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Red Bull Curates Protégés x HYPEBEAST Presents Pen & Paper with Karolina Wojcik
After several stints with so-called “real jobs,” Karolina Wojcik successfully made the jump from doing art on the side to making it her full-time passion. As with many artists, the native of Malmö, Sweden started small and worked her way up, gaining momentum as the canvases got bigger and bigger and eventually reaching the wall-sized paintings that make up many of her commissions. She credits fellow Swedish illustrator Hampus Ericstam and her older brother as some of the strong influences on her artistic life and style, which favors bold typography, crisp lines and traditional mediums like plain paper and acrylics. She recently shared a bit about her work and story while working on the Sweden leg of a special Red Bull Curates Protege tour.
I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember, so for me working artistically has always been equally obvious as it was natural. After trying a number of “9-5” kind-of-regular jobs, doing artistic work on the side on a sort of freelance hobby level, I studied fine art graphics (mainly because I was hooked on-screen printing at that time) a couple of years ago. I realized I really should pursue art professionally, landing more and more murals and wall painting commissions to a point I earned my living solely on those kinds of jobs. At first I wasn’t really into painting; it really did scare the crap out of me, to be honest. But A. I love a good challenge and B. the more commissions I got, the more it grew on me and now I’m super fascinated of by how much better and/or different things look at a larger scale. I also participated in Secret Wars numerous times between 2008-2011, which is probably a significant — and fun for that matter — reason I’ve ended up with more wall painting jobs than say, illustration, which was my initial go-to.
Who are some of the people who have had an impact on you when pursuing art?
My older brother has probably influenced me more than we both realize, doing graffiti and skateboarding in his early teens. At that age, everything he did, I did. He’s an engineer in computer programming nowadays, but I still can’t seem to get away from all that.
I’m not quite sure exactly why, but Swedish illustrator Hampus Ericstam has had a really huge impact on me. I remember seeing his work for the first time nearly 15 years ago, being instantly super wowed and thinking “this is EXACTLY what I wanna do. If he can do it, so should I…” and basically started sketching a portfolio right away. I always seem to come back to his work at some point. He’s got a pretty bold, playful and clearly influenced by urban subcultures kind of style that is right up my alley. Sometimes, I pretend I know him personally and get super excited when I see his work on huge commercial billboards and stuff…
Several years ago, I did a modeling job at a small, upcoming gallery in Copenhagen. It was Banksy. I don’t use stencils myself (although I tried as soon as I got back home), however that exhibition really got to me, this was 2003, I think. So stencils in that context were fairly new. To me, at least… His pieces were 475 Danish kroner back then at that gallery. That’s about 50 Euros.
Also my good friend and photographer Jan Dahlqvist has always been a bit of a life-in-general mentor for me since my teenage years. We don’t have the same artistic expression or style (given he’s a photographer) but we do share a similar way and approach to working creatively. He’s always been very encouraging and constructive of my work.
My oldest best friend Hanna, who’s a talented tattoo artist residing and working in the States nowadays, and her artistic family have always been very important to me and my work. At times, I stayed and hung out more with her parents than my own; sorry mom and dad. They took us to art exhibitions frequently and introduced us to more grown-up and wider art scenes than the Tank Girl comic books we devoured (all three of them). Pretty sure that has affected me big time.
“After trying a number of ’9-5′-kind-of-regular jobs, doin’ artistic work on the side on a sort of freelance hobby level, I studied fine art graphics a couple of years ago. I realized I really should pursue arts professionally.”
Karolina Wojcik on how she got started in pursuing art
There’s a very strong graffiti scene here in Malmö and instead of dismissing graffiti as an art form, the city is getting increasingly better and better at recognizing it, resulting in legal, public walls reserved for graffiti. One of the country’s first graffiti artists and street art pioneers Ruskig has his own school here too, giving a lot of youngsters the opportunity to practice graffiti and art. In general, I would say the city of Malmö is really good at acknowledging the importance of a widespread, prospering cultural life including more subcultures as well.
I’ve never really felt excluded from the art scene here or forced to take on a more “commercial” expression and/or methods because of my style. My only less positive remark would be the inevitable size of the city and the country in general (Sweden is a small country) limiting the market. However, for being a small and quite unknown city in Northern Europe, the liberal approach to art is rather striking.
How would you best explain your style of work? What usually goes through your head when starting a new piece of work?
I’m very super intrigued and borderline obsessed with lettering and typography, so nearly every time I start something, it’s by drawing letters and words. Sometimes I just write a word and sort of illustrate around it, if that makes any sense. I like using typography in a rather decorative way too, like a background shape. Guess I can thank my lifelong inspiration of graffiti for that combined with my unconditional love for cans and spray paint.
I’ve always been very inspired by subcultures and everything that comes with it. The first logo I learned to draw spotless as a kid — and did so overzealously, putting it anywhere and everywhere — was for skateboard brand Rat Bones. I still can’t get enough of skateboard graphics, and am childishly infatuated by the Cali (life)style in general.
So my style’s basically an illustrative mix of clean, bold lines, typography, humor, contrasting colors and mediums, with a certain amount of graffiti complex. That’s the point/beauty of it, to cherry pick from your favorite elements and put it together in your own style.
“I’m very super intrigued and borderline obsessed with lettering and typography, so nearly every time I start something, it’s by drawing letters and words. Sometimes I just write a word and sort of illustrate around it, if that makes any sense. I like using typography in a rather decorative way too, like a background shape.”
Karolina Wojcik explains her style of work
I’m a DJ as well (featured on a weekly DJ Show on Swedish radio) so music, music and more music. An ol’ drum and beat fiend, I’m a boom-bap, funky hip hop devotee, and as cliché as it sounds, hip hop and urban arts really do go hand in hand (NOT saying any other genre doesn’t, just to be clear. There’s just something about urban subcultures and hip hop). The two really work both ways, music inspiring the art part and vice-versa. Some of my fellow DJ and/or producer friends are a very huge source of inspiration for me as well, like my super talented friend and very awesome person in general DJ Devastate. I really love the DIY mentality/expression of punk albums too.
And literally scoring more cliché points; I used to practice basketball (although I barely knew what any music was when I first started… I was a point guard, for the record. Still love me a good game, watching and/or playing)
What are your favorite mediums to work on?
Regular paper; no fuss. The cheaper the better, quite honestly. For a while, I printed and painted on old news paper, gluing it on canvas for example. Old, used skateboard decks and cotton canvas — preferably in larger formats and sizes. Walls are pretty frequent and much appreciated as well.
What are your favorite tools to use?
Acrylic and spray paint, markers, pencils and lately watercolors. I can’t seem to get a hold of Illustrator whatsoever, although Photoshop comes in handy every now and then as a last polishing tool for illustrations and drawings.
Well, apart from working on some new mixes for the radio show next week and some new paintings in general, I’d really love to keep doing what I’m doing to a much larger extent. That means traveling more, meeting more awesome people and getting more fun jobs and projects on my desk. Sweden is cold, so I could use some work in a warmer climate…
“Acrylic and spray paint, markers, pencils and lately watercolors. Photoshop comes in handy every now and then as a last polishing tool for illustrations and drawings.”
Karolina Wojcik’s favorite mediums to work on