Natalie Kates: Your studio is in Upper Manhattan. Would this be considered Harlem?
Sophia Nilsson: Yes, we are in Spanish Harlem.
NK: You work and live out of your studio. Is it hard to be disciplined working in your studio?
SN: For me it would be the opposite. If I didn’t live in my studio, I wouldn’t get much work done. I make my coffee in the morning, I draw, drink my coffee, think, paint and while that dries I can do laundry or I look at something I have done and redo what I just did or do a couple more drawings. So in short doing art is a part of my daily routine.
NK: I detect an accent. Where are you from?
SN: From Sweden.
NK: What town?
SN: I am born in Gothenburg, but I have a place in a very small town in the southern part called Jämshög.
NK: Some of your images, especially your earlier images reference country living, horses and landscapes. Are these images from Sweden and your childhood?
SN: I used to have a pony for a long time so he’s probably the one I am painting. For me it’s more about the shape of it, what they represent: freedom, something that is strong, that takes you places and is moving forward.
NK: What type of paint are you using on your canvases?
SN: Since I live in my studio I mainly use acrylics. But when I am in Sweden I try to use oil much more because I have a barn studio there. Here, I stick with things that don’t smell too much or are not toxic. So it’s a lot of acrylics, color pencils, pastels, I use crayons, oil bars, oil pastels.
NK: I can see layers through your work using all the mediums you described. How do you get these products to blend so beautifully?
SN: A lot of times they are thinned down, that’s how I get them to be so see-through, you can use different mediums or water and then you thick them up or you thin them out, like, for example, the one that I am working on over here you can see the green parts, I go along and I try things out, you can see the linear stuff. I like how the layers build up and make shapes and forms shift within the pieces.
NK: It looks like a horizon a little bit
SN: Yea, it is, sort of that green horizon there. And under that it’s darker green and it’s more like a crayon that I am going back into, I see how I like it, and then I build that other layers.
NK: Your artwork evokes a dreamlike quality. They are hazy, a little foggy, it seems they come from your dreams. Where are these images from and what inspires you?
SN: I tend to get stuck on some concept. Willingness was a big thing, somewhere between willingness and wanting and the choices made. It can be something that has been said or an experience mostly things sort of mend together. At the end of the day it becomes somewhere in between by the time your thoughts get through and shapes, forms and colors take their place within the piece. It can be something out of a dream, just something that you see like a posture of somebody or a thought that you had.
NK: And I see that you like high heels. What’s that about?
SN: They are that willingness and wanting of something. They are beautiful and lovely and they fit perfectly and they were wanted and the joy of having it, in the end of the day it’s not even about the shoe, it’s about the feeling, about feeling good, appreciating something. For me it’s more about the enjoyment they give to me.
NK: It’s emotion. And it’s actually what art should do as well – it should convey an emotion.
SN: To look at, see something. It’s something about wishing, longing, you want it and then you have it, and it’s a nice thing in that. To have what you chose and what you really want.
NK: I also noticed that you do a lot of sketches on paper. Now, are those with pencil or you are using the same material that you use on canvases?
SN: Same materials.
NK: Do you prefer paper instead of canvas?
SN: I go back and forth, but I do love to work on paper, I love the immediacy of it. Canvas soak up so much, they can hold so much water and paint. I can work forever on them. While the paper would dissolve, you have to leave it. That's also why I love working on canvas, I can keep working, leave them there, they can build up, they can become something completely different as the layers build up.
NK: Lately you have been tearing sheets of paper out of fashion magazines and using this as your paper to draw on. Why?
SN: All kinds of magazines and adds, it just started as my regular little doodles I was drawing on something then I just painted over the parts I didn't like and kept other shapes and re-drew on top.
NK: I get it, it’s referencing art, fashion and desires in life and dreaming.
SN: Yea, they do, for me it's life in general. How you go through your days, how you think about things and how you do your work, or somebody makes you think about something and after your whole day you go home and you sleep and you still have that impact from your surroundings, the people around you, how you love your life and I think that’s sort of where I go from.
NK: Because you use fashion magazines as material for your drawings, do you have a favorite designer?
SN: I don’t know if I have favorite designer, I just like different things, shapes, forms, textures, fabrics, colors and it depends on how they fit on people, proportions.
NK: Is there anything that you are obsessed with recently?
SN: No, I’m not so obsessed at the moment like I was with the shoes for a while, I was totally into them. Even the shoes have moved over back to the closet, I have them here on the shelf.
NK Like trophies!
NK: What brought you to NY?
SN: I used to live in Washington, DC for the longest time. I decided to leave and move back to Sweden and then I changed my mind. My friends were in NY and they were like “Why don’t you just come to NY?”, so I am an accidental New Yorker. I didn’t intentionally move here, I just sort of ended up here. But I love it.
NK: What do you think about the art scene in NY?
SN: Endless. I like how it’s so accessible, whether it’s something on the street, the galleries or a museum, I think that NY is just one of those places which has a diversity of everything, it doesn’t have to be fancy, it can be a small intimate opening or dinner.
NK: It’s tangible.
SN: It’s tangible, it’s accessible, it’s there, whether you do something small or some major project or event, you know, it’s still good, still accessible to you, it’s your own.
NK: And NY let’s you express all the different levels or art.
SN: Yea, and you see it in people around you all the time and I like that.
NK: Does social media play a role in your artwork or the way you promote your artwork?
SN: I wish.
NK: Are you on Facebook?
SN: No (laughs). I am so not social. I just can’t handle the whole thing. It’s hard for me. I am not the best self- promoter. I am fine with it, everyone finds their own ways.
NK: If you couldn’t paint or draw but you had to express yourself creatively, what other form of art would you do?
SN: Sculpture maybe, I like the way you move with it and the way you could walk in and out of them a lot of times.
NK: I see that you have a rock collection. Can you tell me about that?
SN: Beaches have lovely rocks and I have a tendency to pull them out of the water and bring them home, it’s nice to have them. I think most of them are from Long island, it’s strange, I should remember where they are from.
NK: Most of your paintings or illustrations of people don't have faces, why is that?
SN: Because I don't want them to be portraits, so I tend to avoid that, I want them to be feeling of the body. It tends to be when you see a face it becomes a portrait, then it’s somebody or something specific, and I don’t want that. I like when it has that faintness to it, they fade in and out.
For more on Sophia Nilsson go to: