Jockum Nordström is an unconventional artist who has always followed his own path, with a prodigious creative output that encompasses music – he has played in bands for over 35 years – and an artistic practice that incorporates pencil drawings, watercolour painting, collage assemblages and kinetic sculptures constructed from found materials. Nordström and his work are widely recognized across Scandinavia, where he is equally known for his charismatic performances as a musician as he is by his quirky figurative drawings. More broadly, he has gained international recognition through his inclusion in museum exhibitions across Europe and America since the early 2000s. In the last couple of years, he has been investigating the possibilities of printmaking and how this could further extend his practice in different ways.
In early March of 2023, Nordström arrived at the BORCH Editions print studio in Copenhagen with his backpack and his new puppy Rio, ready to commence a two-week residency. He and Rio were to stay in the workshop’s guest room while he made a new series of etchings. Nordström had previously made three etchings when he visited the workshop the year before, and the idea was to continue where he left off and see where things would lead. He clearly enjoyed being in amongst the printers and their presses again, with Rio happily napping at his side.
For him, drawing seemed the most natural entry point to commence making prints, so he began working with pencil on paper, drawing from his own extensive archive of figures and motifs that have evolved over the years through the various mediums of his practice. While the figures (and dogs) that populate his world are uniquely Nordström – his visual language is quite distinctive – his practice cannot be characterized by his native country of Sweden. The scenes that he constructs are depictions of everyday occurrences, which have universal relevance, albeit seemingly set in another era. Nordström’s figures can be quite awkward and adorned with historical clothing; they are often surrounded by Victorian era furniture; and he employs a soft, muted palette throughout his practice that is reminiscent of the 1950s. The combination is disconcerting. It can be difficult to ‘place’ the works – when they were made and out of what context did they emerge. Yet you get the feeling that Nordström enjoys this unease, and his wry grin usually accompanies his creative meanderings.
After a week of working with master printer Julie Dam, proofing line etchings and trialling various colour combinations with multiple plates, everything began to fall into place for Nordström. He had the realisation that soft ground and drypoint were the techniques with which he could work best. These techniques allowed him to approach making prints in a similar way to his drawing practice. While at the same time he could experiment with a complex layering of incidental marks and colours in a similar way to his collage practice. This was all made possible with the printing expertise of Dam. Through utilising similar techniques but in a different medium, the prints created in the workshop became a distinct extension of Nordström’s practice, opening up new possibilities in mark-making and experimentation. He embraced an element of chance by incorporating layers of incidental scratches printed from the backsides of the copper plates. Further marks were created by scuffing the plates on the ground. He also built-up layers of colours using three plates for each print, each featuring soft ground and drypoint drawings, each printed in multiple colours. His familiar lexicon was broadened and his enthusiasm for the new works was infectious.
The subjects of the new series of five prints, The Copenhagen Suite 2023, were derived through a combination of sources including a vintage photo book about Copenhagen; scenes from the windows of the print studio; and the characters that have inhabited his collages and watercolour paintings for years. Two dapper gentlemen greet each other on the staircase in When I Met Myself; a polite yet absurd interaction, with a certain awkward tension between the figures that is accentuated through the random scratches that occupy the entire image. Der Künstler im Garten (The Artist in the Garden) features an artist at his easel, stiff and red-faced, perhaps in trepidation of his forthcoming artistic performance. In Hatten av (Hat Off), the protagonist seems frustrated, his face is contorted and green, and his hat is displaced, with another ludicrously enormous hat lying behind him. Again, the random scratches incorporated in this etching contribute to the overall mood of the image, giving a feeling of slap-stick frustration and suggest a loss of control. Levitering (Levitation) and Kungens klubb (The King’s Club) feature multiple characters, mid-action – from levitating mid-air to drinking beers and reading in an exclusive clubroom. It is tempting to create your own narrative to connect these etchings. In each of them Nordström sets an imagined scene, giving just enough details to intrigue, without answering any of the questions they provoke.
Some of the architectural features in The Copenhagen Suite 2023 seem familiar and connected to the environment in which they were made, however they could equally be the front steps of a New York Brownstone, or a courtyard in Stockholm. The brilliance of Nordström’s images is that while they are usually populated by highly personal stories, references, and figures, they simultaneously evoke more universal situations that are often endearing and eminently relatable to all.
This connection with the viewer is strengthened by the way in which the works are constructed. There is a raw honesty to Nordström’s practice, evident in the revisions and subtractions of his drawings, the random scratches across his etchings, and the unwieldy gestures of his kinetic sculptures. Together they communicate the artist’s continual playful experimentation as well as his open struggle to find the right line, position, or composition. In turn, we can relate to that struggle and find the humour in our own personal situations.
In the end Nordström extended his stay a little – he and Rio had found a good rhythm to their days in the print studio and they enjoyed walking in the surrounding industrial area of Copenhagen. The new suite of etchings had gained momentum and all five were resolved by the last day, ready for the editioning process to begin.
ABOUT JOCKUM NORDSTRÖM
Nordström has been exhibiting regularly in New York and London with his representative gallery since 2000. Institutional exhibitions include No paper, no coins at Liljevalchs+, Stockholm in 2023; and Pour ne pas dormir, at La Criée centre d’art contemporain, Rennes, France in 2021. In 2020, Skissernas Museum in Lund, Sweden presented the solo exhibition Without Lantern. In 2018, solo exhibition of the artist’s work entitled Why is Everything a Rag was presented at the Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans. In 2013, the artist had a major European survey, All I Have Learned and Forgotten Again, which was on view at Lille Métropole, musée d’art moderne, d’art contemporain et d’art brut in Villeneuve d’Ascq, France, before it traveled to the Camden Arts Centre in London, making it the first solo exhibition of his work in the city. Other solo shows include those organized by the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (2012); Swedish Institute, Paris (2011); Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin (2010); and Moderna Museet, Stockholm (2005).
Work by the artist is represented in museum collections that include The British Museum, London; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio; Göteborgs Konstmuseum, Gothenburg, Sweden; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst (S.M.A.K.), Ghent; Västerås Konstmuseum, Sweden; and the Weatherspoon Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
Jockum Nordström was born in 1963 in Stockholm, Sweden, where he continues to live and work. He has been collaborating with BORCH Editions since 2022.
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