14 Jul, 2011 | Andrew Cummings
Stefan Johansson was born in Sweden, and before coming to La Paz he lived in New York with his wife and child. He’s an artist-cum-illustrator, and is currently working on an illustration book on the American crisis. ‘Recession Anxiety: self-help book’. He will be exhibiting some of his illustrations in Victoria, Canada on November 15th at the Ministry of Casual Living
BX: Has being in Bolivia affected your work? If so, how?
SJ: I’ve actually only been here for two weeks... I do think being in Bolivia will have an effect on my art, though. I’ve been in New York for six years, and there’s so much going on there – so many different things to do and people to meet – so it’s easy to get distracted. Here I have focus. I’m trying to learn Spanish, and I’ve always used language in my work, so maybe how I use language will change or something.
BX: How is La Paz different from New York?
ST: Obviously there’s the altitude. The car horns get to me too. If I could compare this city to anywhere it would be to somewhere in Southern Europe... I was in Porto (Portugal) a while ago and it’s sort of like that. I don’t know what it is, the texture of the city or something. You have narrow streets and narrow pavements so La Paz feels quite compact. I get a lot of smiles, too, especially when I have my kid out with me. There’s also a lot of staring... And it can be slightly intimidating because I don’t speak the language very well.
BX: Do you have a consistent style? If so, how would you describe it?
ST: I do have a ‘style’ right now, yes... I don’t use colour. I used to do lots of very colourful drawings and paintings, but about a year ago I started to use just black and white. It’s like limiting yourself to better express yourself. I studied architecture and this has influenced my style, too – my drawings are kind of like blueprints or printouts.
BX: What kind of subjects do you choose? Or does this depend on what you’re asked to draw?
ST: I consider myself more of an artist than an illustrator, so when I do my work it’s not connected to any external subject; it’s connected to personal experience. My experiences in the US have been an important topic over the past year, like the economic recession.
BX: How does the artistic process work for you?
SJ: I tend to start with a sketch of an idea, often something that’s happened during the day and annoyed me, like a bad commute or something. Then I come back to the sketch and develop it, sharpen it. You can’t just copy the image you originally had in your head or first sketched out, because it loses something; you have to keep developing it.
BX: Do you like llamas?
SJ: I like animals generally... I love all the dogs here. They’re all mutts. They seem friendly.
BX: Dogs aren’t llamas.