Marcus Gunnar Pettersson is one of many young and exciting illustrators to emerge from Sweden in recent years. His work is childlike and imaginatively intriguing yet laced with an overtly sinister darkness. We talk to him about rare cream coloured paper, artistic ideologies and storytelling.
You currently study at art college in Stockholm, yet you have been exhibiting since 2002. What made you decide to go back into education and how is it altering the way you approach your work?
Well I actually had my first solo exhibition when I was 15 years old. I come from a small town in Sweden where it’s very easy to present yourself and be encouraged for your talent, if you are a young creative teenager. However there is not very much room for development or space for new impressions and inspirations - it is a limiting environment. For this reason I wanted to study in another place.
Right now I am doing a three year bachelor degree in Graphic Design and Illustration. This requires me to always be asking and answering questions. You do not have to understand what you do entirely, but you must be curious and continually question why you’re doing what you are doing artistically. This has made me think of my work as actual words, seeing everything as a symbol with a meaning. Meanings are dependent on the viewer. I quiz all components and relations more vigorously. It is all about being a messenger of information, ideas and feelings.
How important is formal technique and training then? Is artistic talent something you can develop without it? Tell us when and why you started drawing?
I started drawing the same time as everyone else, but I didn’t stop!
I think style and technique develop very much from an artist’s personal ideology. It is very important to have understanding of other disciplines beyond your own. The more you know, the more room you have to play around. Everyone is different but I certainly need this cross discipline knowledge. Learning stuff is always good right? Even when you only learn what is bad for you and what not to do again.
The characters and scenarios in your illustrations are obviously intensely fantastical and imaginative? Tell us about where they come from, what inspires you and how the ideas are born?
I prefer creating small ‘stories’ within the drawings, without focusing on a special intention or idea for each piece. I enjoy improvisation - I do not set out to say something, or portray anything specific at the outset. I am interested in listening to other people’s stories and this influences my illustration a lot.
Animals, creatures and people have a big part in all stories including myths and folklore and are also something I’ve drawn since childhood. Therefore it feels natural to keep them in my work so long as it remains interesting and fresh.
Yes, anthropomorphic characters and the natural world feature heavily in your illustrations, often in a very surreal, magical and even sinister fashion - tell us about your interest in forests, oceans and animals and their relationships with humans.
Nature, especially watching things grow, has always been a great inspiration. It feels so untamed and wild compared to the city and on the paper you can decide anything you want so I am further inspired by things that may not be true. Illusions, imaginative ideas and things you don’t know for certain.
Pictures are rooms. Every picture you see, the brain tries to see as a room: where it starts or ends, what’s in it, the meaning of it. I want people to see rooms, but never fully understand them.
Though you work with singular images, your illustrations are narrative often depicting journeys and adventures. Do you see yourself as a storyteller and can you tell us more about this aspect of your art?
Everyone is a storyteller. They just have different stories and different ways to tell them. For me it is better to draw than to use my voice. My father has a great storytelling voice though.
Some of your pictures are very dark and foreboding. Tell us more about how you achieve this and the desired effect you wish to create.
The eyes are important, because the eyes create and hold the connection. They are also where you read thoughts - even those of a drawn character.
However I don’t know really. I am a very kind person! Maybe the ‘darkness’ is just an outlet and way for me to not only be construed in that way. People need at least two sides.
Most of your work uses off white cream paper and either just black ink or very muted, washed out watercolours. Why do you choose this effect and what does it add to your art?
That creamy paper is called 'Keaykolor Recycled, Honey, 250 gsm' and it is the best paper I’ve ever experienced - I adore it. Unfortunately they don’t make it anymore, so right now I’m sourcing the last pieces from all corners.
Colour fascinates me, I just haven’t felt that comfortable using it. The dull colours I employ give a more mysterious feeling to the pictures. However bright and fantastical colour is luring me and I will begin to use it more in the future I think.
We see from your blog that you are in the process of designing a music video. What projects do you have on the go at the moment, are you planning on expanding out from illustration and what can we expect of you in the future.
If I could answer that, I'd be aware of what to expect myself. And then all this wouldn’t be interesting anymore.
Keep track by following Marcus on his website and blog.