Anna Blom discusses her unique painting style, which she describes as “observational portraits of emotions.” Blom blends her Swedish roots and various mediums, like raw pigments and situational debris, to capture the essence of emotions and human coexistence.
Anna Blom – My work is a recording of happenings which takes a diaristic approach, focusing on the less celebrated feelings that are often overlooked. I’m fascinated by humans and their coexistence. If I weren’t an artist, I would have explored becoming a psychologist. I see my paintings as observational portraits of emotions. I’m London based, but with Swedish roots and I frequently return to work in my summer studio in Stockholm.
Kelly Foster – It’s intriguing that you describe your work as portraits of emotions. Portraiture usually implies figurative work.
AB – I use the term “portraits” because these works capture the essence of emotions or feelings. People often try to categorise my work as either abstract or figurative, but I don’t see those labels as applicable. My environment sometimes appears extremely abstract; other times, it seems more figurative. My paintings capture this duality, almost like walking through a room where an emotional event has occurred. Scientifically, humans release specific smells during intense emotions, and I try to capture that feeling through the pigment on my canvas.
KF – That’s really interesting, this investigation into psychology. Are you always focusing on a specific person in your work? Or is it more of a reflection on emotional states in a more abstract sense?
AB – Initially, I was quite specific, as my work has a diaristic methodology, it would often feature people close to me. However, I’ve learned that when emotions are running high, you have to be careful with how you portray people. So my pieces have become more representative than specific. My research involves reading, people-watching, sketching, and also recording sound—kind of like the white noise of our everyday lives. This sound, much like smell, often goes unnoticed because we’re such visual beings. But sound can evoke strong emotions, too.
KF – You were talking about how the environment impacts your work. I noticed that you use situational debris in your work, which seems very tactile and influenced by your surroundings. How does that change when you work in a controlled studio environment?
AB – The ‘situational debris’ are particles from the environment I work in; it can be gravel, pine needles, bread crumbs, dust. The change of studio will reflect this and be a reminder where the work was produced – as an extension of place and time. For instance, I’m going to Sweden in four days, and I’m bringing 20 metres of canvas with me. Whatever is in the air will literally find its way onto the canvas. Once I get to the sixth or seventh layer, I can bring the work into a more controlled studio environment to go into the finer details.
KF – So the studio environment has a different impact depending on what part of the process you’re in? It’s more about refining the work?
AB – Exactly, it’s about the refining. The last layers, out of maybe ten, are done in the studio.
KF – Your work evokes strong emotions for me. They feel almost celestial and have this atmosphere and calmness to them. How did you develop this unique style?
AB – About five or six years ago, my work was more figurative, as traditional art would have it. But conceptually, it still focused on the same themes: recognizing the overlooked, if you will. I attended the Royal College of Art (RCA) for my master’s in painting, driven by my curiosity about paint. I dedicated those two years to exploring paint in-depth.
I initially began with traditional oil paint, but found it too sticky for my liking. Not to mention, oil paint has its own sticky history. That led me to raw pigments, which have been with us forever. Depending on the type of binder you use, raw pigments offer incredible flexibility—they can be as watery or as thick as you want them to be.
This flexibility allowed me to experiment fully, treating colour almost like a language. If I were a psychologist, I would use words to discuss emotions; instead, I use colours and pigments to build my own language. With pigments, you can adjust the composition based on the intensity of a situation, creating a lighter or denser atmosphere. Over time, my focus on minute details has led my work to become increasingly abstract. Our world is becoming increasingly unsettling, which, in my view, makes abstraction all the more relevant.
KF – I find it fascinating that you use raw pigments. It’s like returning to nature, connecting your work to both human nature and the environment. This strikes me as inherently spiritual, as if your art speaks to the interconnectedness of all things. Would you say that’s intentional?
AB – Absolutely, one hundred percent. The pigments I’m drawn to are earthy tones, what some might call mundane colours. They may not be Instagram-friendly, but they resonate with me, possibly due to my Scandinavian heritage. I believe it’s important to be rooted in nature, especially as our world leans more and more towards technology.
Maintaining our sensory language is crucial, whether it’s smell, sound, or otherwise. If we neglect these languages, we may lose them altogether. For me, reconnecting with nature not only grounds my art but also serves as a stabilising force in an increasingly chaotic world.
KF – Our world is becoming so overwhelmed with technology and AI that we’re losing touch with reality and nature. Your art serves as a counterpoint, an alternative perspective that emphasises reconnection with nature and oneself. The act of creating seems like an exercise in mindfulness, drawing attention to the present, which is all that truly exists.
AB – I hadn’t thought of it in that way, but you’re probably right. Painting is an inherently slow process that demands time and attention. Years ago, I combined drawing, painting, and installations; although my focus has shifted primarily to painting, I still incorporate elements of installation. The environment surrounding the paintings can significantly affect how they’re received.
