Viktor Mattsson / Devil in the black dress

And the devil in the black dress watches over. Swedish artist Viktor Mattsson in conversation with Maria Abramenko.

What is your art background, how and when did you start painting?

I’ve been studying for five years, and during my bachelor’s I felt a bit lost and I think I mostly tried to do the kind of art that people around me were doing and the kind of art that the professors were talking about. Between my bachelor and master I took a year off, and spent some time in Italy and Denmark. I was looking a lot at painting which reminded me that painting always had been a genuine interest for me, and that is when I realized that I wanted to pursue painting. I think I always wanted to be a painter, but I think I was too afraid to try. I’m not sure why. I had been producing images for a long time through my job as a tattooer (see https://www.instagram.com/bitchinkworldwide/), so the step towards painting was actually quite natural once I took it. My tattoo practice has given me a lot of time to think about what working with images means to me, and how I want to use them. Therefore adapting into painting felt like a natural move, it feels like I have been developing my practice for a long time. Throughout my master I solely pursued painting.

The devil seems to be a very dominant figure in your works, how come?

A lot of my work revolves around the idea of good versus bad, and I usually use traditional or metaphorical characters like devils, clowns or cowboys to portray this. To me there is something special in the obviousness of these characters, I really like the fact that they represent something that most people can recognize. They carry a heavy history which makes them very useful if you want to say something. I paint situations where these characters play a part of a story.

I’d like to ask how you see yourself connected to your paintings. Is it autobiography, fiction/imagination or does your self representation have other psychological meaning?

Most of my work is directly connected to personal feelings and experiences, and I use characters that I relate to in my paintings. I wish I was a cowboy, I feel like a clown.

Therefore clowns and cowboys return to my imagery. I experience a constant struggle between good and bad decisions, and this is something I depict through angels, devils and snakes. This is not something that I usually share in my exhibitions as I don’t see it as important for the viewer to know. It is more a starting point and a way to work with painting and ideas. I am not trying to depict my life or make a story about myself.

Name your favorite painting and please explain why.

I’m not sure if I have a favourite painting, but I do have a favourite painter. Swedish painter Victoria Nygren (1885 – 1965) is my favourite painter. Her work has a huge influence on me. She is a self taught unknown naivist painter who painted her life and visions. It’s not easy to find documentation of her works but I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen her work in person and there is something that is so special in her work. I strongly relate to how she prefers the symbolic value of her characters over a realistic technique. Her expression really emphasizes on what’s important and what isn’t. Another favourite painter is Fra Angelico. I try to see some kind of connection between these two, I think it’s the importance of making a composition that is built on meaningful elements that together creates a full message.

What are you working on these days?

At the moment I am working on paintings for a group show at Gallery 46 in London called “The first swing of the bat”. I am concentrating on working with smaller scale works as I have mostly been working with bigger scales before. Other than that I’m trying to figure out stuff, like how my new embroidery machine works or what i’m going to do when Covid is over and the world is open again!

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