Riotously honest and outrageously humorous , Danish artist Jakob Tolstrup’s artistic oeuvre is a treasury of illustrated caricatures of modern society in all its ordinary eccentricities. Born in 1983, Tolstrup has a background in graffiti which inspired him to expand his own artistic experimentation with a variety of techniques, materials and mediums, including paintings, sculpture, drawing and mixed media on canvas. Although his painterly style shares some similarities with Mad Magazine’s iconography, his works tend to expose the social forces that direct human (and animal) behavior in a quite unique and personal way. Jakob Tolstrup has recently exhibited some of his works of art at Voo Store in Berlin. Today we talk to the artist about the past experiences and cultural influences that affected his art.
Hi Jakob. Can you give us a quick rundown of who you are and when did you decide to pursue art professionally. You studied illustration and painting and also did this on a freelance basis. Was it a choice you made knowingly?
I was born 1983 in the countryside of Denmark. I grew up in a pretty boring town, so I had a lot of spare time for doing creative stuff I’ve always been drawing, so it was a natural step into the art world.
You worked for several newspapers and magazines. What was the first job that you got?
I worked in a Kindergarten back in 2007 and liked it a lot but after applying for the royal Danish 6 years in a row, without getting in, my dreams of becoming an artist didn’t seem to have a future, after a lot of thinking I decided that I could do whatever I want if I just put my mind into it… so with no education and no money I quitted my job and said to myself, “in three months I will be able to make a living doing art and drawings”. My last day on the job on the kindergarten Denmark’s biggest newspaper Politiken called me up and asked if I could do some drawings, I was excited and jumping in the streets on my way home. Suddenly I was on a roll, after that I got a lot of jobs doing record covers, article drawings for papers magazines and books. One day a small gallery (MOHS exhibit) contacted me and asked if I would like to do a solo exhibition. I’ve never done that before but I was hooked, worked like crazy for months and had a great first exhibition!
Graffiti Culture is without question the most powerful, distinctive and prominent feature of your creative background. How long have you been doing street art? Was there anything specific that inspired your involvement in making art around the city?
As a teenager I fell deeply in love with the graffiti culture. I spent all my waking hours thinking about graffiti, I’ve been painting since 98… but with so many things you do when you are young you grow out of with time, I learned so much from graffiti, so much technique and alternative ways of thinking, and a bit of street smarts, how to deal with the police and so on.
I was reading an interview of yours and there’s something I really wanted to ask you to expand on. You said: “I used to be very engaged in political work, and knew exactly what I stood for, but nowadays I discovered that I’m more and more becoming like a Nihilist, I think the political game is like X-factor, I lost my faith in these people the world has become fake in many aspects, so I choose to not care, and just deal with my own stuff”. Political commitment is a quality we shouldn’t look for in your pieces, but it’s always latent. In fact, your artistic research include an hilarious perspective on modern life, families, consumerism, greed and opulence. It looks like the more you try to avoid dealing with an issue, the more likely you are to bump into it. Do you agree with this?
My earlier work use to have a lot of political content, but as I grow older I got more and more disillusioned about society. When all people in the government are lying on a day to day basis, you don’t want to play their game. Instead making a political punch line I try to make my art more open to the viewer.
Tell me a bit about the characters and situations in your pieces. Most of the times, you depict a variety of humans and giant animals living together. Where does the inspiration for these paintings come from?
In my latest work I’ve done a lot of pieces with humans in company with huge animals, in different scenarios. I see these animals a totem to the humans, and nature meets modern society. I’m very fascinated by why people make the choices they do in this world, why we live the way we do and all the contradictions I see in the streets all over the world. Often with an alternative reality in mind.
Now you live and work in Berlin. Artistically speaking, what have been some of the pluses and minuses of working in Copenhagen?
I moved to Berlin last year, kinda by accident, but it made so much sense. In Copenhagen where I used to live everything has become so clean, polished and harmless… Berlin has this rawness about it I really like. When I worked I Copenhagen I really had to look for inspiration and it was hard to find, in Berlin I just have to look out the window.
Last question, Jakob. You’ve been experimenting a lot. Your creative work is an incredible and original mix of mediums including sculpture, painting, drawing and murals. You even started the Haku Plush Bears project in 2007 and designed the album artwork for Badun and Organiseret Riminalitet. So what’s coming up for you over the next few months?
I been doing a lot of different stuff and been giving a lot of opportunities by kind people. My next project is doing a short animation movie for the Annecy Festival (Cannes Festival for Animation). I cooperated with the French film company Cargo films, I have written the story made the characters and universe. An animation school in Belgium is going to animate the movie, these are exciting times!
Currently living and working in Berlin, Jakob Tolstrup is represented by the gallery MOHS exhibit.