"Art should have a nerve, have good craftsmanship and be innovative."
Erik Formoe was born in 1953 and grew up in a small town in southeast Norway, near the border with Sweden. He’s lived in Fredrikstad all his life, except for the years he studied art in Oslo, the capital of Norway. After completing his education at the Academy of Fine Arts in Oslo, he has been a full-time artist. He is now retiring, as it has been 44 years since he began his artistic journey. He grew up in a time without the internet or cell phones, and childhood was strongly characterized by his parents who were quite religious. This led him being on his own a lot, and drawing became a comfort he confided in regularly. Erik eventually became quite proficient in his art and received lots of positive feedback. During his education, great emphasis was placed on craftsmanship, which has played an important role in his art today. At the same time, Erik learned to communicate with other artists through the internet and social media, proving quite important in recent years as an artist.
Erik Formoe joined the art academy in Oslo in 1983, that year he received a meaningful, private scholarship. Furthermore, he was invited to many graphic biennials around Europe in the 90's since he worked a lot on graphics at that time. The first important exhibition he had in a reputable gallery was held in Oslo in 1999, where he was meant to later provide a new exhibition, but unfortunately, the owner passed away. Afterwards, there weren’t many shows until 2009, where he held a new exhibition in a large gallery in Norway, he believes that was the beginning of the paintings he still works with today. After the internet and social media made their entrance in 2010, he was invited to exhibit in Kuwait. This was a very special event and it was the beginning of his contact with foreign galleries.
Erik Formoe entered an Oslo gallery that took him to various art fairs in Denmark and the USA. In the US, he was discovered by a New York art collector, who eventually bought 9 of his paintings and was offered to work there in the summer of 2015. Erik was introduced to other well-known art collectors and was also presented to several talented artists. They still have good contact, the art collectors and him.
Due to social media, Erik now has contacts in many different countries, and regularly receives emails from collectors and galleries around the world. This spring he will send paintings to Tokyo in Japan and Gothenburg in Sweden. His biggest exhibition to date will be held in Norway in August 2020
Formoe’s paintings are distinctly a thing of wonder, his color schemes and use of patterns can be dramatic and captivating, almost as if there were lots of information to retrieve from every element. Each painting is a short story we dive into, enveloped in contrasting textures and energetic tones, they translate into strong emotions or important journeys. Something about the diverse use of strokes and shapes transmits the essence of the story almost instinctively. Art like this has the capability to move us deeply and create substantial waves.
Q. What role does the Artist/ Painter have in society?
A. I don't feel that artists have a special or important role in today's society. I think it was more important before, when they were more preoccupied with the church and state as principals. Today, society is more diverse and celebrities play a far greater role in the daily life of most people. Ordinary people are not so keen on art anymore. Most things have been done already and the shock or innovation is no longer so important, I feel.
Q. What’s your best childhood memory?
A. My childhood was what I call analogue. We were out in the woods and nature a lot. Children were more left to themselves, we had to manage on our own and cultivate our interests without so much support from parents, nor were there many external influences through the media, smartphones and the internet. I look back on that time with pleasure.
Q. As a child, what did you wish to become when you grew up?
A. I decided early on to become an artist. My brother and I inherited painting equipment from a tenant in the house we lived in. He was an artist who lived a long life with the sales of paintings as his livelihood. I could make myself noticed through drawing, and I got a lot of praise for it. I think the positive feedback was inspiring and decisive for my early choice to become an artist.
Q. Do you remember the first art you made? What was it and how old were you?
A. I remember the first oil painting I painted very well, it was a forest motif with a small pond and a jumping fish. The lake had a good view of a mountain landscape far away. I remember that I struggled with the depth in the painting, I was 12 years old.
Q. How and when did you first become seriously interested in art?
A. I think it was after reading some books about artists, especially Van Gogh and Renoir. I also remember very well that as a young man, I took the train to Oslo and visited the National Gallery, and had a revelation when I saw a landscape painting by a Norwegian artist named Harald Solberg. I was also captivated by a self-portrait, painted by Van Gogh, it was powerful and the colors brilliant.
