Sally Kindberg on Her Paintings, Moving to London, Creative Process & More

by Rubén Palma
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Sally Kindberg was born in Stockholm, Sweden (1970). She lives and works in London, UK. She holds a MFA and a BA (Hons) in Fine Art at Goldsmiths College, London, UK.

Sally Kindberg is a painter. Interested in both high and low brow culture, she plays on the notion of the tragicomic in a society that is both civilised and ridiculous. This humorous approach acts as a portal that enables us to explore our more unsavoury emotions. Kindberg’s paintings stay predominantly figurative – the figurative, which is the starting point, at times moves towards abstraction. Kindberg is interested in the contrast between flatness and the illusion of three-dimensionality, looking for a composition which is often a double take and highlighting the overlooked in the everyday.

Upcoming shows include group exhibtion BEACH at Nino Mier Gallery, New York (2023) and solo show at Wentrup Gallery, Berlin (2023). Kindberg has exhibited internationally with solo exhibitions including Calendar at Public Service Gallery, Stockholm (2023); Lay of the Land at Thierry Goldberg, New York, USA (2022); Dream Palace at Everyday Mooonday, Seoul, South Korea (2022); Rush at Duve, Berlin, Germany (2021); and Freeport at Peter von Kant, London, UK (2021). Her work has been featured in many group exhibitions including Solidarity, NEXX Asia, Taipei (2023); Woman Wears Daily, curated by Stems Gallery at Volery Gallery, Dubai (2023); Once upon a Time in Mayfair, Phillips Auction House, curated by Angeliki Kim Perfetti, London (2022); Double Trouble at Long Story Short, Paris, France (2022); Sausage Party at Rodolphe Janssen, Brussels, Belgium (2022); Exodus at Gallery Ascend, Hong Kong (2022); An Absolute Reality at Tuesday to Friday, Valencia, Spain (2021); Error Explanation at 68 Projects, Berlin, Germany (2021); London Now 2020, Space K, Seoul (2020) amongst others. Kindberg was included in John Moores Painting Prize 2020, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool (2021)

Hi Sally. First question that I always ask. How does a regular day look like for you in London?

Hi Rubén! I wake up with coffee and smoothie, then take the overground to my studio in Deptford, South East London. I do everything in my studio, admin, reading, prepping work, painting, thinking, and spinning (have an original Johnny G spin bike). I usually have lunch with me. I love my studio.

I’m curious. Growing up in Stockholm, what kind of kid were you? What did you enjoy doing and how did you spend your time?

I was a very happy kid who laughed a lot and got told off in school for doing so. I had so many toys in my bed I had to half sit up when I was going to sleep. I was very enthusiastic and not shy at all. 

With that in mind. When did you start taking painting seriously, and when did you realise that you wanted to become an artist?

I always loved drawing and art but I was around 30 when I decided to take it seriously. I had no idea what an artist really did.

Ok, so at some point you move to London to study at Goldsmiths University, where you earned a BFA and MFA. Why did you choose to study abroad? And what was that experience like?

I did my foundation in Finland and it had an international programme, with students and teachers from different countries. Then I was encouraged to apply for Goldsmiths. I just thought London was fantastic from day one. I got introduced to many ways of thinking about art and making art which really opened up my eyes. The critical theory lectures were also very interesting.

With that in mind. What made you stick around, and not travel back to Sweden, after you completed your studies?

I had built a network that I didn’t want to leave behind. I loved the city and the vibe, so I decided to stay. There was no going back option and I feel freer here.

Having spent about a decade in the UK, has that influenced your work?

Yes, my work is inspired by my surroundings and what is going on where I am

And how is the UK and Swedish culture and art scene, compared to each other? Any noticable differences?

I showed for the first time in Sweden this spring. It felt both surreal and exciting at the same time to speak to the Swedish audience. To be honest, I am not very familiar with the Swedish art scene. 

Your current style, with vibrant colours, retro vibes and at times blurry look. What is it about that look that resonates with you?

