Tomas Nanne Sandberg in Depth About His Graffiti Days, His Paintings, Becoming a Teacher & More

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Tomas Nanne Sandberg, (b.1977), lives and works in Stockholm, Sweden. As a youth he spent a lot of time on the streets hanging out with his friends and blessing walls, trains etc. with various graffiti pieces, before he settled down, with his now wife and became a father. He is now part of the more accepted community of the “regular” art-world, as a renowned and respected painter and art-teacher.

Tomas’ artistic world is a collage where fantasy and images from his memory are blended together. Places he has visited and people he has met or seen running past his periphery.

I link all the fragments and move them into my image world, where time stops. I keep the images close to myself in my expression, what I experience and remember. In the images, conventional symbols are mixed with more freely interpretable visual signs. Humility and investigation, important concepts in my image creation, housed under a roof of seriousness.

– Tomas Nanne Sandberg

Hi Tomas. It’s a real pleasure to sit down with you. First question, and I ask everybody this cause i’m curious like that. How does a regular day look like for you in Stockholm?

Hi Ruben! It’s all my pleasure!! Since I have three kids and a big dog everyday looks about the same. Wake up at 05:30, then fix breakfast for the kids, go a little walk with my dog then drop the kids off and go to work. I always go by foot to work, its about one hour to get some form of exercise. My lessons usually start at 08:00 and end at 16:00, I often skip lunch to paint a little, then it’s the last slow work hours to 17:00. Rush home, meet the kids, fix dinner, take a long walk with my dog, put the kids to bed.. when all grownup stuff is done I either start to paint or just crash out in the sofa with my wife.

Daily rutines.. grown up life

Do you remember at what age you started  to draw? And when did you know that art was there to stay in your life? 

I have been drawing and painting for as long as I can remember, I just did not refer to it as art at an early age. Painting was, and still is my own place, the place where I can zoom out and forget the usual struggle, I never lost interest in painting and has been obsessed since day one whit it so I guess I always knew it was here to stay. The concept of my painting as art was a bonus and came much later. I think it is important to say that graffiti was my first look into art and I always kept the idea behind making it with me, you put risk and effort into doing something that will get cleaned away or painted over, in the end, all you have is the love of doing it.

When and how did you get introduced to the graffiti scene? 

Yes, good old memorys, where it all originated from!! I started getting introduced to graffiti as soon I got to wander about myself or with my friends. It was in 5th or 6th grade, the year was 1989/90. As soon as I saw it I thought that I wanted to do that to, so me and the guys stole some color out of some garages and did or best on the local industrial area…with a crappy result but lots of love. I still hang out whit those guys today, like my bro Gouge.. we are still in the same crew, CAS.

Later when we started to take the commuter train into the city central or mind was blown away from the pieces we saw, full color and style and I felt a strong motivation to get that skill! 

We started to meet others who shared our interest for graffiti and learned from each other. After that it all went by itself, the love of doing it made me conquer every challenge.

What made you turn from graffiti to painting, and what was that transition like? 

I mean, the first time I thought I had to channel my itch for painting in another direction was obviously after a serious police raid and the first time I got arrested. That’s a phase all graffiti artists have to go thru, either you quit or you continue. That arrest did not stop me at all, I kept on painting and learning.

Then it took a more natural turn, I wanted to explore the horizon of painting and since I was introduced to fine art already I gave I a try. I applied to art school and got all nerdy with it. For a long time graffiti and my “fineart” went side by side and I was always sure that there was a clear line between the expression of my graffiti and regular painting, what I mean is that I don’t want my paintings to look like my graffiti and vice versa. So to say it was a smooth transition coming from the idea that I had to evolve my graffiti into something else. I feel a great respect for the wrighters that keep on going whit just graffiti as expression and don’t feel the need to make something more from it, society often gives a hidden push like, how can you transform graff into something you can earn money from, for me graffiti is free and I want to keep my fine art painting that way also.

In 2010 you became a father for the first time to twins. And you recently welcomed your third child to this world. How has that impacted your creativity! And has that experience influenced your art in any way? 

The first thing that comes to mind with being a painter and a father of three kids is that you have to be efficient. You have to make your process go from 0-100 ferarri fast, I cant waste a day drinking coffee and think about subject matter, but that’s just a practical issue, having kids is a blessing it gave me perspective to life that there is more than art. I think a lot more about my paintings and study them closer from photographs than I did not having kids, when I cant paint as frequent as before, the mind has to work harder.

We all heard the story about painters who was more committed to painting and ego instead of family and I don’t want to pull a Gaugin in my life so I stick whit family.

You now teach art, what is that like, looking over the person creating the art and giving advice. Instead of being out on the streets making graffiti murals. It must be a trip?

I think it’s a natural progress, first I do it, then I pay it forwards. For me, being a teacher is very close to working with my own art, my students have to make the same choises I make and have to clime the same obsicules. 

The fact that I used to engage in street graffiti and now as a teacher have to symbolize good behavior and morals don’t touch me at all, I stand for the past and the present.

I think it’s the same thing, I just look at art from another direction when I am teaching it and is joyfull when my students take own choises and make progress.

What motivates you? Where do you find inspiration for your paintings? And who are the people that are featured?

My motivation has up to this day just keept on flowing by it self, I am and will probably always be addicted to painting, everything in my life has to go though that filter.

