This week we spoke to artist Roar Kjærnstad, a prominent Norwegian artist who exhibits his work internationally. He is highly regarded for his portraits and is regularly in Scotland to complete commissions through The Sutton Gallery, based on Dundas Street in Edinburgh. He is available for portrait commissions in Edinburgh throughout 2015 so we caught up with him to ask about the highlights and challenges of being an artist.
Tell us a little about your background
I was born in Hamar, Norway. I grew up in a small town called Espa. I went to primary school in a place called Stange, which is close to Espa and then spent one year at Nansenskolen in Lillehammer. I worked as an apprentice in Oslo for a few years before I set off for the Art Academy in Antwerp, Belgium. I am now based in Norway but I am also frequently in the UK, in Edinburgh and Durham, for example.
How would you describe your style of painting?
My style of painting is figurative but with some abstract elements. I would say I’m a figurative expressionist, and my style is based on ‘classical’ figurative painting. I study the work of Old Masters, from Flemish primitives to Rubens and Van Dyck. From these painters, I learned to become a craftsman with paint, which gives a very solid foundation.
What inspired you to become an artist?
I have always been interested in drawing – I started very early. I remember as a young lad, I often did tributes of old Norwegian artists, especially drawings of Norwegian fairytales, and Rembrandt’s drawings.
What do you love most about being an artist?
Basically I would say I’m a very passionate painter. To be honest, I simply can’t live without it. In fact, painting is completely integral to my personality. I am able to live with it and deal with it and make the best of it. This is crucial for where I am today as an artist. I feel I’m quite privileged to be able to be an artist and to share what I have to offer. It’s great to be able to share my work internationally around Europe as well as in my home country.
What are the challenges of being an artist?
The biggest challenge is your self. As an artist, you have to be focused all of the time. There are no breaks and it requires constant hard work to produce high quality work and to develop as an artist. You also have to be in touch with galleries a lot of the time and organise other opportunities for your work to be exhibited, all the while you also want to work on your own art. To live with this situation, you have to be very persistent and robust. There are always up and downs as an artist but in some sense you have to be like the legendary ‘Black Knight’, who never gives up.
You recently had an exhibition at The Sutton Gallery. What do you think of the Edinburgh art scene?
As far as I am concerned, the art scene in Edinburgh has been very open and welcoming. I have been treated like a Queen since I began working with them! I think I have achieved a lot in Edinburgh, despite my short stay. The exhibition in October was my first show in Scotland, and it turned out to be a great success!
You’re known for your portraiture work. What it is about portraits that fascinates you?
In general, I do really enjoy capturing the human face. I have always been fascinated by portraits. There is something about the human figure that I can’t just ignore as an artist. If I am painting a landscape, I pretty often end up adding people in to the scenery. There is always a certain mystery about portraits, you just can’t have enough of it because they are always different, even if you painted the same person every day, each one would be unique. This is because of the specific encounter of the portrait. You do not just paint the person, you also paint the moment of the portrait.
What is your favourite piece and why?
I couldn’t pick one piece but my favourite artists are Velazquez and Frans Hals, no doubt. They were the first Impressionists in a way. We speak about Monet and Manet today but to be honest a sense of Impressionism in art started long before that in my point of view.
What advice would you give someone looking to pursue a career as an artist?
Listen to your heart and your talent and go for it. I came from a small place and the odds of me having a chance become an artist, let alone to exhibit regularly, at home and abroad, and earn portrait commissions, were slim. Good advice is always crucial, but YOU make the last decision!