Thursday, June 23, 2011

Martina Molin, Painter, London

Swedish painter Martina Molin focuses her work on femininity, simultaneously expressing an aspiration toward beauty itself and the desire for a more profound sentiment and existential value. Her subjects—usually women appearing to consciously straddle the divide of solitude and being gazed upon—reflect and filter the inner experience of being seen. She studied fine art in Stockholm before moving to London (where she currently resides) in 2001 to study painting and drawing, receiving her master’s in drawing from Camberwell College of Art in 2008. During her visit to New York for a private exhibition, we talked about the experience of becoming an image, the importance of portraying feminine presence and absence, the Swedish beauty aesthetic, and Falcon Crest. In her own words:

On Beauty and Secrets 
I’m trying to capture what I’m absorbed by, which is in part this kind of beauty ideal, but really it’s a blend of different scenarios and impressions. A lot of it’s coming from family, history, things you see when you’re little—for me it was this admiration of my mother and her twin sister, being a child seeing this grown-up world.

I had access to French Vogue as a child, and just looking at that and seeing my mother and aunt go out to a party was this kind of magic, forbidden world. It was these glamorous, beautiful women—their scent, their experience. It was their sophistication and beauty, with strong charisma, that inspired me. They were like real-life fairy tale princesses.

There’s a secret power or knowledge of your own femininity and sex appeal for women, and I think that’s quite obvious for a child to see, because you look at the other children and none of you have that—and it’s good that way. But I couldn’t help being intrigued by the charms of their appearance. I see women almost doing magic with their looks, with makeup and how they present themselves. And thus I developed an interest in beauty, as a child.

The Awakening of Love

In The Awakening of Love, the girl is nude, but there is a sense of innocence about her. I like to portray the awareness of being seen, and the value of being seen as beautiful. She’s on display but she’s aware of her own worth. It’s about her inner experience and wish to be desired.

Happy Birthday Girls

To me, the mirroring element in Happy Birthday Girls is a reflection of the thrilling sensation of getting older. To be at ease with your own reflection is to realize the potential of each age and not get stuck in what was. They’re celebrating a birthday, but it’s with a certain melancholy as they gaze at the birthday cake, which has been left looking more like a fence. On the one hand it’s a celebration of being alive, about looking forward—yet another part of youth is in the past, so in a way it must be a bittersweet practice of letting go.

Sometimes I like to include in my paintings a feeling of absence, the lack of emotion that you can experience. There are times in life when things go too fast. When you don’t fully realize a moment, it leaves a sense of emptiness, a void. For a while I was almost erasing my paintings from the paintings. There was so much white space, because I felt isolated, living in a different country. It’s important to me to portray absence and presence of femininity. When painting in the studio the artist gets a distance from the self. It is this which is so important, so the art can have its own voice.

Spanish Skies

Though my work is not a direct form of self-portraiture, I am subconsciously included. In my painting there’s is an element of self I cannot erase. Perhaps a moderate degree of reflection is necessary to give an honest approach to a narrative. However, I am most interested in the possibility of a multiple persona, absorbing inspiration from fiction, film, photography, and history. People often comment that some of the women in my paintings look like me, and I can see how a part of me shines through. However, artists can be a little overly critical; for me it can be a bit destructive, to be overfocusing on myself.

On the Swedish Beauty Aesthetic 
I first moved to England when I was 20. I was thrilled to be going someplace new, but concerned I would be perceived as the Swedish-girl stereotype, this happy blond girl there on holiday. To avoid this I initially dyed my hair brown, but it turned kind of gray and it didn’t suit me at all, so I went back to being blond and I just carried on.

As a Swedish woman, sometimes I feel that I get put in a category. While this can be frustrating, this stereotype can also offer quite a nice escape. If I already have others’ ideas projected onto me, then I can relax and be. I can feel quite safe in my little illusion, knowing privately that I am confident and know that I am more than preconceived perceptions.

On Swedish Equality 
We’ve come quite far in Sweden, with equal opportunities for men and women. An interesting spin off of this is that men there have gotten more into their own appearance. Maybe Sweden's equality has allowed men to look into traditionally feminine areas, such as makeup and other parts of the beauty industry. But regardless of how equal society becomes, men and women will strive to have a certain appearances. That is universal and is not going to change. What has become more equal now is the sense that men and women both want to be beautiful. This is not particular to a place or country, just the human desire to be desired.

Perhaps the pressure to be “perfect” is more strong still in some parts of America than in Sweden, where the approach to appearance is a bit more relaxed. I grew up watching Dallas and Falcon Crest. It was magic to me. I remember being mesmerized by the perfectly groomed women—the power they projected onto the viewer was impressive! I’ve always been fascinated by constructed or artificial beauty. In Europe that’s more of a Mediterranean thing; the women in that region dress up more and they’re impeccably groomed. We don’t have that as much in Sweden. You’d feel a little bit overdressed if you wore a dress when you go out; it’s quite casual.

Sweden has a natural beauty ideal. With plastic surgery there is the ideal of eternal youth that you can achieve if you can afford it. But a majority of Swedes embrace aging and beauty—they keep it healthy, exercise a bit, take long walks. Sweden is an earth-bound society. Maybe the belief that a natural beauty is preferable over a more artificial aesthetic might just be in keeping with Scandinavian minimalism—who knows?

Ideally, in a modern society we should be allowed to embrace our femininity and our masculinity with playfulness—whatever makes one comfortable in their body shouldn’t collide with their equal value as an individual or professional.


  1. I totally get that sense of awe from her paintings; of being a young girl and looking toward maturing and what that will bring.

  2. Cameo, she totally depicts that area of girlhood-to-womanhood with sophistication. I'm seeing her work this weekend and am eager for it!

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