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Opening (Detail) (2014)
2011-02-16

Boxworld

Interview made for GEE Magazine

By Christian Neeb


Original interview in german here

 

When you were a child, how did you grow up? What came first: Being a painter, or being a gamer?

I grew up in Stockholm, but for a couple of years my family moved around so I lived for a while in Denmark and France, mostly in Paris. I was twelve at the time and living in Paris had a big influence on me. I had always been painting and drawing a lot, but it accelerated there. I would go visit the museums and sit and draw. As a teenager, I played a lot of early PC games, such as Wasteland and King’s quest, and later on I actually made some pixel art for a game developer, but when I began studying at art school, I focused on painting. I studied art for nine years, ending with a MFA from the Royal College – and it was only the last couple of years there that I started experimenting with computer imagery in my painting. During that period, I began exploring the visual landscapes of FPS shooters and at the same time I was still studying the old masters – so It all merged I guess.
I also studied for a while in Madrid, and I spent my days almost equally divided between drawing at the Prado Museum, and playing Half-Life Deathmatch at an Internet cafe. 

Maybe you could tell me something about your background? When did you start painting and why did you decide, that perspective should be an elemental part of your work?

I started painting seriously when I attended my first art school at eighteen. I didn’t have any other plan to begin with, except learning as much as possible – and I was very focused on the technique in the beginning. I began studying picture composition a lot, and I was fascinated by the work of the Italian renaissance, especially Piero Della Francesca. The invention of linear perspective during the renaissance transformed the imagery of the western world, and we are now so used to it that we take it for granted. Our 3D software for example relies on it. Since I am interested in how human imagination creates worlds, I guess that is part of the answer. However, I never decided that the issue of perspective would form part of my work, but since it always has intrigued me, I keep coming back to it. It’s the same with the Pythagorean ideas on mathematics, the harmony of numbers and the Fibonacci series. I have to test it out. For example, the painting series called “Levels” (2006) – which depicts “Graham” from “King’s quest” walking through different scenarios, each canvas being a level in his adventure – were all composed extremely methodically upon the Golden ratio.

In your paintings classic pieces of art like Caspar David Friedrichs “Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer” merge with imagery from retro-games like the Sierra Adventures. What is your intention by doing this?

The blending of different imagery comes partly from my wish to give the various pictorial elements equal importance, to maintain a level playing field in my scenes.
For example, I’d like to give a 8-bit flower the same respect as a cut-out from a 15th century oilpainting by Bellini. I also treat them in the same way by keeping the sampled imagery projected on flat surfaces, even though they inhabit three-dimensional space.
By contrasting the flatness of cut-out images with the shadows that they cast from the virtual lighting, their flatness is exaggerated at the same time as the 3D-space is rendered more illusory. By also contrasting pixelated elements from old games with more naturalistic parts, such as the one you mention from Friedrich, a new story can be told in which I don’t need to adhere to the conventions of a specific “reality level”. The resulting image has its own reality, its own rules. I’d like to think of it in a way as a stage play at the theater that can immerse the audience, even though the set design is obviously constructed out of painted cheap wooden planks.

In your mix between pixel and paint, the human being, the artist becomes a part of the artwork, while still being an outsider, an observer. What is your relationship to your paintings?

Being the artist, I’m both the creator and the spectator in relation to the painting. In some of my pictures, I have included a figure that interacts with or contemplates the scene, and who could be interpreted as the creator of it, but perhaps also as someone merely exposed to it. By also treating this figure as a textured flat plane, the border between the figure and the rest of the scene gets blurred, and the creator, if he/she is to be seen as such, gets incorporated into the world he/she created. I like that idea.

In your selfportrait, that we printed in our magazine, one can see yourself being part of your own work, the picture of yourself touching the diorama you created. Would you think of this picture rather as a symbolic one, or does it represent a real desire, maybe to touch a virtual world with your bare hands?