Painting demands a longer attention span, something increasingly rare in our fast-scrolling world. While not everyone will give it that time, the potential for deeper engagement is there. I believe that various forms of artistic expression—be it sculpture, installations, or painting—alongside disciplines like biology and mathematics, all contribute to a fuller understanding of the truth.
KF – I appreciate how intentional you are about inviting the viewer to pause and explore the various elements you’ve incorporated, whether it’s through colour, form, or technique. It seems you have combined methods like splattering and layering to make it more engaging.
AB – Yes, particularly with the larger pieces, which measure around 180 cm, it’s crucial to see them in person. These expansive works are built on many pockets of happenings. When you step back for a broader perspective and then move in closer, it becomes an experience similar to cloud-watching; you continually discover new aspects within the painting. Many people have shared that they constantly discover new elements within the paintings and that makes me happy.
KF – That resonates with me. Good abstract art often encourages viewers to engage in personal interpretations. When you create these pieces, do you start with a specific emotional intent? Are they like abstract portraits capturing specific emotions, or is the creation more intuitive?
AB – The process starts very intuitively. For the first several layers, the canvas is unstretched and horizontal. I let the paint flow freely. This phase depends on various factors, like the season or current weather. When I’m satisfied with hues and light I bring the canvas inside and stretch it.
I often write during this time, although those writings never appear on the canvas. They’re more like dialogues that I have with the work, helping me to understand what the painting reveals about my current state of mind. It’s very much like keeping a diary, with each painting representing a different page or emotion. I usually work on multiple paintings at once, as it allows the paintings to marinate between the painting sessions.
KF – That adds so much depth to my understanding of your work. Initially, when I read that your approach was diaristic, I wasn’t quite sure what that meant. Now it makes sense. You’re essentially using your paintings as a tool to navigate your relationships and emotions. And it’s fascinating how the painting becomes a sort of living entity with which you interact—sitting with it, feeling it, and even writing to it. I love that the writing remains private while the painting serves as the public manifestation of your process.
AB – Exactly. It’s almost like an archival process, a continual investigation into how we coexist and communicate. Regardless of whether I have an upcoming show or not, this work continues. It’s about more than just preparing for exhibitions; it’s a way of examining life itself.
KF – That’s incredibly insightful. Your work doesn’t just stand alone; it integrates seamlessly into your daily existence, helping you make sense of your life. It’s a refreshing perspective that adds a whole new layer to how I view your art.
I also appreciate how the act of creation varies depending on the seasons. Our lives are influenced by the changing seasons and nature, and I find it fascinating how you immerse yourself in the environment to let it influence your work. It’s like you’re archiving different states of mind and life patterns.
AB – Yes, maybe the ‘situational debris’ on my canvases is almost like archaeology. I never forcibly include elements from my surroundings, but if they naturally find a place in my work, they are more than welcome. It helps to create memories of where I’ve been and what was near me at the time. In the future, people might look at these paintings and see things that no longer exist in their world. I even sold a painting that had a krill embedded in it, and the buyer found it beautiful because it captured a specific moment in time.
KF – That’s remarkable. It adds depth and life to the artwork. It’s like Duchamp collecting dust; you’re collecting the environment around you. So, how do you decide when something works or doesn’t, given this process-based approach? When do you determine that a piece is finished?
AB – That’s one reason why I work on multiple paintings simultaneously. Working on only one painting at the time can sometimes lead to overworking a piece, especially when the subject matter is ephemeral and layered. I aim to leave enough room for both myself and the viewer to create their own narrative. Rotating between multiple paintings gives them time to mature. Sometimes, stepping away and coming back helps me see what a painting needs. I often spend more time looking at the work than actually working on it.
KF – Absolutely. The more experience you gain looking at paintings, the more it shapes your perception, both as a curator and as an artist. I love the idea of letting the paintings marinate and evolve over time.
AB – There was one painting I struggled with for months. It felt like looking through foggy glass. Seven months later, I finally realised what it needed. Having the solitude to work in my garden without interruptions is crucial for me. There’s a time for conversation and a time for solitude.
KF – When you’re in this state of solitude, what goes through your mind? Are you working in complete silence?
AB – Yes, I work in silence. I find that any form of auditory stimulus, like music or podcasts, distracts me. The silence allows me to enter a flow state, similar to swimming, where I can think more clearly.
KF – So, it seems like there are different phases in your creative process. One is a silent, intuitive flow state, and the other involves more analytical, diaristic writing. Would you say there’s also a third phase involving refinement, perhaps in a studio setting?
AB – I believe we all live in a world that’s quite confined. I try to explore the liminal, or in-between spaces within that world. It’s not something that can be easily categorised; life is a constant cycle of events. Whether it’s something I’m experiencing, something involving my family, or even just observing people at a bus stop, it’s all part of how we coexist. My research goes into understanding this coexistence, and then I express it through my current medium, which is painting. To do that, I need quietness to remember and feel these moments deeply. I hope that when people see my paintings, they have an intimate experience with the work. It’s a combination of all these elements.