(originally published on the Coilhouse blog, June 30th, 2011)
“I paint my demons. I paint nightmares. To get rid of them. I paint my fears. I paint my sorrow. To deal with them.” – Mia Mäkilä
Mia Mäkilä, a self-taught artist who lives and works in Sweden, describes her art as “horror pop surrealism” or “dark lowbrow” and further illustrates: “Picture Pippi Longstocking and Swedish movie director Ingmar Bergman having a love child. That’s me.”
Her work consists of digital paintings and vintage photographs manipulated and distorted to produce nightmarish mixed media portraits. The creations borne of Mäkilä’s artistic process are both uncomfortably horrific and unaccountably humorous– demonic entities lurk in the form of gash-mouthed, leering Victorian families staring from within a tintype void. Fire-breathing/ennui-stricken and dandified gentlemen ejaculate from the precarious heights of a Parisian rooftop. All manner of flaming Boschian hells overflow with cavorting fish and flamingos and God knows what else.
Can all the world’s fears and sorrows, splashed and splattered in fiendish form on canvas, truly be this ghastly, this wretched, this… funny? Equally terrifying to contemplate: what malignant spirits might we coax to the surface, were we to make art conjured from similar soul-sourcing? Coilhouse’s recent interview with Mäkilä yields candid anecdotes about her own process; by examining the evidence of her painted demons, perhaps we can discern how to have a little fun exorcising our own.
You describe your art as “dark lowbrow” and refer to a “dark lowbrow movement”. Please tell us about that.
Mia Mäkilä: I think I’ve gone from horror art and more of a gothic style, to a more pinkish lowbrow style with cuteness/horror rather than the gothic elements, and I feel more at home with the lowbrow artists than the gothic ones. I don’t listen to Marilyn Manson or slice my wrists when I feel bad, and I certainly do not paint my lips with black lipstick. I love life and I celebrate it everyday, so my mind isn’t as dark as my paintings. I enjoy music from the ’80s, classical music and don’t watch any splatter horror movies; I love Ingmar Bergman, Hitchcock, David Lynch, John Waters and cute romantic comedies from the ’80s, like “The Breakfast Club”, so I’m not that dark minded after all.
But I love that mix of dark and cute, sad and happy, and the juxtaposition of the ugly and the beautiful. I am darker than a “regular” artist might be, but I am too light for the horror genre, so I am in between – just between a toyish and light style of lowbrow (pop-surrealism) and dark horror/gothic style.
You mention that the horror in your art is your way of processing difficult themes such as “fear, angst, madness, rage and sorrow “, and you list Ingmar Bergman, David Lynch, Tim Burton as influences for their dark drama and symbolic inner worlds. But you’ve also said that you use a lot of humor to do this, and seem to enjoy making “… demons [have] fun on the canvas”. I am curious to hear about your inspirations and influences in this vein. What makes you laugh, what are your amusements– and how does that translate into the exquisite grotesqueries you create?
I am very amused by the unexpected. It could be funny pictures I’ve found on the Internet of a very fat naked woman with a bottle stuffed in her ass . I mean, who takes such pictures, who’s that woman, what was the actual situation like and how on earth did it get on the Internet? That’s very funny, I think. I collect such pictures, and I post them on my blog as well, just to show people how funny reality can be.
An at the same time, it’s disgusting and sad. I mean, a bottle in a fat lady’s ass is quite disgusting and sad but still very funny. I like that mix of emotions. I don’t like funny pictures that are staged or faked, I like the coincidental humor, when you have no control over the situation and it just accidentally becomes funny– like a joke made by the cosmos. I use stuff like that in my collages; my paper cutouts become jokes of scary and disgusting combinations, just like the strange images I find on the Internet.
I read somewhere that you said – “I don’t believe in artist as moneymakers, but as magicians.” Do you mean magicians as in purveyors of trickery and illusions? Or perhaps in a more occult, esoteric sense? Both? Neither? I’d love to hear additional thoughts on that.
What I meant by that was, I don’t believe you can pinpoint what “art” really is, it’s when the artist has made an illusion that people can be fooled by. Just like a movie is an illusion of something real, art can be an illusion of something real or unreal. It’s very interesting, really. Art doesn’t need to feel real, but when you have made a really good piece of work, you give it life and it becomes this real and authentic world of it’s own.
Upcoming projects? Collaborations? Shows?
I’m working right now on a new collection of both paintings and digital collages and I have some projects and future show that I’m keeping a secret for now…