It has to do with the different levels of realism i mentioned earlier, and also in that specific painting, it tells a story about the relation between an artist and his motif.
The painting is called “Artist and Still Life”, and in it, I have dressed up as an “artist”, complete with a white painter’s coat. (Which I do not use IRL) The still life in the picture represents a world that may be imaginary in the mind of the artist in the image, but he is at the same time playing with it in the same pictorial space that he himself exists in. I would say that it does represent a real desire, as you say, but in a way that desire is partly fulfilled in this case, because when I painted that picture I did touch a virtual world with my bare hands – the painting itself.

Have you ever thought about creating a game and implementing acrylic or oil elements in the graphics of the game? If so which genre would you choose? What would fit your creative style most gameplay-wise?
I have made some stuff for fun where I have implemented painting elements into game worlds, for example when I put Piero Della Francesca’s frescos into a Counter-Strike map I made (de_priory). I started making a map for Counter-Strike just to learn the tools, so that I could use them later to construct 3D worlds of my own, but I couldn’t resist making my own textures too, some of them based on my paintings. Also, pixel-versions of many of my paintings can be found in the game Minecraft. That’s extra fun, because many of those paintings have old school pixel graphics in them, and here they are, back inside a game again – transferred from pixels to paint and to pixels again, and you can make them in the game from wool and wood. If I were to put “painted objects” in a future game, I would perhaps consider making an adventure style game, like “Grim Fandango”. That would be great.

minecraft painting pixel art
pixel-painting in Minecraft 

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By Christian Neeb

Posted in Articles, Interviews

2011-02-16

Schachtelwelten

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Schachtelwelten

In der aktuellen Ausgabe von GEE stellen wir euch den schwedischen Künstler Kristoffer Zetterstrand vor, der aus klassischer Malerei, Retrografik und 3D-Perspektiven großartige Kunst-Remixe erstellt. Im Interview gibt er einen Einblick in seine Arbeit, Inspirationsquellen und seine Liebe zu Videospielen.

Wie kam es zu deiner Entscheidung, Malerei und Videospiel-Ästhetik zu vereinen?

Ich bin in Stockholm aufgewachsen, aber einige Jahre lang ist meine Familie quer über den Kontinent gereist. Ich habe eine Weile in Dänemark gelebt. Und in Frankreich, hauptsächlich in Paris. Ich war zwölf Jahre, als ich nach Paris kam. Die Stadt hat mich stark beeinflusst. Ich hatte schon immer gemalt und gezeichnet, aber dort nahm alles an Fahrt auf. Die Museen übten eine starke Anziehungskraft aus. Ich saß einfach dort und malte. Als Teenager begann ich auch, die frühen PC-Spiele wie „Wasteland“ und „King’s Quest“ zu spielen. Später erstellte ich sogar Pixel-Art für einen Spielentwickler, aber als ich mein Studium an einer Kunsthochschule begann, konzentrierte ich mich zunächst wieder auf die Malerei. Gegen Ende meiner Studienzeit in Madrid floß beides ineinander. Meine Tage bestanden zu gleichen Teilen aus Malerei im Prado Museum und „Half-Life“-Deathmatch-Partien im Internetcafé, und ich begann, mit Computer-Bildern in meinen Gemälden zu experimentieren.

Wieso ist Perspektive ein elementarer Bestandteil deiner Arbeit?

Ich war schon früh fasziniert von den Werken der italienischen Renaissance, besonders von Piero Della Francesca. Die Erfindung der linearen Perspektive während der Renaissance änderte die Bildwelt der westlichen Hemisphäre. Heute sind wir so an sie gewöhnt, dass wir sie als selbstverständlich erachten und beispielsweise unsere 3D-Software auf sie angewiesen ist. Ich interessiere mich außerdem dafür, wie die menschliche Vorstellungskraft Welten erschafft. Trotzdem habe ich nie explizit entschieden, dass die Frage nach Perspektive ein Teil meiner Arbeit sein soll. Da sie mich aber so fasziniert, komme ich immer wieder auf sie zurück. Mit dem pythargoräischen Verständnis von Mathematik, der Harmonie der Zahlen und den Fibonacci-Serien ist es ähnlich. Die Serie von Gemälden namens „Levels“ (2006) beispielsweise, in der Graham aus „King’s Quest“ dargestellt wird, wie er durch verschiedene Szenarien wandelt, jede Leinwand ein Level aus seinem Abenteuer, habe ich extrem methodisch mit dem Goldenen Schnitt komponiert.

