On The Hunt For Complex Emotions: Interview With Artist Peter Jeppson

The work of artist Peter Jeppson will steal you away from your own reality and have you placed in a world of his own creation, complete with his irresistibly curious characters. Bubbling with texture and vivid emotions, Jeppson’s creatures put a new, strange twist on cartoons — as they are far from the cartoons you may be used to seeing on television. Instead, the artist paints his characters with complicated expressions that are not so easily understood, making them anything but one-dimensional. Jeppson’s characters are created not only two-dimensionally in paint, but are also brought into the third dimension in his densely layered and brilliantly peculiar sculptures. These somewhat humorous figures are interesting in a way that is just slightly off, leaving the complexity of the artist’s work at its surface.

Jeppson discusses with us his artistic process using thick layers of paint as well as experimenting with an eclectic array of materials in such work as his sculptural figures. He has shown his one-of-a-kind work all over the world in cities such as London, Berlin, LA, and Vancouver. Join us as the artist leads us down his artistic journey beginning in graffiti before studying illustration at the School of Arts and Crafts in Gothenburg, Sweden, and then later progressing into the multifaceted style of painting and sculpture that he creates today.

AMM: Do you have any formal training in art? When did you begin creating your imaginative characters that appear throughout your work?

PJ: I would call myself self-taught, even though I have points in illustration from the HDK School of Arts and Crafts in Gothenburg, Sweden. I guess my path is quite similar to many: a start in graffiti led me in to illustration/graphic design and then further in to drawing. My practice today is mostly painting, which is something I have been doing for some years now.

I have always been fascinated with characters. When I painted graffiti, I liked characters, but thought I was too bad at drawing to be able create them. When I started to work more in illustration, which would be around ten years ago or so, I practiced drawing characters a lot. The last few years, I have slowly started to evolve a style I like. According to myself, there is a fine line between the cute and crispy cartoons with dramatic expressions and the characters that give impressions of being more vague and complex in their state of mind. I am aiming for the second one there.

AMM: You work in painting, sculpture, and illustration as well. What medium did you begin creating art in?

PJ: From the materials listed above it would be the illustrations, which followed right after I cut down on painting graffiti. I have basically moved from material to material; working with a medium for some years, then slowly getting the feeling of repeating myself, then moving forward in to other materials, projects or whatever feels inspiring and challenging.

AMM: The subjects in your work are often playful and reminiscent of new and old cartoon characters. What inspires these quirky figures?

PJ: I’m on a constant hunt for complex emotions in my work, which is manifested in these characters. I am very much inspired by cartoons of all kinds, but I don’t want my paintings to look like a good copy, rather the opposite. When I draw Mickey Mouse, for example, I can paint him quite similar to the original, but if I paint fast and not focused on making my character look exactly the same, something happens. Things get added or lost, and Mickey ends up with another expressions. The cute and crispy Disney character has transformed into something else, in this case, a bad copy. That’s the impression I like. It feels a bit humorous and decadent in the same way, and that how I want it.

AMM: Your highly textural sculptures are both intriguing as they are striking with their all black surfaces. Can you tell us a bit about your 3-dimensional works? What materials do you use?

PJ: Thanks! In general, I use whatever I can find and just try it out. I like to work with sculpture in a trial and error way. So it’s a search here as well; finding a material that feels inspiring and then figuring out what to do with it and how. The less control the process is, the better the end result… most of the time.

The black ones, for example, are soft animal toys from thrift shops around town. I bought a bunch and started to sew them in ways I thought were interesting, then I covered them in plaster, added some Styrofoam, more textiles, cardboard, and just kept this process going until they had increased in size and I felt comfortable with the poses they had. They are all painted with lacquer mixed plaster, but I decided right before I was about to exhibit them that I wanted the to be black except for the eyes and mouth. As long as I have eyes and preferably a mouth, I feel I can relate to my creations and get these feelings that I am hunting for.

AMM: In your body of work, you have several paintings of signs, such as interstate signs, signs for fast food chains, and a sign that says, “Welcome to Arizona.” Are these inspired by personal experiences on road trips?

PJ: Yeah, I have been driving around in the USA two times and I love their signs. They strike me as funny, more informal than stiff, Swedish signs. This newfound love for American signs stayed with me after my first there, so when arriving home, I browsed through my photos and decided to paint some signs for the 2017 GIFC round. I have not been to Arizona, though—that’s from Google. I Google images quite often to get inspiration. The paintings of the signs are quite similar to the thing with Mickey Mouse. It becomes something else since it’s an interpretation of something. I’m not aiming for a realistic sign painting, really.

AMM: Has there been a moment in your career as an artist that you would consider a turning point for you?

PJ: I got paid to paint a tunnel when I was around 16 or so. That experience made me realize that I don’t have to do what everybody else does (work 40 hours a week, be free for two day together with some vacations weeks). So ever since, I have found my own ways of making a living.

If we are jumping ahead to something more recent, I always feel glad when getting asked to show my work, or when people write on Instagram or whatever. It’s quite amazing that people take time to look and engage with my sill Smurfs and walking pencils. So maybe there is not a certain turning point really, more like a couple of small ones.

AMM: Can you speak a little about your artistic influences? What artist’s work would you say has had the most impact on you?

PJ: Sure. There are a lot of people that get me inspired. Philip Guston would be a bright shining star above most, but also Wes Lang, Ragnar Persson, Kent Iwemyr and Olle Schmidt, to name a few. I also love the way Daniel Sparkes and Lung build up their paintings—truly amazing. In general, I often get inspired by heavy layers of paint and a sloppy style where you can see that the craftsmanship isn’t 100% — when there is something a little bit off. This could be from anywhere and everywhere. I also like (as stated previously) signs and drawing of already existing characters. It’s the best when seeing perspectives going wrong and eyes placed a little bit off, etc. Kind of the same way I get it wrong most of the time.

AMM: What kind of environment do you prefer to create your art in? Do you ever watch movies or listen to podcasts or music during the process?

PJ: I like to work in my studio and close the door to listen to music. Since I don’t’ have too much other work during Monday-Friday, I usually try to be in the studio a couple of hours every day to get some sort of regularly in my everyday life. I have realized that I get the most done if I work about six hours a day and start quite early. For sure I listen to a lot of podcasts as well, but not while painting.

AMM: What is next for your work? Do you have any plans for the upcoming year?

PJ: For the 2018, I have plans of showing a series of smaller paintings that I have been working on for the last year or so and I will try to make a larger scale sculpture to accompany them in some way. I’m also working on a book with the help from a project-based grant I got earlier this year. It will circle around painting. My aim is to try and highlight some artists that I find inspirational. We’ll see how that turns out.

During the last part of 2017, I’m was in Kristian Day’s Paper Cuts exhibitions and round of the GIFC, which I’m really happy about.

Find out more about the artist: www.peterjeppson.se

Interview by Christina Nafziger for ArtMaze Mag.