The atelier was full of colorful, humorous paper and cardboard dolls of circus clowns and carnival performers. Leif Ericson is the artist who fascinated us with such a unique world full of colors. From 2D paintings to 3D objects, he makes various types of art and, for all his 91 years, is still an active artist.
His atelier-cum-home is located not so far from the Stockholm city center. With the light blue walls, the crimson window frames and so many drawings and paintings on the walls, glasses and signboards in the garden, the house clearly reflects the humorous character of its owner. Leif gets inspirations while traveling and always tries to make artwork from which people can feel music. This time, we visited his charming atelier which looks just like a toy box.
First of all, what motivated you to aim to be an artist?
As far as I recall, I began to create things at the age of 6 or 7. As my father was office worker at a paper mill in Mölndal near Göteborg, he used to bring various types of papers to our home and I made something by cutting and pasting those papers. Paper is the most familiar material for me because I grew up and had played with quality papers since I was a small boy. Around the age of 18, I started to learn at an art school. I met Gunnar and Lisa (Larson) at that time. Since then, we’ve been really good friends.
What did you learn at the art school?
I tried so many different types of art in 5 years. Painting, graphic art, and drawing… Then I found that painting suited me best among those and began working as an artist after graduation. Some of my friends joined factories to do product design or pattern making. Yeah, just like Lisa did. Around that time, there were many job opportunities at factories, including smaller ones. It may be difficult to do it now because the number of artists keeps increasing and we have fewer factories around. At that time, there were a lot of work opportunities even for art school graduates like us, I worked a lot together with architects.
But you didn’t join a factory.
I wanted to work not as a designer, but as an artist painter. On the other hand, I could have opportunities to hold exhibitions and make my living doing so. That was one of the biggest reasons, too. In 1953, an exhibition was held in Milano, Italy and I remember exhibiting my work there together with colleges from Valand Art School. It was just after the war and the whole of Europe was shattered and suffered from poverty. Although Italy was in a state of utter confusion, they tried to hold an exhibition, gathering artists from all over Europe. Art might be the last thing to think about in such a difficult situation, but the Valand Art School decided to participate in it with a strong belief that we could bring hope to people. I’m proud that we could hold an exhibition at a time of confusion.
What kind of art have you made so far?
My artwork varies from wall paintings to small puppets. Public art is very common here in Sweden and a commissioned artist can make his/her own artwork in a public space such as a hospital, library, schools, healthcare center and swimming pool. I once did painting outdoor on the walls in a suburb of Göteborg, while having created different paintings and figures on walls of a public swimming pool. I sometimes paint in al fresco, and at other times I paint at the wall directly. Apart from public art, my wife Katinka keeps all kinds of papers including wrappers and gift-wraps for me. So, with those papers, I make drawings, collages, figures…
You do quite a few types of art! How do you make it?
I get an idea when making artwork or painting a picture, and then connect it with other ideas. I don’t focus on one task from beginning to end, but make many artworks all at the same time. My creation often starts with a sudden random thought like “Oh, how about this?” For example, I make a puppet doll which I painted in a picture. Everything is linked as each story is connected to the other.
What was the reason you started to make puppets?
I actually made it for my children at the beginning. Then I thought 3D objects might be better for them to play with. In the beginning I made it not for an exhibition or as commissioned work. Later my second wife Katinka also became a big influence on it after we met. Because she worked as a kindergarten teacher, she asked me to perform a play for children with my paper dolls so we did it together. As my opportunities to play for children increased, I started to make more 3D objects than 2D ones. She has been collecting cardboard and papers for me, too. I make my artwork from those used papers. It’s also light in weight. I stopped to perform for children after her retirement.
By the way, what was the reason you decided to live here?
I have lived here since I moved in with my children in 1970. I’ve been very happy living in this house because I have my atelier here and could spend my time with my children while making artwork. I didn’t change my living place when married Katinka. This house is a bit leaning to one side, but still cozy (laughs). With a spacious garden behind, we can have a relaxing time here. There is a kitchen, lounge and atelier on the first floor while bed rooms are located on the second floor. And we use the semi-basement room as a laundry.
How do you usually spend your day?
It depends on the day, but I usually wake up around 8:30 or 9AM according to the time of sunrise. Then I make some tea while Katinka makes open sandwiches. Most of the time, we bring our trays upstairs and have our breakfast with viewing our garden through the window. Then I usually spend most of a day in my atelier. We normally take tea breaks at 10AM and 3PM in Sweden, I want to work as much as possible during daytime hours. Oh, and I bake bread at least twice a week. Though I spend much of my day in my atelier, I go to kitchen to bake bread when feeling tired of working (laughs). That’s a welcome break for me.
Your atelier is really cozy with many windows.
我之所以选择这个房间，是因为它从三面的窗户上获得了很多阳光。看，这个窗户全天都能看到阳光。 如果我的工作室只能从一个方向接收阳光，那么很难长时间呆在那里。 当你看到颜色时，光很重要。 因为冬天的日子短暂，光线对我们来说变得更加珍贵。 这是我日常生活中最重要的事情之一。
I chose this room because it gets a lot of sunshine from the windows on three sides Look, this window gets the sun throughout the day. If my atelier could receive sunlight from only one direction, it would be difficult to stay there for long periods of time. Light is important when you see colors. Because the days are short in winter, light becomes even more precious to us. It’s one of the most important things in my daily life.
Does what you make vary with the seasons?
虽然我没有这些意图，但可能就是这样。 在这个工作室里，我主要画画和剪纸或制作3D物品。 在我在达拉纳的避暑别墅里，我通常会在6月到7月期间一直专注于绘画。
Though I don’t have those intentions, it might be as a result. In this atelier, I mainly paint and cut papers or make 3D objects. In my summer house in Dalarna, I usually focus on painting while staying there from June to July.
Please let us know if you have anything that means a lot to you in this room.
I can never do the dolls without a pair of scissors. And this paint here, this blue is my favorite. So, the color is really important to me. I love cobalt blue, too. I painted the figures and mobiles in our garden with this blue and other bright colors. It’s very nice blue, isn’t it?
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I often get inspired while traveling, because I can see the same things with fresh eyes then. And for me, sound is also a very important factor. I make my artwork hearing music in my mind. Many of the dolls I made hold musical instruments, too. Because I used to play jazz, I make things based on what I got from music, and then I get inspired from what I just completed and make a different artwork. I get an inspiration even from myself. Also, I’ve been a big fan of Charlie Chaplin for a long time. I love movies. In old movies, the stories don’t develop so rapidly like in recent ones, but have proper plots. I was often influenced by the moves depicted in such movies. The passage of time in my artwork also comes from those, I think.
You said you are inspired by a move, but what you make from that is a still picture. That’s interesting.
There are moves and sounds in a painting. I make art pieces from which you can feel those factors as you see. None of my artwork is completed by itself. Each piece of my work connects to another and is never separated, just like a film. Maybe I can say that puppets suit my style of work because those are 3D and can move. You can feel the move and sound more from puppets than from paintings.
What do you think motivates you to make art?
Looking back, most of my work is related to painting and graphic work. But I actually enjoy some processes like cutting and pasting papers on a figure, too. I keep my playful attitude and desire to have fun, because those are the sources of my creation.
Your artwork almost looks alive.
I paint or draw in my atelier every single day. I feel it is very meaningful and important to keep doing so. All the art pieces I have created like that with my hands actually “live” with me in my atelier.