Red Dress by Karl Backman, 2008. Acrylic on canvas, 202 x 77cm.
An interview with Punk Rock Artist - Karl Backman, painter and member of bands The Vectors and AC4.
Backman was born in 1970 in Umea, Sweden. When he was 9 he got into punk and started his first band. As visual artist he started his activity making comics and designing posters. Author of such impressive paintings like "EPRS" or "5 Popes", today tells to us how his music is connected with his painting and why the boys with the Mohawk who belive in daily newspapers are not punk.
BR: How is going on playing with AC4?
Karl Backman: Yeah, as you know, we've just come back from a short tour of Sweden, and it was a strange one. I don't know what to say about it... we've never met so many stupid young men on tour before. I used to think 'it can't be that bad' when David said they hated their audience, but now I know. Really unintelligent nerds who manage to misunderstand every single word spoken on stage, or wannabe music business people who don't know the first thing about punk. It's sometimes fun and sometimes almost degrading. We've probably brought it on ourselves. We mostly have a good time though. It's worth doing. When we're at our best we're really good. And you know, drinking cold beer with your friends is not the worst of ways to make a living.
BR: Is your music in some way relative to your visual works?
KB: I've recently started work on a series of paintings that are an extension of the lyrics to a song by my band The Vectors called "Slaphappy", but that's the first time the connection between the two is expressed and intentional. The song is about the link between male sexuality and biological warfare, but the paintings incorporate more than that.
Both the art and the music is based on gut feelings. The use of a certain colour or a particular chord isn't really a result of an intellectual decision, though the themes and lyrics sometimes are. Of course it's all related in the way that they're my expression, and some themes keep popping up, like there's an obvious line from say the song "Rape the Pope" to the painting "5 Popes".
Blinds by Karl Backman, 2006. Acrylic on canvas, 111 x 144cm.
BR: You started work with art making comics, has it influenced your painting later?
KB: I'm surprised you knew that, and yeah, I think it has, in the way that I still use extreme contrasts between light and shadow, and I build the illusion of texture and dimensions with a number of single colour fields, rather than blend colours and shades into each other. This is of course also related to my experience in xerox copied art and screen prints.
The painting "Blinds" was a version of one of my old comic frames. When that was sold on the first day of exhibition I did some ldt ed screen prints based on it and I have a few copies of them left somewhere, if anyone's interested.
BR: Has pop art infulenced on you?
KB: Some of Richard Hamilton's collages still seem valid, and I like the colour reduction and graphic look of Andy Warhole's prints, but they seem a little empty. Pretty vacant. I think Roy Lichtenstein was less trivial, but his work still means very little to me. I like Robert Rauschenberg's late 60's prints a lot, if you count that as pop art. I like all of his stuff really. You're the first to ask me that question... I guess you can say that I sometimes use the language of pop art, but I tend to shout rather than speak, and usually about someting totally different.
BR: What is the role of sex in your works?
KB: I like sex. It's very important to me and some of my visual works are very sexual. The most interesting people to contact me all seem almost preoccupied with sex too. Both in a primal and near pornographic way, as well as having a genuine desire to understand their fantasies and preferences. I find most of the women who write to me really interesting. Women are generally more interesting then men, don't you think? Or maybe the boring women just avoid me. I like that idea.
If you want an intellectual yet very simple answer it's this; Sex and violence is life and death in action, it's central to everybody. Essential. Archetypical. And connected. That's why art is full of nudes and skulls. That's why 5 out of 6 internet pages are porn and the History channel is obsessed with Hitler. And ultimately that's why someone like me finds himself painting a masturbating girl on top of a big swastika or my girlfriend dropping her panties in front of a picture of Stalin.
EPRS by Karl Backman, 2005. Acrylic on linnen, 211 x 145cm.
BR: What inspireated you to paint "5 Popes"? I mean usually in your paintings we can find men or women of unknowing identity, in this you used concrete persons with concrete culutral background, which meaning they had for you?
KB: I have used real persons in other works, like the portrait of Edward Geary Lansdale, the ones of Jessica, not to mention "EPRS", which is a sort of sexual self portrait, and in the "B2" painting of course, so it's not the only one.
In "5 Popes" I wanted to adress a specific political problem that is so connected to the five popes depicted that it seemed almost impossible to do it any other way. It was not about the danger of the institution of the church, or the arrogance of a man accepting the role of pope, this problem begins with the popes themselves. It is personal. If someone's looking for the background to it, I had to write a rather lengthy piece on it when it was first exhibited, and that's all over the internet.
5 Popes by Karl Backman, 2005. Oil on linnen, 145 x 211cm.
BR: Why there is so much differences between representation of men and women in your paintings? In your works women usually are sensual and provocative in some way, while men seem much more cold or dingy or raw. It's intentional connected with gender or much more with topic of picture?
KB: That is a good question. It is intentional, yes. In "A1" and "A2" I wanted to adress the difference in the way both I and the whole world view and chose to present men and women. A man exposing his cock is seen as a threat whereas a woman showing her pussy is thought of as an invitation. I think another important difference is the fact that in the heterosexual world women are desired for simply being women, but men are only desired when they do something interesting or own something of value. Even with "EPRS" where the man is depicted as the giver and the woman as the taker, the effect on the viewer is the same as it would have been had it been done the other way around.
A1 by Karl Backman, 2003. Acrylic on linnen, 139 x 204cm.
A2 by Karl Backman, 2003. Acrylic on linnen, 139 x 204cm.
BR: Apart from the figurative painting you did also some abstractions, which are the differences in your way of working in this two different styles?
KB: The differences in execution are surprisingly small. The attention to colour, shape, light and composition is exactly the same. I sometimes think my abstract work express more of a general feeling or mood, but I'm not sure that that's true. As I've said in many interviews; I was attracted to abstract art long before I felt ready to paint any myself.
Composition 5 by Karl Backman, 2007. Acrylic on canvas, 111 x 144cm.
BR: How punk is expressed in your paintings?
KB: Both the decision to produce art instead of just consume it, and all ideas and visions discussed in this interview I think are directly connected to punk. The works wouldn't exist without my background or in another context. Certainly the influences of the Sex Pistols via Jamie Reid and Vivienne Westwood are almost painfully obvious in some works.
Skeleton 1 by Karl Backman, 2006. Acrylic on linnen, 96 x 144cm.
BR: Do you think that punk attitude has still a role in the avantguarde stream like in '70s and '80s or it has to change and get a new form?
KB: The attitude that punk originally represented was, is and will always be that of the outsider by choice. The more accepted punk has become, the more we get posers who dress up in punk clothes and play punk music, but still sell out and suck up to authorities and accept everthing as it is, and they're not punk. And all the people who say that punk is dead is simply using that as an excuse to justify their submission to mind numbing stupidity.
I'm only interested in existing if it's on my own terms, and that idea will never be outdated or nostalgic, though always subversive and dangerous to the bastards in power and the idiots destined to do their work.
BR: Punk accompanies you almost all your life, how changed you relation, your point of view on the movement?
KB: Punk is my first love, the object of my loyalty and one of the most important influences in my life. It has grown with me just as much as it has grown apart from me through the last 30 years of my life. There are aspects of it that I can not stand and there are aspects of it that I could not live without. I can be very arrogant at times, but I don't want to be a spokesperson for punk. I can't speak for all those involved in punk, in the same way that I can't speak for all men, Europeans, anarchists, artists, etc. All I can say is that I still believe in anarchy and chaos, I still refuse to return to normality and I still hate and love with a passion.
Karl Backman website
Find music of Karl Backman on myspace
The Vectors www.myspace.com/vectorspunk