Jockum Nordström’s work, according to New York Times critic Roberta Smith, “is a more or less truculent crazy quilt of images, styles and events. Past and present are one, and the subconscious is present.” Nordström was born in 1963 in the suburbs of Stockholm, Sweden. He grew up watching his mother sew, and has always been interested in textiles. He has made drawings as long as he can remember. He studied art at Stockholm College of Art and Design, and began showing his work in Sweden in the late eighties. It was not long until Americans found out about him. He was included in a group show at the Jack Hanley Gallery in San Francisco in 1999, and then in 2000 joined the David Zwirner Gallery in New York, where his wife, the painter Karin Mamma Andersson, is also represented. Nordström had a major solo exhibition accompanied by the publication of a catalog at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm in 2005.
Nordström is an artistic omnivore. He makes furniture, designs carpets, illustrates children’s books (including the popular Swedish series Sailor and Pekka), designs album covers, constructs architectural models, and makes animated films. When he discovered he was allergic to oil paints, he adopted watercolor, gouache, graphite, and scissors as his primary tools. He builds many images with collage, and is always making new parts (he has a whole drawer of heads) to fill up his compositions. One can feel a restless energy in his collage characters, as if they get out of their drawers in the middle of the night and make up new situations while no one is looking. Nordström’s collage technique adapted easily to the etching process for a 2008 print project at Crown Point Press.
While Nordström’s style refers to folk and naïve traditions, it is sophisticated and precise. Songbirds grip their reed perches with carefully observed feet, and the gestures of the figures are exact. Notice, for instance, how the girls’ fingers are spread out on their thighs to smooth down their very short skirts. As Roberta Smith put it, “Nordström’s drawings have a hallucinatory power all their own, which emanates less from his imagery than from the extraordinary range of drawing techniques that bring it into being.”
Nordström and his family have chosen a quiet suburban life. Modern apartment blocks stretch across many of his drawings. The imaginary world of the paintings seems like a secret diamond mine having come from an ordinary place. Chris Johanson, interviewing Nordström for ANP Quarterly, asked how his life makes its way into his work. Nordström replied, “ If you stand for something, then you have to free yourself many times, maybe all the time. Free yourself from your prototypes, from yourself, from your parents, from fear and tiredness.”
Nordström’s work is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, and many private collections in Europe and the United States. He is represented by Galleri Magnus Karlsson in Stockholm, and David Zwirner in New York.