Swedish artist Mikael Takacs is a master marbler, a term most people outside the art community probably do not know. Marbling is a centuries-old technique in which artists use tools to create patterns in the paint, and Takacs in particular creates patterns that, when viewed from a distance, resemble people. His latest exhibit, Embodiment of Secrets at Corey Helford Gallery in Los Angeles, takes his characters to a new level by personifying secrets told to him via social media and Stockholm locals. PRØHBTD spoke with Takacs to learn more.
You use pipettes to create marbled patterns in your artwork. Is there a particular emotion or reaction that you hope to capture through this technique?
I think the contrast between the intricate patterns and the somewhat fuzzy characters they transform into as you take a few steps back opens up for a dialogue between the viewer and the piece. It might make it both easier and harder for people to relate to the character they are looking at. It could be harder since you can't really see who it is, or maybe easier since you can project so much of your own thoughts or feelings onto someone you can just barely make out.
You use combs, sticks and other tools to create the marbling. What are some of the more unusual tools you have used to create this effect? And what is an example of a tool you tried to use that did not work out so well?
I don't know how unusual the other tools are, but I have tried marbling with spoons and ice cream sticks. The tool that comes most in handy is a trusty old brush which I use upside down. I did try to use the same brush with the bristle down in the paint, but it absorbed too much of the paint to work. I tried that once, and never again.
If we look beyond the patterns in your artwork, what should we look for in the character themselves?
Looking past the patterns and onto the characters, they can look pretty inexplicit. Even though the marbled patterns are razor sharp, they form the actual characters in a pretty vague way. I think it ends up showing enough for the viewer to get an idea of what's going on, and then leaves them halfway, encouraging them to introspect, which can lead to a ton of different interpretations of these characters.
You titled your new exhibit Embodiment of Secrets. How does the title reflect stylistic themes in the artwork itself?
The title of the new exhibit stems from the idea that I would let the public share secrets with me, which I then would use as titles for the pieces. Since my portraits tend to look sort of unclear and a bit blurry, which has a kind of anonymizing effect, I thought it might be cool to let my subjects embody the secrets or confessions of those willing to anonymously share them with me. I placed out confession boxes at a few workplaces around Stockholm asking people if they would like to share a secret. I asked my Instagram followers the same thing, and I ended up having more than a hundred confessions to choose from. The confessions that I thought were the most intriguing and suited my work the best ended up in the show, and they are now embodied by my characters.
Like I said earlier, I like to show you enough to get an idea, and then leave you halfway, but with this exhibition, I decided to lead you a little bit further, with the help of the confessions shared with me.
How have you seen your artwork evolve in the past two years, and what directions do you see yourself going in the next two?
Looking back at the past two years, I think I have come a long way. The marbling technique was still pretty new to me. I learned something new with every painting I made, and I'm still learning a lot as I work. Two years ago, my pieces were a lot smaller, the colors were unbearably bright, and the patterns weren't nearly as intricate as they are now.
In two years time I definitely want to be able to paint much larger pieces, which is a bit of a problem with this technique. Since I use a very thick layer of paint, the canvas has to be completely horizontal, or else the paint would run off. The obstacle I have to overcome is being able to reach the whole canvas from the sides, which becomes more of a problem the bigger my pieces get. This is something I have started working on recently, and I do hope that I will come up with a good solution pretty soon, and maybe have it perfected in two years time.
I imagine your artwork must be especially magical if someone looks at it while tripping on acid or mushrooms. Have you talked with people who experienced your artwork while on psychedelics?
I haven't yet, but I would love to talk to someone who has experienced this.
Earlier this year, you said you planned to move to Stockholm in the summer. How have you adapted to the change, and has the big city made any specific impact in this short period of time on the characters or stories you tell through the artwork?
If anything, I have spent more time in the studio since I moved to Stockholm, which might seem a little odd since there is so much more to do in the capital. It is probably because I am slightly lonelier in Stockholm since a lot of my friends and family are back in my home town, which has made me spend more time than ever in the studio. But I guess that's a good thing, with my biggest show yet coming up.
David Jenison (email@example.com) is Editor-in-Chief at PRØHBTD.