John Erlandsson's Nude Superheroes


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John Erlandsson's Nude Superheroes

The Swedish artist thinks it's fun to paint muscular men rather than women.

Swedish artist John Erlandsson paints large-scale paintings with classic subjects, which might sound a bit dull. But fear not. John's work is colourful, exciting and sexy. It's so sexy that it's not rare that onlookers find themselves a little blushed. Many of John's paintings portray nude or barely dressed men, who sometimes even have penises in their mouths. Obviously because of this, his work has been referred to as homoerotic, and once in a while even celebrated for objectifying the man rather than the woman. His exhibition Muskulösa Manskroppar & Fagra Kvinnogestalter (which literally means "muscular male bodies and fair female characters") opens tomorrow night, as the first show in a series of exhibitions at Summit Skofabriken in Stockholm. I gave John a call and we chatted about the inspiration behind his work.


VICE: Hi John, tell me about your paintings.
John Erlandsson: Well, the paintings that I'm exhibiting were painted a few years ago. I was inspired by, and drew my ideas from classic paintings at the time. They're also somewhat experimenting with mythology and religion, combined with what I usually work with – you know these naked or undressed muscular men that are reoccurring in my paintings. There were different ideas that got mixed into shape.

How come you're so fascinated with naked men?
It's about many different things. While the nude woman throughout art history reoccurs a lot, the nude man isn't represented as often. You can see plenty of codes in the shape of a strong body as well as the symbolism that a strong body represents. And then there's the aesthetic aspect to painting a young body. It's a bit like sculpturing the body as you work a lot with colours, shades and lines. I find it to be more of a dramatic expression to that than when painting a body realistically.

Looking through your paintings it feels like you're painting something of a main character – the man has similar features throughout your work.
Yeah, maybe. Sometimes I've had that as a theme – this one character that reoccurs. But they also tend to look like each other subconsciously, even if I think of them as different.

Is this man some kind of ideal for you?
No, it's rather a fantasy or a dream image. It's not on a personal level at all. It's rather the artistic value within my work. It also comes down to the fact that I read a lot of comics. I'm very inspired by superheroes and stuff like that. I guess you can say that the characters in my paintings are superheroes, too.


So it's not like there's a man in your surroundings who resembles these guys?
No. Unfortunately not.

Yeah that's a shame. So how has the process been like for this series?
When I paint for a particular exhibition, I look at everything from old art images, photos of bodybuilders and models, and things like that to get inspired. Sometimes I have an image in my head before as well.  For instance, during one period I was painting a lot of roses. So I was naturally looking at a lot of images of roses. So if I'm panting naked men I have to find something to look at.

So have you been using pornography at all?
No, not really – more photography of fitness models.

There are also a few women present in your work. And reindeer.
Yes, these reindeer or deer – or hybrids of them two – work as kind of an extension of the hero body. There are a lot of big strong characters in the animal world, too.

Sure. And what about the women?
Some people who talk about my work refer to it as homoerotic with all these portraits of naked men. However, there are a lot of females in the paintings, too. Although they are all dressed. And that comes down to what I think is fun to paint. On females, I find it interesting to paint wavy fabric rather than the body, while I view the male body as something like armour. They are like fairy-tale characters.

I see. Have you ever been criticised for portraying the different genders in this way?
Not straight to my face. Maybe someone some times wonders why I paint muscular men. But as long as I feel like I get something out of that, I'll continue. But sometimes the paintings are abstract. There was a period when I only painted birds. These specific paintings that I will exhibit now portray naked men and the women are naked for most part, too.


Great. Thanks, John!

The exhibition Muskulösa Manskroppar & Fagra Kvinnogestalter opens tomorrow night between 6PM and 8PM at Summit Skofabriken, Hornsbruksgatan 23, Stockholm, Sweden. See more of John's work here.

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