In deinen Gemälden vermengen sich klassische Werke mit Bildkompositionen aus Retro-Spielen. Was ist der Grund für diesen Ansatz?

Der Mix entsteht aus dem Wunsch, verschiedenen bildlichen Elementen die gleiche Bedeutung zu verleihen und dabei ein Stück spielerische Freiheit in meinen Szenen zu erhalten. Ich mag es, einer 8-Bit-Blume den selben Respekt entgegen zu bringen wie einem Ausschnitt aus einem Ölgemälde von Bellini aus dem 15. Jahrhundert. Ich behandele sie in der gleichen Weise, indem ich die Bildelemente auf flache Oberflächen projiziere, obwohl sie einen dreidimensionalen Raum einnehmen. Indem ich die Flächigkeit von ausgelösten Bildelementen mit ihren Schatten im virtuellen Licht kontrastiere, wird ihre Flächigkeit vollkommen überspitzt. Zugleich erhält dabei aber auch der dreidimensionale Raum etwas unwirkliches.
Indem ich pixelige Elemente aus alten Spielen mit naturalistischen Kunstwerken kontrastiere, zum Beispiel Caspar David Friedrichs „Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer“ , kann ich eine neue Geschichte erzählen, in der ich mich nicht an die Konventionen einer bestimmten Realität halten muss. Das Resultat ist ein Bild, das seine eigene Realität hat, seine eigenen Regeln. Ich vergleiche das gerne mit einem Theaterstück, welches das Publikum in seinen Bann zieht. Und das obwohl man klar sehen kann, dass das Bühnenbild aus angemalten, billigen Holzlatten besteht.

In deiner Mischung aus Farbe und Pixeln wird der Künstler zum Teil des Kunstwerks und bleibt trotzdem Außenseiter und Beobachter. Was für ein Verhältnis hast du zu deinen Bildern?

Als Künstler übernehme ich bei meinen Gemälden sowohl die Rolle des Schöpfers als auch des Beobachters. In einigen von ihnen habe ich eine Figur integriert, die mit der Szenerie interagiert oder über sie sinniert, und die als ihr Schöpfer interpretiert werden könnte. Vielleicht ist sie ihr aber auch nur ausgeliefert. Da ich diese Figur ebenfalls als texturierte Fläche behandele verschwimmt die Grenze zwischen ihr und dem Rest der Szene. Ich mag den Gedanken, dass der Schöpfer, wenn man ihn so sehen will, in der Welt verankert ist, die er geschaffen hat.

In deinem Selbstporträt (siehe GEE 59), berührt dein Abbild ein Diorama, dass du geschaffen hast. Würdest du gerne Virtualität mit den Fingerspitzen berühren?

Das Gemälde heißt „Artist And Still Life“. In ihm habe ich mich selbst wie einen Künstler angezogen, komplett mit Kittel. Das mache ich im echten Leben nicht. Das Stilleben im Bild repräsentiert eine Welt, die vielleicht vollkommen im Geist des Künstlers besteht. Zugleich spielt er aber mit ihr im selben bildlichen Raum, in dem er selbst existiert. Ich würde sagen, dass es tatsächlich einen realen Wunsch repräsentiert. Auf eine Art habe ich mir diesen Wunsch aber schon erfüllt, denn als ich dieses Bild malte, habe ich diese virtuelle Welt mit meinen bloßen Händen berührt.

Wenn deine Bilder zum Spiel würden, welches Genre würde ihnen am besten zu Gesicht stehen?