Q. Tell us about your particular style and how you came to it?
A. I am in many ways a classically educated artist. I was anxious to learn about artists from the early Italian Renaissance, and at school we prepared canvases and wooden boards, as they did before. We had to acquire knowledge of many different techniques and materials such as tempera and fresco. There were no computers at the time, so all the focus was on good craftsmanship.
Furthermore, we worked a lot with the analysis of older paintings, trying to figure out line patterns, and how artists used circles in perspective to create an illusion of depth. The combination of harmony in the composition with rough brush strokes and graphical shapes has always been an important element of my artistry. The graphical shapes I insert into the paintings point to the future and are my ties to contemporary painting. This technique itself points back in time, linking me to the past. The interaction is important to me.
Q. What does your art aim to express?
A. In the paintings I paint now, I want to dwell on the inner personality of human beings. All people have their own story to tell, and all people are unique, some are more charming, while others may be more introverted. I describe people as they stop, think about, or are surprised by a sudden event. I try to describe the mood they are in, the moment they acknowledge, experience or are put in a state of doubt, resignation or some form of recognition. At the same time, I am fascinated by how we as human beings express ourselves through clothes and makeup.
Q. What personality trait has gotten you in the most trouble?
A. I am stubborn and want to do most things on my own, I think I have some trouble working with others. I am bad at networking with other artists, which has resulted in me quickly being cast aside the established art community. I have my own opinions on what is good art, which is a view others may not share.
Q. What have you had to sacrifice for this career?
A. Choosing an artist profession can mean a life of poor finances. The security that a good economy provides has been absent in my life, meaning that I have always had to look ahead and work a lot to succeed financially. At times it has been difficult.
Q. Who are your biggest influences? Are you inspired by the work of your peers or anyone else in particular?
A. I quickly get inspired by other artists. This applies to all eras and types of artists, painting is closest to me. Today it is easier to discover new artists because we have got various channels on the internet. Thus, the sources of inspiration are far more numerous. If I'm going to bring out an artist who never disappoints me, it would have ya be Van Gogh. The power of his paintings has never ceased to impress me
Q. Is the artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?
A. Absolutely. There can be many days between talking to people other than my wife. It takes a year or two to build an exhibition, in which many times I need to be alone with my thoughts. Therefore, I seek solitude, and I enjoy it. Previously, I had a larger circle of friends who travelled together and trained together, and for a decade I ran a lot, including several marathons. Now, there are few things that occupy my time apart from creating art
Q. Apart from art, what do you love doing?
A. I have a cabin located in the woods neighboring Sweden, and really appreciate being there. I have time to reflect on my life and my art. I really like the contrast of being in a big city getting inspiration, and sorting out the impressions in the quiet environment that this place represents.
Q. What is your philosophy in matters of art?
A. Art should have a nerve, have good craftsmanship and be innovative. The use of color can be intense or subdued, but it must submit to the very essence of the story of the image. The painting should have a condensed expression, where the need to add or subtract is absent.
Q. What does 'success' mean to you?
A. I was more concerned with that topic earlier, now it is inferior to me to some degree. I paint for myself and feel satisfied and happy the moment I see that what I have created is good. I never let other people direct me in a particular direction, be it gallerists or regular audiences. On the other hand, artistic success gives a better economy, which is certainly good. It is good to know that many people appreciate the art I create and that the images can influence and make an impression on other people around the world.
Q. What are the biggest things you've learned in life thus far?
A. All people have their own history. The exterior facade does not say anything about the human qualities of the individual. We are all going to die, and we can't take anything with us, the moment we are born, the only thing certain is that we will die someday. We do not know how long we live and every day is a miracle, therefore it is important to be true to oneself and dwell on the positive aspects of life. I realize that in relation to many changes, I am privileged. This makes me humble.
Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given, and by who?
A. Be true to yourself and know that there is always light at the end of the tunnel. Keep it simple.
Q. What advice would you give to the next generation?
A. The greatest happiness can be found in simple things. You leave this earth with empty pockets.