October 18, 2012 by raconteurmagazine
By Nick Gonzo
The roles of artist and designer are confused and jumbled, the edges blurring together in weird mixes like layered coloured oils fighting for supremacy. Piet Mondrian’s abstract geometric shapes worked well with Yves St Laurent to make clothing. Charles Rennie Mackintosh made wallpaper, chairs, book covers, stained glass and forever reminds us that moustaches are cool. Salvador Dali worked with Disney studios to make some surreal and beautiful animations, and more recently the work of Andy Warhol and other pop artists exploded the lid off the two worlds forever polluting them irreparably. You can feel this cross insemination coursing through the veins of modern artists everywhere and it is very close to the surface of Hampus Ericstam’s current exhibition at the Leeds College of Art.
Ericstam, a Stockholm Royal School of Art graduate, who has already worked with such branding giants as Nike, CNN, Levi’s, Converse and EMI Music, is described as a Swedish Illustrator/graphic designer/artist. He is not just one thing, as you can see. In a small show such as the one he currently holds, you expect it to be fairly concise; focusing on one style or topic, instead Eristam shows a wealth of artistic versatility. His work touches upon graphic design, illustration, college, pop art style catching images and fine art. A fan of thick black lines and popular icons, the works bustle together in great mashes of skulls, tigers, daggers, bullets, butterflies, love hearts, candy coloured sharks, surfboards, shoes and guitars, incorporating real world images like gorillas and scantily clad women.
I feel it would be very interesting to chart the progression of his work through the show by date, but the show is scant on labels and details so aside from a small plaque dedicated to his biography there is no accompanying literature. This is a desperate shame because it either means that:
1) Ericstam is malleable, able to play with different mediums and styles at once.
2) Ericstam is developing his work to a more mature and more solid mediums.
3) Ericstam is moving away from traditional mediums to graphic art.
If the last one is true, it’s very disappointing. His graphic work, which greets you to your left as soon as you enter the space, is fun. Its light, bubbly, colourful, produced on illustrator and making good use of the gradients and colour techniques such programmes provide. Thing is though, that it’s so non-pretentious and acid-house punk that it seems hollow, too organised and safe. This sort of digital work is very cool for posters and adverts (His website provides and great number of is designs used on billboards and as festival set decoration, which seems to be its natural habitat within which it flourishes) but in the white space of the gallery it feels like you’ve seen it all before, on tumblr. Beautiful, but all in all temporary and superficial.
Moving around the space his work progresses, incorporating the same stylistic elements; the shapes and configurations of faces, eagles and cult-like religious iconography, but presenting them in a more tactile way; Each college of works is drawn onto the paper with felt-tip pens. Dripping watercolour roses of diffusing ink in soft pastel colours act in parallel to the black lines and give it a more surreal look. Each piece is beautiful, but still looks like it could be peeled from the canvas and be transferred onto the arm of a skinny Camden hipster in Tattoo form. Commercialised and worst of all, safe.
Only when he lets loose, free from the presentable, organised chaos of his graphic elements does Ericstam’s work to its full potential. His great wall-spanning college of dripping lines lacks that finalised smoothness of his other works and is overwhelming in scope and detail. His fine art pieces have the same visual language as the graffiti stlye paintings of Jean-Michel Basquiat but the darker elements of decay of Francis Bacon. Closing the show these works are powerful, mature and strong; giving the impression that the artist is finally unleashed, unchained and drawing from a more vibrant well of imagination.
All in all, the show is a brief glimpse at a developing artist with mountains of talent, but also a look at the artist in a sense of confusion. He doesn’t get the balance of conceptual design and artistic expression right, so some things suit the gallery space much better than others. As a display of his works to date it is satisfying, but I look forward to a more honed, more focused show in the future.
The work of Hampus Ericstam is on show at the Leeds College of Art Blenheim Walk Gallery until the 24th of October.