‘I don’t play by the rules – in Stockholm, that’s accepted’

Joe Slevin moved to Stockholm three years ago to be with his Swedish girlfriend, and tells The Local how he has finally "arrived" in the Swedish art scene.

'I don't play by the rules – in Stockholm, that's accepted'
Slevin in his studio. All photos: Private

“My style is big and bold,” Slevin says, referring to the colourful portraits which cover the walls of his studio. “I like the idea of people coming into the room, even young children, seeing the paintings and wanting to engage with them.”

When The Local spoke to the artist, he was preparing for his first public exhibition in Stockholm on March 6th, which he described as his “arrival in the Swedish art scene”.

However, integrating into a new country was not easy and Slevin, who has now lived in Stockholm for three years, remembers finding things difficult when he first arrived. “It took a while to settle in; even now I’m still working on the language. Swedes are polite and hospitable, but slow to invite you to their own home and treat you as a close friend – they're not quite as warm as in Ireland.”

He was able to find a part-time job as a chef, but his art had to take a back seat while he adapted to Swedish life. “I was working long hours because I was new to the country and had to grind, and I was also struggling with the language. It was very frustrating and I felt that I couldn’t express myself. I didn't have time to even get near a paintbrush.”

But it was his art which helped him cope with the difficulties of living abroad. Slevin remembers: “When I finally found the time to paint, I did a self-portrait which was very therapeutic. I felt like I was throwing all of those feelings onto the canvas, using strong reddy-orangey colours. It was great.”

Slevin with his self-portrait.

And despite the initial struggles, Slevin believes that it is easier to make a living from art in Sweden than in his hometown of Belfast. “I had more connections in Belfast as a local artist, but times are tougher back home. In Stockholm, people have more disposable income, so it is easier to sell art at higher prices.”

The Irishman's art now has a home in his Roslagsgatan studio, and he says: “I feel like I’m a part of things now. I just hope people take notice.”

He feels that he fits into the Swedish art scene well, because there is less focus on qualifications or connections and the industry is more open. “I don’t necessarily play by the rules, but I feel like that is accepted in Stockholm,” says Slevin.

Having finished school, he studied a one-year art course and then set off to travel around Australia and New Zealand. His travels ended up lasting for five years, but left the expat without much opportunity to pursue his artistic talent. But despite not having any traditional training in art, he says that he has “talent – and the confidence to use it. I’ve always loved art”.

And now that he has been here a while, he has learned to love Sweden too. In particular, Slevin explains that he is impressed by the effort the government puts into promoting art and making it accessible, for example by having 'culture weeks' where many galleries are free, and large art fairs. 

“I love the idea of art being shared; everyone should be able to enjoy it and Sweden is very good at that, which is one of the reasons I’m happy here,” he says.

Slevin also feels that living in Stockholm – as well as his time spent travelling in Australia – has had an influence on his own style. “All life experiences effect you and influence your style as an artist,” he tells The Local. “My first exhibition was called Faces We’ve Earned, and that reflects an idea I’m very interested in, that the life someone leads affects the way you look and think, and you can see it in their face.”

With one of his portraits of rock legend Keith Richards.

When it comes to choosing subjects, the artist likes to depict people who have had a strong influence on him, whether that is a celebrity – his most recent subject was American writer Ursula K. Le Guin, after reading one of her novels – or simply a passer-by. For example, he remembers taking a photo of someone in a Viking outfit outside a Stockholm pub and later turning it into a painting.

But what about famous Swedes – is there anyone he'd like to paint? “Maybe a Skarsgård,” Slevin says, referring to the Swedish acting family. “Maybe the royal family, but for me they are too pretty, especially the younger ones – I like to paint old, grey characters with wrinkles and sharp features.”

As for what he has planned next, all he will say is that he’d “like to do something completely different, something large and abstract.”

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LISTEN: Malmö artist puts sound of fizzy pain pills on vinyl and it’s oddly captivating

A Malmö-based sound artist has won unexpected global attention after putting out twelve recordings of effervescent pain-killers as a limited edition vinyl record.

LISTEN: Malmö artist puts sound of fizzy pain pills on vinyl and it's oddly captivating
Malmö sound artist Alexander Höglund recreates his experiment. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT
The story has gone viral worldwide and has been written up by the international news agency Reuters. “It is beyond any expectation. I am beyond surprised,” Alexander Höglund told The Local on Friday.
“I was thinking that my close group of highly enthusiastic sound artists are maybe going to like it. But of course it is super fun that a sub genre of art gets such notice.” 
He said that he thought people appeared to find “something appealing in the silliness of it”. 
The sound of fizzing pills held a powerful emotional appeal, which he had wanted to capture, he said. 
“For me this sound is loaded with childhood memories, but it also holds a promise that things will soon get better,” he said. “Maybe it's getting rid of a headache or taking down your hangover, or whatever you need it for.” 
“I also thought there was something humorous about going to the effort to put it down on vinyl.” 
He ordered the pills on eBay from around the world and had them shipped to Malmö, before recording their different sounds in a high-end studio. 
The resulting record, SUBSTANCE, includes local Swedish favourites such as Alvedon, Treo, Apofri and Ipren, and international standbys such as Bayer Aspirin C, Anadin Extra, Dispirin Aspirin, and Nurofen.
He said his favourite was the Bayer pill. 
“It's the Aspirin C. It's different from the others, because it dissolves much slower, and since it dissolves slower it also generates a more fulfilling or satisfying sound,” he said. 
Here is a video of Höglund meditating as Aspirin C is recorded:
As well as capturing his own feelings about the sound, he said, he wanted people to consider the different meaning it might have for someone with a chronic illness. 
“For people who are suffering from chronic pain, these things have a completely different meaning. A severe meaning,” he said.  
Höglund, who comes from Kalmar and studied in Stockholm, said he felt Malmö was a good place for creative people.  
“There's a lot of opportunity for emerging artists in Malmö so that's why I'm temporarily here,” he said. “I don't see myself as a permanent person.” 
He pressed 150 copies of the record, which can be bought on his website for just 300 Swedish kronor. How many he has sold is, he says, “a commercial secret”.