Ich habe meine Gemälde bereits spielerisch verarbeitet. Beispielsweise in der „Counterstrike“-Map „(de_priory), in der ich mit Pierro Della Francescas Fresken gearbeitet habe. Ich wollte solche Maps eigentlich nur erstellen, um deren Werkzeuge zu erlernen und später eigene 3D-Welten zu erstellen. Aber ich konnte der Versuchung nicht widerstehen und musste einfach auch eigene Texturen in ihnen erstellen. Einige von ihnen basieren auf meinen Gemälden. Außerdem gibt es Pixel-Versionen einige meiner Gemälde in „Minecraft“. Das ist besonders witzig, denn viele meiner Bilder bestehen ja ohnehin zum Teil aus Old-School-Pixelgrafik. Jetzt sind sie wieder da, wo sie herkommen. Von Pixeln zum Gemälde zurück zu den Pixeln – und gemacht werden sie im Spiel aus Wolle und Holz. Wenn ich aber die Möglichkeit hätte tatsächlich gemalte Objekte in einem Spiel unterzubringen, wäre wahrscheinlich ein Adventure-Spiel meine erste Wahl. Wie „Grim Fandango“ – das wäre fantastisch.

Von Christian Neeb

Posted in Articles, Interviews

2010-03-25

Interview: From traditional painting to Game Art

Original article HERE

03/24/2010

This conversation with Swedish artist Kristoffer Zetterstrand, a classicaly trained painter, mixing art history with elements and techniques from videogames, took place via email in November 2009.

GameScenes: In 2002, Swedish gallery ALP/Peter Bergman presented “Free-look Mode”, a series of paintings inspired by Counter-Strike. Was this the first time you used computer games in your works?

Kristoffer Zetterstrand: Yes, It was the first time I made paintings using computer games as an inspiration. I had been influenced earlier on by their aesthetics and design, but never used them in such explicit way. The moment I realized I had to paint scenes based on Counter-Strike was when once I got killed in the game, and suddenly found myself partly outside the graphics, being able to see both the realistic 3D world I was bound to a second ago, as well as the black void outside the game, the graphic card’s rendering of nothingness. I had some sort of an epiphany… It was very beautiful, and I felt the urge to paint it.

GameScenes: What is the rationale behind “Free-look mode”?

Kristoffer Zetterstrand: Counter-Strike is a online team-based game, you have to wait until either team wins and the round restarts if you get killed in the game, and “Free-look Mode” in the game was simply an option to allow the users to keep following the ongoing action (although you were basically dead) by flying freely through the game map, unhindered by whether there were created graphics there or not. Flying through these environments of part realistic landscapes, part abstract void, I found that this was a very interesting re-interpretation of he classical notion of the spirit world; the dead being able to see the still living, but unable to communicate with them, and at the same time seeing through the logical construction of the world… You were also able to chat with the other dead players, and comment on the progress of the game. The images created by the game were also interesting in their unintended abstract qualities, by their mix between convincing realism and ultimate flatness, and I spent a long time trying to get the perfect screenshots. This sometimes meant I tried to get killed as quickly as possible so I could have time to get good shots. I remember getting kicked out of a few servers, because the other players thought I was weird.

GameScenes: In your paintings you often mix references from art history and videogames from the 1980s. What is you relationship to pixel art, and pixels, in general?

Kristoffer Zetterstrand: I find that in early computer graphics, where the creators only had a few colours and a limited resolution to work with, they had to be very creative, using colour and form in innovative ways – and they often produced stunning results. I also like the very idea of the pixel, presented in a sense as the smallest “image part” but still being visibly an object, a rectangle. In my images I like to enlarge these pixels, and to give them a part to play in another context. For example to move them from 2D to 3D, and exaggerate their flatness by having them cast shadows. I also like to experiment with different types of realism and painting styles in my work, treating the different image elements like actors on a stage, each with their own personality.

GameScenes: Is there any resemblance between videogames and art history?

