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Postcard from Dreamland

Sometimes More Emotion, Sometimes More Story


Elin Aakrann in conversation with Eva Paulin

Montréal, May 2019



Why are some paintings larger than the others?

It has a very practical reason: I work with the means available to me in the moment, which actually also corresponds to one of my values that I would like to pass on to the next generation. I had bought these two stretched canvases on sale before I left last time, and when I got back to my studio in Montréal I said to myself that now was the time to put them to use. Then I started with the larger one (Postcard from Dreamland, Number 4, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 92 x 92 cm) because I prefer working on large canvases. Once I was satisfied with that piece, I said to myself that now I would now start on the smaller one. (Postcard from Dreamland, Rowing, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 77 x 77 cm), which proved, however, more difficult—going from big to small is always harder. For the third painting, I cut a piece of canvas from the roll, like I always do. That turned out to be even larger than the first one. But then I had to cut it off because once I started painting it seemed way too long. I had gotten used to the square formats of the two previous paintings. But I left one side ten centimeters longer and was just fine with that. (Postcard from Dreamland, Number 6, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 105 x 95 cm)


And why is it harder for you to work in smaller formats?

It’s really hard for me. Even just in terms of my movements, a large area is easier for me. I make sketches, try things out on the canvas, and then sometimes I paint over them if they don’t quite fit. My painting emerges from the process: I leave some things as they are, and cover up other things but leave them so that you can still see through them, and I make other things disappear entirely. Observation is an essential part of my working process. I see things in the painting that reflect on or supplement my imagination.


About how long does it take you to finish a painting?

On average I work on a painting for around two weeks. Sometimes I work on multiple paintings at the same time, and then the work time overlaps. Smaller formats are generally faster. Here, for example, I put together two small square pieces from the leftovers of a cut canvas. I can quickly tack the canvases to a stretcher frame and then take them off again to transport them on the plane. (Postcard from Dreamland, Swan Lake 2, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 40 x 40 cm). My paintings are actually collected in Luxembourg.

This little one is not finished yet. You can see the different stages of the process a little better. I started it, but then I said to myself, I’m not going to continue working on it right now because it will take too long. I decided to finish just one thing. The process is gradual, and the end result is never what I initially envisioned. It’s good to surprise yourself. I apply paint that I then partially remove; I paint parts with a glazing technique to let them shine through. Sometimes I work a piece out figuratively, sometimes I stay abstract. The “Postcard from Dreamland” series is all about materialization. I’ve been using what is actually a working title since January of this year, writing myself postcards from an imaginary country. This country is my memory. It is stories and emotions from the past and the present.


So this kind of process is behind every finished painting?

Yes, I start with a very concrete idea, a direction that I think I should go in, but which I then never get to (laughs). It surprises me again and again that everything turns out completely different than I thought it would when I started, and how new ideas and thoughts always come to light while I work. The process is actually a dialogue between the painting and me. It’s something very intimate, I would say.

I “project”: I throw my idea into the future and then chase it down. The path is the process. It takes a certain amount of time and you can never get there faster than the idea takes to mature. If I ran straight to the finish line, the result wouldn’t be the same. I would finish far too quickly and the contents of my thoughts would be left by the wayside. I take the time to look at each step. The dialogue with the painting emerges from this observation. Sometimes a bunch of ideas come to me quickly, like in this second small picture. I like it because it turned out funny. The first one is more difficult. It comes from a different field of sensation. In the second painting (Postcard from Dreamland, Swan Lake 2), there is something like two swans that I am looking at from a bridge. I kept pulling myself back from this picture, trying to do less, making myself react more slowly. Allowing emptiness to emerge—and slowness.


Do you sometimes have phases where you tell yourself no, that’s not how it works?

Yes, of course. That’s when I have to stop working right away. Like with the first small picture, if I had kept on painting, I could have completely ruined it. But sometimes I take the risk ... and ruin a painting ... and then I have to paint over it.


So you’re a risk taker?

Yes, and I stand by it! But with this painting, I told myself, no, no, there’s something, different details, that I like and that I’d like to leave as they are. But at the moment there is too much information within the small space. That’s my problem with the small canvases. If it were on a larger area, it would be no problem at all. This is when you have to let time pass or start another picture.


But where does that come from, why do you feel this way?

It’s probably relationships in my brain? And the second painting had a good starting point with the view from the bridge. I stand up above and look down and have a good overview. With the first one, I’m stuck in the middle of the picture. Maybe that’s why it’s more difficult. You always have to plan the next step, like in a game of chess. Every choice leads to a different end result ... just like in life. If you want to integrate new elements, you sometimes have to leave others behind, to sacrifice them. This is a way to bring out the new. Sometimes you have to sacrifice something really good that just showed up at the wrong time. I started a big painting in between these two small ones, but it isn’t finished yet either. It suddenly became too figurative for me. Like a real postcard. With a frame, but I may still continue working on it.


