Portrait of a Monster

Interview with Danish artist HuskMitNavn

Upcoming solo shows: ‘Work It’ & ‘Framework’, Oct 27th – Dec 2nd, 2017, V1 Gallery, Flæsketorvet 69, Copenhagen.

“It’s interesting how work can turn into a monster that wants to eat all of your time. My show is a portrait of that monster.” Words by Danish artist HuskMitNavn, who isn’t afraid of confronting things that concern all of us, but which we seldom address directly. Like the fact that our working life has become a time-consuming ‘monster’. That wherever we go, our inbox is buzzing. At the playground, at home, at the library, in the queue in the supermarket, basically everywhere. Work-life balance seems like an illusion in a world where society expects you to be online 24/7. However, HuskMitNavn insists on taking time for the LIFE-part. Like when he unplugged for a week just after Donald Trump was elected President, or when he spends time observing people in the real world, looking for absurdities in life to put into his art. If you happen to be online (during a break from your work), this interview with HuskMitNavn is worth your time. You might end up standing face to face with the ‘monster’, considering the balance between your work and life.

HuskMitNavn, Fight Fire With Fire, 2017 Acrylic on canvas 150 x 120 cm.

Your new exhibition Work It at V1 Gallery is an investigation of the dynamics of our contemporary work lifestyle. What motivated you to address this topic?
I don’t have any hobbies, so apart from family life, everything I do is work related. That is both a bit sad and quite privileged at the same time. I have always used my own life as inspiration for my artworks, and since work is such a big part of my life, I felt it was time to do a show about it.

In a press release for the show, you state the following: “Over the years our work has left the office buildings and workplaces and now it devours everything on its way. Your friends are no longer just your friends, they are also your network. Your half marathon is part of your CV and not only for your pain and pleasure. Your work emails become your holiday reading by the pool, so you won’t miss out while you’re gone.” Being an artist is quite a different lifestyle compared to an ‘ordinary’ 9 to 5 job. How do you experience your working life in the light of the quote above?
Well, I don’t really know any people who live the cliché life of an artist: working at night, drinking too much, cutting their ears off etc. Almost all successful artists – at least the ones I know – are pretty structured and hardworking. My workdays are probably pretty similar to those of an architect or a designer. I have deadlines, emails to answer and bills to pay. I usually work in my studio from 9-5 and, in addition, often spend my evenings working on stuff. It’s interesting how work can turn into a monster that wants to eat all of your time. My show is a portrait of that monster. Different pictures of what goes on at work.

HuskMitNavn, On The Train, 2017 Acrylic on canvas 120 x 120 cm.

And can you recall the last time you didn’t check your work email throughout an entire day?
Well, a few weeks after Trump was elected, I took a week off from the internet. Not just email, but the internet altogether. The whole thing was just too depressing.

The worn out corporate cliché ‘work-life balance’ might be at best an elusive ideal and at worst a complete myth. Is work-life balance an illusion?
In my experience, life isn’t always in balance, so it’s sort of a constant struggle. Most working people are struggling to find the right combination of work and spare time. I suspect it has been like that for quite some time, but smartphones have not made it easier. Now people bring their work AND their emails with them everywhere, not just home (which can be bad enough), but to the playground and other places designated for family time. When work becomes without limitations, it seems more important to really insist on taking time for the LIFE-part of the work-life balance.

Speaking of work, can you tell a bit about your work process?
I’m not the type of painter who paints on the same canvas for several days and then suddenly an unexpected landscape pops out. I come up with the idea for the artwork first and then I make the actual artwork. The way I get my ideas for my artworks are by sketching a lot and keeping my eyes open wherever I go. You never know if you are passing by the next Mona Lisa – and sometimes the most interesting observations are found in your daily routines, if you know where to look for them.

HuskMitNavn, The First Cut, 2017 Acrylic on canvas 120 x 100 cm.

What does an ideal workday look like to you?
The best days are the ones where I only have to work on one thing. A day where I can work on the same painting or mural the entire day, and I don’t also have to answer emails, draw sketches, or go to the post office. I don’t have a lot of ideal work days.

If you should choose another job than being an artist, what would it be?
I get that question a lot, but I honestly never really think about it. I sometimes feel like life as an artist can be lonely, and I wouldn’t mind working with other people more. Or having colleagues. Or a lunch scheme.

Routines are often described as tedious and unstimulating. Do you have any work related routines that you wouldn’t want to be without, and which you believe nurture your creative process?
Routines are important to me. Life is confusing without routines, and I don’t need a confusing work day. I need a day where I do a lot of the same things over and over again and thereby slowly become better at them. Having kids help in that respect. Kids love routines, but that doesn’t stop them from being creative and getting crazy ideas. So no, routines don’t scare me.

HuskMitNavn, Country Life, 2017 Ink on paper 26 x 20 cm.

Who are the people in your works? Expressions of your imagination or impressions of real life meetings?
Both. I don’t do portraits where you can recognize the person on the drawing but I draw people in different situations that I have seen or imagined must have happened.

Humor is a crucial part of your practice along with a socially conscious approach. Is this way of interacting with the world also how you navigate outside your studio – when you do not put things into colors and forms, but words and actions?
Humor was my way of surviving my school years, my teenage years, and all of the b.s. that followed. You have to be able to laugh at yourself and the stuff that goes on around you, if you can’t everything becomes too heavy to bear. But It’s not like I’m walking around telling jokes all of the time. I guess I just have an eye for the absurdities in life.

You dare to challenge the structures – the framework – not only by literally twisting the framework and play with the basic forms of paper and canvas, like you do in the exhibition Framework at V1, but also by challenging the way we are expected to live our lives. Do you think that art has the power to change structures in society?
The short answer is no. The slightly longer answer is that I think art can reflect what is already going on in the world. Art can change you on a personal level: You read a book or see a painting that tells you something you might already know – but you see it in a new way. Suddenly you realize new things. So: I don’t think art can change the course of history, I think it just shows you what is already there – but maybe you weren’t aware of it before, even if it’s been staring you in the face the whole time.

HuskMitNavn, Dinner Time, 2017 Acrylic on paper and frame 40 x 30 cm.

About HuskMitNavn
HuskMitNavn (b.1975) lives and works in Copenhagen. HuskMitNavn has chosen to remain anonymous throughout his career, as he would rather have people focus on his work instead of him. Interestingly HuskMitNavn has become one of the most recognized and celebrated contemporary Danish artists with more than a 100.000 followers around the globe on Instagram. He actively uses the medium to promote and instigate creativity. His artist books are being published around the world, and his distinct socially conscious practice is resonating with a wide audience beyond Danish shores. He has recently exhibited at MIMA Museum, Brussels, Belgium, Heerup Museum, Rødovre, Denmark, Nordic Contemporary, Paris, France. Concurrently with Framework, HuskMitNavn has created a second solo exhibition titled Work It, which will be on display in V1 Gallery’s main gallery. Work It is an elaborate exhibition with 34 works on canvas, paper and a sculptural installation examining our contemporary work lifestyle. HuskMitNavn and V1 Gallery have collaborated for 15 years. Framework and Work It marks his seventh and eighth solo exhibitions with the gallery.

More information

Check out works for sale by HuskMitNavn in the Artland app: TAKE ME TO HIS WORKS.

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