Kristoffer Zetterstrand: Yes, of course. The game designers are not starting from a blank slate. They are just like any artist, consciously or not affected by the inherited imagery and conventions from art history, be it via advertising, movies or whatever. They are also by necessity using our common clichés, in order to tell the story. Many times however, I find fresh ideas and surprising image solutions in computer games, not as easily found in the more tradition-bound art world.

GameScenes: Many of your paintings could be described as “meta-art”. Consider, for instance, the impressive diorama titled “The Game”. Can you tell me something about the process of creating a game-based painting or a diorama?

Kristoffer Zetterstrand: I am interested in how structures mix and create new forms and meanings, and a painting in itself is just that, a combination of layers and textures that form a new whole. Also, since I trained in a classical painting tradition from the start, I have some experience in the technical aspects of ‘building’ a painting by using underpaintings, transparent paint layers and such. I try to use these techniques and sometimes to exaggerate them so that the makeup of the the painting become very visible in the finished result. In a way, I also work much like a game designer in the construction of the scenes. For some years, my process consists in sculpting all my scenes in 3D in the computer before I paint them, creating a kind of “virtual still lifes”. This means that during the whole process of sketching, given the methods of sculpting in 3D, I am very aware of the logical construction and “physicality” of the whole scene, from the inside and out. I can rotate the scene, and move my “actors” around and rearrange the lighting. The virtual camera used to render the final scene can also be moved and changed throughout the process, enabling me to try out an indefinite number of points of view. I often have rendered hundreds of candidate images for the scene before choosing the right one. It takes a lot of time. For example, the painting you mentioned, “The game”, took me three months to virtually sculpt using Maya before I decided I had a motif to use for painting.

GameScenes: How do you see the relationship between the artist and the game designer, the canvas and the screen?

Kristoffer Zetterstrand: In order not to break the ilusion in a game, the game designer needs to stay out of the picture, but I sometimes find the traces of the creation of the game to be an interesting addition to the experience, like in a Brechtian Verfremdung effect. Encountering bugs in a game is an example of such a moment, when your immersion in the game is shattered, and instead of being scared of the monster, you laugh at it being stuck halfway through the ceiling. The imperfections remind us of the creator, the artist or the game designer, and  sometimes brings us closer to the intentions of the artwork. The hand in “Pointer” was meant as a hand belonging to another realm of realism than that of the karate fighter, and the background (from Caspar David Friedrich) yet another. But I never thought of Michelangelo’s painting as I did the picture, believe it or not. It was afterwards, when someone pointed it out, that I saw the obvious connection. So in a way, I had a bug in my painting.

GameScenes: In Sweden you are a successful artist. Do you think you would have the same success if you only worked with digital media, making for example artistic videogames, and not figurative paintings?Kristoffer Zetterstrand: I have no idea. I actually worked a little with computer game graphics in the early 90’s, And I made a map for Counter-Strike (called de_priory) a couple of years ago as a way to teach myself the tools to make 3D worlds. I downloaded the free apps used to make Counter-Strike, like Worldcraft and Terragen, and also ended up creating over 200 custom textures for the game. In the end, by learning these tools I found a new way of sketching scenes to use in my paintings. I have now gone over to Maya as my 3D sketching tool, but the idea is still the same. I am still fascinated by the techniques of game creation, and I believe that I could have worked in the game design business, had I not found myself all too captured by painting.

GameScenes: How would you describe the attitude to Game Art in Sweden today?

Kristoffer Zetterstrand: I have actually never considered myself to be making “Game Art”, but I guess my influences from games, as well as the tools I’m using could sometimes include my work in that category. I think that the last few years have seen an increased media interest in gaming in general, with game reviews in major newspapers and e-sport on television. In 2002 there were very little talk of Game Art, and of course it has gotten more respect since then, but it is still in its infancy.

GameScenes: What’s your personal relationship to computer games? Do you have time to play these days?

