this picture… but hold on, it will be a cliche… For some reason the kids decides to sleep in and we can wake up the whole family and make pancakes with cream and strawberry jam. Sipping coffe, wathing some cartoons together. Go out – summer of course – to the nearby lake, maybe hook up with some friends and play, eat, drink, chill. back home to the house, grill on the backside. News is on in the background telling us that the war against Ukraine is over, and that we now have world peace and no more starvation in the world. I go to the studio during the evening, right after a shorter skatesesh. I paint some, leave the studio with a smile and a good song in my ears and come back to put the kids to bed. I open my computer up later in the evening and see that I am invited to do this interview with you. Goes to bed with a smile.
Appreciate that my friend. So.. now that we’re nearing the end, I gotta ask you. What’s your general take on the art-world?
That is a really good question. It is way better with all of the social media, and the fact that the world has “gotten smaller” as they say. There is a lot of young blood in the mix, which is extremely needed not to say crucial for its survival, imo. I can still see tendencies of anxious art-people using a lot of hard and fancy words in order to maintain their position in what used to be an upper class hobby, but I can also see this fresh new wave (in lack of better words). People that get involved with art because they love it and don’t listen nor follow the conservative do’s and dont’s. I can go on about this, but I don’t think it is so interesting, me getting to political. For my own sake I am also thrilled to be a part of it and this movement that is currently going on.
Alright, these last two questions I always ask at the end of the interview. The first is: What’s your favorite movie(s) and why?
Time to get deep… That would be Magnolia. It had such an impact on me growing up. I think I listened to Amiee Mann for months afterwords on my MP3-player. I like Wes Anderson as well but I can’t name a favorite of his.
The second is: What songs do you currently have in rotation?
Lately I have looped Depeche mode’s new release and Noel Galaghers high flying birds. A lot of Bruce Springsteen and Sharon Van Etten lately as well. I have always been a fan of The Cranberries and Kate Bush, so they have been with me since 7th grade or so when first got introduced to them. I like all types of music, so whatever speaks to me, I put in a playlist and listen to loud in the studio. I heard this song the other day “Green Light” by Lorde, that one got me pumped!