Do you sense it when a picture is finished?

Yes, yes, yes. With this painting, I feel very clearly that it’s not finished yet ... and it’s not finished yet. But sometimes you get to a point with a painting that you just can’t continue, even though it’s not finished. When that happens, all you can do is paint over it and start again.


Do you share your art with other people?

Yes, for example, I sent a photo of the big painting (Postcard from Dreamland, Number 4) to a friend in New York, Laurence Gelber, he is a lawyer and loves art. And his feedback was unexpectedly great. He had just read about a Caravaggio exhibition in the newspaper and saw a photo of The Entombment of Christ. He wrote that my painting had exactly the same compositional lines. In which case it would therefore also correspond to the proportions of the golden ratio. Even though my painting is abstract and has very different colors, it immediately reminded him of it. It was really nice for him to say that. I really appreciated it. He’s interested in my art, which is why I sent him the photo. I got to know him through the pianist at MOMA when Laurence Gelber was looking for a person from every country in the world to take part in his I declare world peace campaign by recording a video with the phrase. And Luxembourg was one of the countries he was still looking for. I represent Luxembourg and declare world peace in the project. I think it’s a nice project that doesn’t hurt anyone and provides good food for thought for our era.


Are values important to you? Values such as peace, connection with one another, discipline?

Yes, they are important to me. I want to pass this on to the new generations. Of course, I also make art for myself, but I want to convey a message with it. To start a conversation. We live in an age dictated by consumption, at least in the western world. For me, it’s not about religion, but about the unseen values. If you have ideals, it becomes easier to approach each other, in contrast to this hyped-up capitalism where it’s all about material goods. About earning money to accumulate even more goods and get more power with status symbols. With my art, I want to convey something personal, and that includes my values.


Where do you paint your pictures?

Wherever I live … Luxembourg, Portugal, and Montréal. I usually paint pictures up against a wall. I had this easel here for a long time, but hardly ever used it. But then I got new wood paneling for my wall because the old one had warped. The new wall was so beautiful that, even though I has already used it a bit, I suddenly switched to painting on the easel. But sometimes I also paint on the ground. It’s easier when you don’t want the paint to run.

How do you paint on the ground?

I stand in front of the picture and imagine what the next line should look like. This can take a long time because it has to be very well thought out. And then I know, I start to paint and often close my eyes. This transmits my feelings into the gesture because I am completely concentrated and yet at the same time letting go. It is a very important step. It’s not easy to take a step back once you’re in the flow of painting. It is quite possible for something unexpected to arise and for the compositional priorities to shift. I often choose the colors spontaneously, although I have phases where I keep coming back to the same colors. It must have something to do with my environment.


Where do you find your inspiration? You like taking photos and you have a lot of nature pictures. You told me that the tree in front of your studio window inspires you. Does that mean that your environment is your inspiration?

Absolutely. Nature and everything around me are incredibly important. I recently read that all plants on earth may be connected underground. I keep noticing more and more that we humans are also a species of the Earth. Like a dog for example: There are different breeds, but in the end they are all dogs and have similar patterns of behavior. It is the same for humans: We come from different regions and cultures but we are fundamentally identical. The whole world is connected. We are one. That’s why nature is so inspiring. I often take photos of my surroundings and let parts of them flow into my pictures. These photos are mostly of details that catch my eye. The painting with the two swans (Postcard from Dreamland, Swan Lake) is inspired by a photo. That’s why I painted the thorns all around. They contrast with the soft parts of the paintings, which is actually calm and serene, but the photo inspired me to create these spikes.


How do you feel when you sell a painting? You told me that you don’t paint just to sell pictures, but also to convey values. Your art shows a very intimate creative process. Does it hurt when you sell a painting to someone who doesn’t understand or empathize with it?

No, definitely not. When the painting is done, the process is complete. I think it’s nice when I touch other people with my paintings and that they are even willing to live with my work. It’s a tremendous pleasure. This is sharing my values with someone. The work process is then no longer connected to the painting for me. Sometimes I also paint over old canvases, give them new life. But that’s quite normal, I think all painters do it.



Elin Aakrann is a graduate student in International Business Economics from the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands. Elin has been studying for her master’s degree in Corporate Social Responsibility at the Université du Québec à Montréal (ESG UQAM) since August 2018. Having grown up in the multi-cultural country of Luxembourg and traveled to multiple countries, she feels the importance of understanding the values and principles of the individual as well as of the planet. In her studies, Elin seeks to investigate the link between influential business entities and their impact on societies. Optimistic and visionary, she aims to contribute to the transition of multinational organizations to more sustainable and value-adding practices that integrate environmental and social factors. She believes in pro-active, innovative, and responsible projects to foster sustainability within communities and organizations and is motivated to evaluate how companies can contribute positively to their environment. She is inspired by creative minds and values of individuals and wants to bring out the positive aspects in each of them.

Eva Paulin

Phone: + 35 26 216 144 14



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