Interview: Haervaerk (LAVA Collective)

LAVA Collective have been under our proverbial radar for a couple of years now after showcasing the astonishing work of acclaimed international artists such as Shepard Fairey, Swoon, and Dalek to name but a few. But as their aim states on their website, the real focus of LAVA is to showcase emerging talent, not confining themselves to one country or continent but to provide a platform for these gifted artists globally. Ashes57 is one valuable piece to the LAVA jigsaw, a talent that we have had the absolute pleasure of collaborating with on a limited run of Ashes57 x Mimm tees as well as having some of her work exhibited in the shop over the past six weeks.

With that, our attention is now turned to another artist also part of the collective, named Haervaerk (translated to ‘Vandalism’). Representing LAVA’s Scandivian contingency, the artist creates these bizarre yet endearing characters with a range of mixed media demonstrating a fascination with line and form and an exceptionally strong palette of colour. Haervaerk was kind enough to take some time out to talk to us about his work, what inspires him and the meaning behind his anarchic moniker.

Read the full interview below.

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Michael: Your work consists of childlike qualities yet there appears to be an almost dark element to your illustrations. Who do you draw on for inspiration and what are you trying to portray through your characters?

Haervaerk: Well, life is pretty much the biggest source of inspiration you can sink your teeth into, right? I mean, you feel, think and try to make some sort of sense out of it all. You have good times and you have shitty times, but you always pull through in the end. When the going gets rough, you can always take a few steps back, and no matter how bad things may seem, you can always, always find something fragile and beautiful in even the shittiest of situations. That’s definitely one of the things I try to portray in my art. There’s just some great power in that contrast between despair and hope, and yeah, call me a fragile fruitcake, but I think we all need to be reminded that things are going to work out one way or another. There’s definitely a storytelling element to it as well, and I try to tell some kind of universal story through all my work, something that everyone can pretty much relate to. 

Besides drawing on the things that are bumping around inside me, there’s a ton of artists who are a great source of inspiration. Danish writers and poets like Tom Kristensen, Henrik Nordbrandt and Michael Strunge. Old school Delta Blues men like Blind Willie Johnson, Robert Johnson and Lightnin’ Hopkins. Artists like Husk Mit Navn, Henry Heerup, Os Gemeos and Tove Janssons, ‘The Moomins’. Swedish tattoo artists Jonas Uggli and Johannes Bengtsson. All of them have a strong melancholic side to them that really appeals to me.

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M: Tell us a bit about growing up in Aalborg. How has it helped develop your artistic style? 

H: Aw man, Aalborg is the kind of city you don’t leave without scars on your soul! It’s a rough place, but again, there is a lot of beauty to be found. I’ve always been drawing a lot, and took my education as a graphic designer at the local collage. I just couldn’t stand the thought of having a job where I couldn’t be creative. I ended up working on the local newspaper for some years, which was kind of cool. Combining your dream of an artistic career with a 37-hour week day-job takes a lot of sacrifice. You basically get up in the morning, go to work, go home, paint, go to bed, and repeat the next day. When your mates go out in the weekends, you stay home and paint, ‘cause you can’t afford spending a day during the weekend with hangovers. Yeah, it was tough, but I made the choice myself, and I’ve never had any regrets. Copenhagen is a nice place to live, and it really boosted my inspiration. Funny thing is, I’m not quite sure why just yet, ‘cause I really don’t do much besides working in my studio. Maybe it’s the change of air, or knowing that there is a bunch of great events available at all time that does it? I’m not sure, but I’ll find out some day. 

M: You successfully exhibited some of your work in the UK earlier this year for LAVA Collective. How would you compare the art scene in Aalborg and Copenhagen to London? 

H: The London scene is so much more exiting than both Copenhagen and Aalborg. I first visited London this year and I just loved being able to walk in to a small gallery I’d never heard of and find David Choe. That just blew me away. That would never happen in Denmark. In Aalborg, there isn’t really much of an art scene at all, so I guess if you’re lucky, there might be one or two things a year that I’d be interested in going to. In Copenhagen, there’s definitely more, though. There’s pretty much something interesting going on every week, and a lot of it is grass roots and DIY founded, which I think is awesome. Just wish I had the time to go see it all. London has more glamour to it, I guess – David Choe, Banksy, Invader and what not. There’s not much of that in Denmark. Shepard Fairey visited this year, but both him and his work got smashed up, which was kind of lame. There’s a lot of stupidity like that, I guess most of it is based on what we call The Law of Jante, which roughly states: 

 "Don’t think you’re special

  Don’t think we’re equal

  Don’t think you’re smarter than us

  Don’t think you’re better than us 

  Don’t think you know more than us 

  Don’t think you’re more important than us 

  Don’t think you’re good at anything 

  Don’t laugh at us 

  Don’t think that anyone cares about you 

  Don’t think that you can teach us anything"

 Stupid rules, but a lot of people actually follow this shit!

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M: Your name translates to ‘Vandalism’. Can you tell us a bit more about this? Does this give us a good impression of your personality?! 

H: ‘Vandalism’ isn’t to be taken literally. It is the title of a novel by Danish author Tom Kristensen. There’s a poem in the book that means a lot to me, roughly translated to English it goes something like:

 “My anxiety must be redeemed in longing, and visions of horror and distress /  I’ve been longing for shipping disasters, vandalism and sudden death”

I know you guys are probably thinking I’m some sort of suicidal maniac, but It’s actually about being inspired. Sometimes it just feels like life is all good and sort of running on autopilot, which is nice but kind of boring. Since I find it much more exciting to working with more difficult and melancholic subjects, I guess that, to some degree, I am always longing for shipping disasters, vandalism and sudden death. Something to shake up things and throw you out of autopilot-mode, you know?

M: Totally. Wrapping things up, what can you tell us about what you’ve got in store for 2012?

I’ve got a real exiting year coming up, a lot of solo and group exhibitions in Denmark, a solo exhibition in Trondheim, Norway, which I’m really looking forward to. The gallery is called Rake Visninsrom and is an awesome place, built entirely from reused scrap wood, old windows and so on, lot’s of great materials, great lighting and some great people running it. The whole aesthetic look of the place has such a nice DIY feel to it, which really goes well with my work. I’ve also got a solo exhibition at a Danish Museum Of Modern Art, which is awesome. Doing a museum show has always been a major goal for me. Normally you have to think about the mere economic aspects of your works when doing a gallery show. When it comes down to it, you really want to sell your works, so you can get funding for more materials (and maybe an additional tattoo or two), but that’s really not an issue when doing a museum show. I can focus more on going all in, doing more crazy stuff, sculptures, installations and so on, without having to think about whether or not it can be sold. I have to do somewhere between 30 and 40 pieces of art for the show, so I definitely won’t be bored this winter!

A big thanks goes out to Haervaerk for his words. Keep up to date with all his artistic ramblings here.

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