Kristoffer Kullengren or "Krs" is a Swedish artist who has been active in Asia since 2004. His life story is as colorful as his art and he has in the last year worked with the National Modern Art Museum in Xi An as well as taking over the visuals on the Pearl Tower on the Bund in Shanghai as well as 10 subway lines.
This is his story so far....
In 2008 the time was ripe for the largest financial meltdown of our generation and I was right in the middle of it. After having joined a large financial ratings company as a network engineer it was quickly noticed that I have a mean crossover and a pretty good jump shot to. So based on these merits I was recruited to the analyst’s basketball team which meant I was suddenly in the middle of creating a gigantic loan bubble.
Now since we had access to the data pretty much in real time it became very clear to me that there wasn’t much of a future for myself in this area of business. Also I had become very distraught with the fact that there was actually no social value at all in what we did. To fill this emotional gap I was following a Japanese ex-gangster and his travels with chicano culture in Japan with my camera. That’s a story for another time however but just to say that I have always had a need for a creative outlet to stay balanced.
The financial world crashing down I met a Japanese investor from Osaka who had decided to, with the money he had made in real estate, start a surfboard company. He had bought a piece on an Australian surfboard factory and needed help setting up the Japanese operation. Sounds cool right? It was! We traveled the most beautiful beaches in the world and got to hang out with some real legends and really really chill people.
So I thought it might be a good idea to learn how to use some modern digital design tools so I started painting with my finger on the touchpad of my PC. I got really into it and there is some fantastic work that I have saved just waiting for the right time and way to get it out there. You see what I realized after a while is that it would be extremely difficult to sell digital work because of the inherent nature of the internet. I.e. it is all free….Once you put it up there anyone can basically take a copy or a screenshot and now they have their new phone background or whatever it is that they are looking for. I did sell a couple but it was more like someone who loved it and wanted a original piece in the same style.
Hm…..what to do….I hadn’t painted much by hand since elementary school and I really thought about whether this was something that I should get myself into…after all the 10,000 hours rule applies to anything so was I really ready to invest this sort of time and effort into painting….
Start small was my thought so I went to the 6 floor art supply shop in Shinjuku and picked up some postcard size sketchbooks, color pens, markers and just started going at it. I think feedback is an essential part of creation so I always show the work I do to see people’s reactions. The viewer is my mirror and if I see smiles and excitement I know I am on to something. But I didn’t…..In the beginning I was trying to give away the paintings but people were turning me down. If I can’t even give it away for free it must be pretty terrible is the feeling I had but I know that practice makes perfection so I just kept painting one after another and going to bars and clubs at night to show off the days’ work.
Something started happening…..Suddenly people were taking the paintings home with them and asking me if I had any new ones. Now I knew I was getting better so I said “sure I have some new ones and you can have one but it will cost you a beer” If nothing else I wanted to at least be drinking for free. With hindsight I realized that this was really the beginning. By doing this the paintings now had a value. It might be only 10 USD (the cost of a beer) but it was a real thing.
My head immediately got too big for my shoulders and I started doing canvases and installations and all kinds of stuff without really studying anything about colors or mediums or any of the things that make the difference between a good painting and an average one. The imagery was good but the quality was not.
Then the world stopped spinning…..or at least that is how it felt….3.11 Earthquake and the following Tsunami wiping out a whole section of the Japanese coast meant not only pain and suffering but also a shift in the Japanese economy. No one was interested in investing in the leisure industry anymore and things were moving to basics like water and toilet paper. In other words I left the surfboard industry.
I was lucky enough to get another assignment to start a new business for a Swedish company but now I had very little time to create and I had tied myself up to running this youth program for the Swedish embassy which took all of my free time. I was DJing here and there just picking up a bit of cash but I am more of a morning person and it didn’t really work that well.
Fast forward to 2016 and I am heading to California for an educational conference and for some reason I decide to bring a sketchbook and some color pens. I picked up my car in San Francisco and started driving south towards San Diego where the conference was taking place. I would stop at night at some cheap motel and paint something from the trip that day. Very primal and emotional work came out and I realized how much I had missed the creative side of myself. I was seriously unbalanced and in a pretty bad space emotionally. I got to San Diego and showed the work to a friend from China who listened to my negative outlook on the world and urged me to paint more and also do something with it. I was very unsure at the time because it had been a long time and now painting was something that I was doing privately to try and heal my battered soul.
The conference ended and I drove down towards the Mexican border to meet my friend Dido Brown. I had met him through the Japanese gangster and he is a self-made musician with a very interesting outlook on life. I guess I was looking for something and he always sets me straight since he has really seen how tough life can be like when you have nothing. The story of Dido is also for another day but check out his music on your favorite streaming service and perhaps you can get an idea of what I mean. I especially like his song “Tales of a young brown male”
Having received power from my friend I headed up to Seal Beach Los Angeles to meet a long lost relative. In the 19th century one third of the Swedish population emigrated to the United States. Most ended up in Minnesota and California and my family was no different. My mother was adamant that I go see them but to be honest I was less than thrilled. I didn’t know what to expect and was not really in the best place at the time to connect with any more people.
Little did I know that this would be the turning point of it all…My aunt Joyce turned out to have not only a super funky house no more than a walk from the beach but she is also an art teacher. Except for my elementary school teacher I had never really had an art teacher. Everything I knew I had learned from the internet or Youtube videos. I am also in eternal anti-authority mode so I have problems with teachers sometime and was a little wary as to how to deal with this situation. I wanted some help but on the other hand don’t like being told what to do….
My aunt however, probably from many years of experience with idiots like me, must have seen this in me and all she said was “let’s go to the art supply store, I want to buy you a present”. We went down to her local shop and she showed me this amazing water color brush which has water inside the brush. She bought it for me along with some crayons and just told me give it a try. I whipped out three paintings in one day and was immediately hooked. It was as though someone opened a door to a completely different world which I had never seen before. Colors started blending and shadows came out. My ideas turned into something original and beautiful in a style I have never seen anyone do before.