Kristoffer Zetterstrand: Actually, the last year I have played quite little because of too much work. But recently after my last solo show, I have found some time to play a few games that I never got to finish earlier. So I just played through Fallout 3, and I’m going to finish Bioshock now.  I am looking forward to the next episode of Half-Life 2.

 

 

Text by Mathias Jansson.

Posted in Articles, Interviews

2010-03-12

Intervju – Veckans spelare

intervju dn på stan, veckans spelare, kristoffer zetterstrand, minecraft

Veckans Spelare – Konstnären Kristoffer Zetterstrand
”Som i all konst måste spel beröra”
Kristoffer Zetterstrand är konstnär som använder ett avancerat 3d-program som skissverktyg. Han målar dock med olja på duk, med referenser till klassiskt måleri. Tisdagen den 16 mars deltar han i ett konstnärssamtal på Liljevalchs konsthall.
Vilken typ av spel gillar du?
-Jag gillar allt från action till strategi och rollspel, Särskilt gillar jag spel där genrerna blandas. Jag spelar bara pc-spel, vilket jag gjort sedan jag var tonåring. Spelen köper jag mest från Steam, en nedladdningstjänst där man kan köpa det mesta i spelväg. Man behöver inte ha fysiska kopior och om datorn kraschar kan jag bara ladda ner spelet igen, Jag gillar inte att ha en massa lådor stående i bokhyllan.
Vilket Spel var det forsta du fastnade för?
-Det första spelet jag spelade var nog ‘Astro på mammas universitet på 70-talet. Men det första jag fastnade för var “Wasteland”, i slutet av 80-talet. Det var ett rollspel, föregångare till “Fallout”-spelen, Förr i tiden när grafiken var sämre var  speltillverkarna tvungna att ha en övertygande historia för att man skulle fastna. Det fanns en berättarglädje som fick en att tro att man var i en större och vackrare värld än man kanske var. Jag mindes “Wasteland” som ett stort och fantastiskt spel, men när jag googlade det för ett tag sedan såg jag att det såg fruktansvärt ut.
Du använder ju 3D-grafik i ditt måleri. Hur mycket inspireras du av datorspel?
-Det var länge sedan jag använde själva spelen i mitt måleri. 2002 gjorde jag några målningar med landskap från ”Counter-strike”, och jag gjorde faktiskt även en bana till “Counter-strike“ då, vilket alla kan göra eftersom verktygen för att utveckla spelet är tillgängliga för alla. Sedan kom jag på att jag kunde skulptera bilder med samma verktyg, och numera använder jag bara programmen för att skissa i 3d. Men, jag är ju uppvuxen med datorspel, och det påverkar så klart mitt uttryck.
Vad i datorspelen återkommer i din konst nu?
– Det är intressant med ambitionerna att försöka skapa världar, och särskilt när det misslyckas. Jag gillar när saker inte funkar, när skuggan från ett träd blir fel eller när det uppstår buggar i spelet. Plötsligt står zombien i ett hörn och bankar huvudet i en vägg, det gillar jag. Och den typen av visuella misstag kan jag leka med i mitt måleri.
Viktigaste egenskapen för ett spel?
-Samtidigt som det ska finnas ett direkt underhållningsvärde måste man, som i all konst, bli berörd. Det ska finnas en bra underliggande historia, och spelet ska kännas kreativt. “Half~life 2″ och ”Grim fandango” är exempel pà spel som lyckas överraska. Actionspel har ofta problem med det. Till exempel ”Far cry’ som hade nyskapande teknik och en rolig spelrmotor, men där storyn var så outsägligt töntig att det förstörde upplevelsen.
Erik Gripenholm
DN På Stan 100312
Posted in Articles, Interviews

2002-10-24

Krig och kultur på nätet

Intervju ur radioprogrammet Tendens -“Krig och kultur på nätet”, P1 torsdag 24 oktober 2002
Ett program av Jon Torkelsson

sound Klicka här för att lyssna (mp3)

Posted in Articles, Interviews, Media