In the studio with Kasper Jacek

In the studio with Kasper Jacek, a self-taught artist whose practice work explores objects, places, and landscapes in which myths and memories haunt the present. We met with Kasper to tell us more about growing up in a small town close to Aarhus, Denmark, his greatest influences, and letting go and trusting his intuition.

When did you first begin to see yourself as an artist?

I’m still learning how to be an artist and see myself as one. I have a background in History of Ideas and Journalism, working with research dissemination and cultural journalism. I didn’t think I would end up a visual artist, but I have always been writing and exploring all kinds of art. I just started painting seriously four years ago. I got obsessed with it and bought my first 10 meter roll of canvas early in the process. I think that’s the moment. I still get super excited when new rolls of canvas arrive!

Where are you from and what was your upbringing like? 

I’m from a small town close to Aarhus in Denmark, Odder. A couple of years ago my wife and I bought an old house and moved back to Odder. I spent the last couple of years renovating the house and turning the old garage into a studio space. The most important thing for me to tell about my childhood: I have had OCD since I was a child and suffered from obsessions for most of my youth. And I still do. I don’t consider my art to be about mental illness, but I think it has given me something that is evident in my artworks: a vulnerability, a way of being in the world, specific sensibility to my surroundings.

What inspired you to first pursue, and then continue to practice, artistic work? 

My first work was a linocut of a plowed field with a heap of stones at the field’s edge. As I was making this image, I liked the idea of the rounded iron, digging into the lino material almost like the plow into the ground, revealing the layers beneath the surface. This was my first work and since then it’s just been an obsession for me. When I started making paper collages – using the old linocuts as my material – I felt I had found a way of working that fitted the way I like to work with materials; imitating movements and processes in the world. And heaps of stone and fields are still some of my main motifs.

What’s the message of your work? 

My work is very much a continuation of my academic and journalistic work on the subject of place, working with the historicity of places, the mythologies and memories bound to certain objects and places – and exploring new ways to tell stories about objects.

Sometimes I work almost entirely abstract – other times the figurative objects dominate the artwork. I add, cut, rearrange and paint over the layers of material in my collages, leaving only traces of the former layers – or ripping away layers to reveal the past. Things, memories and visions are all piled on top of each other, finding new meaning, intertwining and fragmenting. 

I work with the idea that my artworks are multi-temporal scenes in which myths, old objects, memories and possible futures are all present simultaneously, mixing materials, scales and styles to create dynamic and dense works.

Who are your greatest influences? 

Hannelore Baron’s experiments with fabrics and compositions are a continued source of inspiration – and Anselm Kiefer’s enormous works from the exhibition For Louis-Ferdinand Céline: Voyage au bout de la nuit at Copenhagen Contemporary was my first real life meeting with paintings of that scale and ambition. The flow of the paint and the deep cracks in the thick layers are still very much present in my mind.

But I find daily inspiration in my contemporaries. Right now I love Jadé Fadojutimi, Armando Mesías, Camilla Reyman, Daisy Parris, Stan Van Steendam, Muzae Sesay, Max Freund, Jane Margarette, Marria Pratts, Joshua Hagler, Santeri Lehto, J. G. Arvidsson, Frederic Anderson, Loren Erdrich, Jenny Brosinski, Sóley Ragnarsdóttir, Joël Bigaignon, Gommar Gilliams. And many many more.

An unexpected source of inspiration?

All of my dad’s old hobbies are turning into methods of working with different materials in my works. Growing up, I watched him work with wood, leather, tying flies for fly fishing and metals when he was making lures. I think this gave me a familiarity with all kinds of materials and how to process them. I call him every time I have a new idea.

What do you want people to take from your work when they view it?

I want to create pieces that tell stories about specific places and objects, but leave room for the viewer’s own memories and sensibility to the world.

What events in your life have mobilised change in your practice?

Talking to other artists and studying other people’s art. I have a natural tendency to experiment and integrate new materials and motifs in my works. Talking to other artists and looking at the art that inspires me, made me realize that I need to become more aware of what I consider my own visual language. Now I’m always trying to cut away all of the noise – and do what I do even more and with even more intent and precision. 

What are your ideal conditions or catalyst for creating a “good” piece of work?

I think it is letting go. I have a very clear idea about my compositions and spend a lot of time preparing for my works – sketching, priming canvas, coloring materials, cutting materials and sewing the pieces of material together. This process sometimes leads to works that just hit the spot straight away. But, usually, I have to abandon the initial idea and in this process I struggle to let go – and just start the process of painting and adding new layers of materials. Even though I know that the best works are often the works I have struggled the most with. The short answer: Letting go and trusting my decisions.

Tell us about the inspiration behind one of your works?

In Pendant, I wanted to create a pendant of a bird someone found, wrapped in a small piece of dissolving cloth. I cut leftover canvas and raw material, painted and wove the pieces together.

Something in the future you hope to explore?

I would love to use even more materials in my artworks – I’m currently working on how to integrate metal in my works.

Describe your work in three words:

Memories, layers and materials.

What do you listen to while you work?

Your Queen is a Reptile by Sons of Kemet is an album I have heard on repeat for the last couple of years. I recently went to a great concert with Guiding Star Orchestra. I’m always using all kinds of art to reflect on my own praxis. And during a trumpet solo I thought to myself: My art needs to be like the sound of a trumpet – clean and crisp. I’m still trying to get my artwork to look like the trumpet sounds.

What is your favorite read?

Anything by W. G. Sebald and Herta Müller.

Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

After having been given an opportunity at a gallery, another artist told me “Now you just have to make work that can’t be ignored.” You easily get caught up in all kinds of stuff. I have to constantly remind myself that it is about the artwork.

What makes you laugh ?

My daughters and Tim Robinson.

What makes you nervous?

This is an old OCD thing: long-distance traveling without access to toilets truly horrifies me.

Is there anything you wish you were asked more often?

I’m self-absorbed enough to always want people to ask me more about my art.

Is there anything you’ve recently tried for the first time? 

Real Spaghetti Carbonara. No cream. Just perfect.

Is there anything you’ve been hesitant to try in the past but you’d like to this year?

Traveling with children.

Do you have any superstitions?

I believe in ghosts.

Would you rather know what the future holds or be surprised?

I would be scared to know what the future holds on this planet.

What palace in your everyday environment do you go to for inspiration?

Poetry and a small creek near my house. The reflections and shadows in the water provide endless inspiration.

What are some things you’re most passionate about outside of your practice?

I love cooking without a recipe and watching football.

What is your relationship with social media?

It’s complicated. Instagram probably changed the art world, offering opportunities to people who would never have had a chance to get into the art world. I have had great conversations with other artists on Instagram and even made some really close friends. But it’s time consuming and addictive. Also, I love scrolling through other people’s art, but I also find myself obsessing about the success of others, and lose sight of the main thing: making work that can’t be ignored.