Whenever I go through a creative struggle or get to deep into thinking I always get a push in the right direction from my wife Ella and besides her my biggest source of inspiration and motivation when I comes to painting, comes from my crew mates and fellow artists who are participating in the struggle.

My inspiration for my motives comes from everydaylife, in my motives I wanted to give an homage to places and artifacts that serve a good purpose but never was looked at just for the esthetic value. 

Regarding the people its often just persons that fit in the scenario, street kids, wrighters and regular joes.

I seldom do paintings of specific persons but it happens though, making a painting with symbolic value is harder to let go from and makes me more sensible to critique.

What’s the biggest contrast between the graffiti scene and the traditionel art gallery scene? And have you met any resistance coming from the underground scene? 

Important question, it’s a total black and white contrast. The graffiti scene is free, I mean there are a lot of unwritten rules changing for each generation but you can paint where and when you want. You do graffiti whit no regard of earning anything more than “fame”. In the end it is only the love of doing it that keeps you going.

From the traditional art scene there is always a pressure of beeing abel to live from the art you make. There are formal educations MFA, BFA etc and gallerist who sell your art. Who you are is also important, you cant hide behind a tag. 

I think nowadays more or less everyone making traditional art has either been writing graffiti themselves or have a relation to it so I have not met and resistance from the galleryworld, more like the opposite, they want to profile themselves whit something fresh and are positive to the fact that am involved in the graffiti scene.

Your pieces often feature situations from the street scene, do you have that scene already thought out, when starting on a new canvas? 

I often have a vague idea or pieces of pictures to go on. I find my motives in my everyday life, places I visited and can go back to. When I start a canvas I never know where it is going to end. I see a place or a picture that talks to me then I just go at it and hopes it ends well on the canvas. I have a lot of memories that I want to turn into paintings also, but that’s a different way of approaching the motive than I have now..

Besides the street scenes, if we look at the different places and buildings in your pieces. What made them worthy of gracing your canvas?

It’s a matter of perspective and motions in the motive, the motive can sometimes have a symbolic value, hard concrete and suburbs, places and buildings that I want to give and homage to because they mean a lot to me or that I have a connection to it.

Staying on the subject. Your paintings are like homages to the streets of Stockholm, who is involved one way or the other in your art. You either use the city as a canvas or you paint it on your own canvas. Talk to me a little bit about what Stockholm has meant to you, and what’s the best and worst thing about the city?

Well spotted on the homage front.

Stockholm is love and hate for me, the city is a part of me.. not the inner city though, the north suburbs with the comminutor trains and industrial areas. I spent my whole life here, except for when I went abroad for a short period so it is a lot of memories connected to every park bench, station, house, view.. when we were young me and my friends went around town a lot, trying to find nice spots to paint on or just hanged around. We were a big crew with people all over town so that made us travel a lot and connecting to the different suburbs, stations and environments.

I love my city the most when its late spring, people come out from there winter hibernation and lots of more stuff I going on. Stockholm for me is connected to the water, I used to take a ferry to work,. That was a nice feeling.

The down side is all the innercity people who think they live in New York and nervously look at each other to see who got the Paris fashion look right, what I mean is that I can sometimes spot a bigcity complex amongst people. But that is just one cloud in a big blue sky.

I have a lot of good memorys connected to my town, I have bad ones to but those I process and move on. Plus the feeling that it is so much more to discover and so much to show my kids.

What’s the most important lesson you have learned, while being out on the streets?

Keep your friends close, dudes who you can share a laugh, a broken heart or the easiest spot for backjumps with. The dudes that can tell you when you are out of order and cheer at you when life is going up! Another fact that you have to accept is that everything changes, new generations bring new stuff into the game, the law that color goes over chrome or a piece over throw up is loooong gone.

When you’re not a family man, working, or painting. What are your favorite things to do?

Hahahah, my hobbys.. when I don’t paint in the studio is to paint outside the studio.. nahh for real, Besides spending time with family and friends I enjoy taking long walks in the forest with our dog.

I also love to swim in the ocean, I can never have enough of that feeling. I guess being in the nature is the answer to your question.

Who do you look up to and why?

I don’t have any icon or idol, I can look up different people who make hard but right choises. Bummed out junkies who stops using drugs, people who struggle whit mental illness but hang in there. I would say people in general who don have much but get by anyway.

What songs do you listen to the most right now?

Lots of Aphix twin and Extrawelt. Trentmolle is also cool. Rapmusic is always there offcourse Big-L, Ketih Murry…

Who’s your favorite graffiti artists and artist in general and why?

Danish graffiti wrighters Rens and Sabe, they are as real as it gets and do it with a style that you can only recover after doing it for multiples of years. Others than that it’s the dudes I hang with, Gouge, Sizer, Rymd and the rest of CAS and friends.

Artist and painters its Helene Frankenthaler, Cecily Brown, Kerry James Marshall, Justin Mortimer.. thare are so many great ones and so many to come.

What’s your favorite movies and why?

I have to go on Jaws for that, doesn’t matter how many times I look at that movie, if I go in the bathtub after watching it  I get scared, plus it’s a movie that I believe in, the characters, places, story and it I cut in a much slower way than todays movies.

For more information about Tomas, check out his Instagram.

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