I have developed this style over time, my subject matter was always more or less the same but my technical skills have improved. The work appears quite slick and soft, but in real life you see traces of marks, underdrawing and layers to get to the final stage which makes the paintings look alive. I think the paintings become their own world, the way I painted them unifies them. The surfaces are quite seductive, and that is what I am going for. Just thinking about when things/clothes go out of fashion or become fashionable, and how we judge and read it. I find it super interesting. 

The various Everyday scenes and objects in your paintings. How do you come up with them? And what makes something like nails, lipstick or gloves, worthy of gracing one of your canvases?

I find them and chase them down! Haha, no but I take bits from different environments and put them together. A waiting room at a hospital, a bar, on the bus, the charity shop, other people’s homes, shopping centres, gyms, churches, etc. Often I say in my head (Omg look at this thing!) These things and places are moreish, you somehow want to eat them. I am fascinated by surfaces, textures and the shape and form of things. There must be a certain tension and rhythm in the composition for the painting to work. If it’s too symmetrical it bores me. My objects are also quite animated, like they are living their best lives.

With that in mind. Can you walk me through your creative process, from beginning to end result?

I take a lot of pictures but also look at fashion, design, stock images etc. I have a million ideas of potential scenarios, I make little sketches and notes that I don’t show anyone (they are very basic). I use photos as references, so I sometimes prepare my sketch in photoshop. But this is not set in stone because when I have done my very simple outline on the canvas, the painting takes over. I prime and stretch my paintings myself because I like a certain texture on the surface. I only use oil paint and a million brushes to smooth and move the paint around. I usually do several layers and adjustments to get to the final stage. I spin my paintings around, to be able to see better and I paint from all directions. It is really hard to know when the work is done, and I find that it is getting harder and harder the more paintings I make. 

Can you also tell me about your approach to colour?

I am classically trained, but now I work very intuitively. I look very closely at the thing I am trying to paint when I mix my colours. I don’t paint out of nothing, I always have a reference. Having said that, I am very open to changing my ideas to turn things on its head. The painting always tells me if something needs to change.

The contrast between flatness and the illusion of three-dimensionality. What is it about those topics that interests you?

Again, it is an illusion. The fact that we can create an image that can appear both flat and 3D, it is about seeing/looking and how the brain reads it. 

Your solo show at Public Service Gallery, just ended. It was called “Calendar”. How did you come up with that title? What’s the story behind it? 

I was moving houses and going through the Rotherhithe Tunnel which is an old snake-like, glittering tile-covered tunnel built for horses and carriages. I had this surreal experience, it felt like I was inside the snake literally. And when you go through a tunnel you travel in time. So it came to me that I wanted to make a calendar with  humans and animals. Simple as that! I made 13 paintings actually (the old roman calendar had 13 months) so it was ok, one painting for each month and the paintings were titled after the months. It wasn’t until the end that I decided which painting was going to be ‘January’ or ‘May’. I loved that process. 

I read somewhere that you think, humour is a survival mechanism. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

It really is, yesterday I was travelling home and suddenly remembered a sound from a very funny clip I had seen earlier and I started laughing by myself. Laughter is so spontaneous and direct, it instantly releases you from stress. 

What motivates you?

Other people.

What do you hope that we, the observers, take with us after viewing some of your paintings? And what are you aiming to convey?

I think the art happens in the viewer. I love the feedback I get, when people say; oh it looks like this or that and they appear so genuinely positive. I like when people associate or identify or start making up stories about what is going on. I think often my objects look quite animated. Sometimes I see people copy the painting with their body and take pictures, and that is the ultimate compliment!

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

I have so many favourites, but Trading Places is on the top. It’s just so funny, and amazing actors. Billy Ray Valentine, Capricorn forever!

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

Oh, I was just listening to Hunter and the Hunted by Simple Minds on repeat for 2 weeks haha! I have no idea what it’s about. I just love the sounds. I always go on the sound, never the text. 

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