Technicolor. Psychedelic. Vivid. Like those weird dreams you get if you eat dinner right before going to bed.
And in your dream, the steak appears alongside little gnomes lounging on the dinner table, next to an extravagant bouquet of outlandish flowers.
Those are the images Erik Sandberg, illustration professor and professional artist, captures.
Sandberg recently returned from a lecture and slideshow presentation that he gave about his “Hairy Children Portrait” series at the University of Tennessee, in November.
The “Hairy Children Portrait” series, the subject of his presentation, features children posing for a school photo, covered under a veil of hair.
“The hairy children portraits are a comment on the complex effects contemporary culture has on the humanity of today’s youth,” he said. “The hair is a metaphor for these effects. Using this visual vehicle of the hair also paralleled the alarmist news reports claiming traces of pharmaceuticals such as Viagra, Rogaine, Prozac, found in tap water.”
Following the “Hairy Children Portrait” series, Sandberg created the “Bouquet with Various Foods” series inspired by the goliath floral arrangements in Las Vegas hotels.
The paintings in this series feature oversized bouquets of floral arrangements alongside various meats.
“I was thinking heavily about genetically modifiable things and quantitative inheritance of flora genes … the sublime of those massively excessive guardians of the lobby had a visual impact on me,” he said. “These things are steroidal and monumental, some are silk. Some are real. There was something that was really impressive about them.”
Not only does Sandberg focus his works on youth culture and genetically modifiable meat products, but also the effects of a society immersed in pop culture.
The series entitled “The Equilibrium of Glamour” focuses on just that. One painting features a hairy pink mother pouring coffee at a breakfast table cluttered with cheeseburgers and Transformers, with the son shooing rainbow laser beams at his sister, and the father – unaffected by the apparent chaos – reads the newspaper in the background.
This series, Sandberg said, was a commentary on living in Los Angeles.
“They were small narrative paintings with snarky comments on unique aspects of living in Los Angeles such as gentrification, the lack of nutritious food choices at theme parks, the breast size of TV news personalities,” he said.
The narrative of this painting, scrawled in the upper right-hand corner reads, “My children love me deeper when I buy them things.”
The furry people featured in these series, especially the pink furry woman who is the subject of several of the canvases, give the paintings a strange yet enchanting feeling to the work.
“The vehicle of the hair is sort of the effects of pop culture,” Sandberg said. “I love the hair. Sometimes it’s creepy, sometimes it’s cute, sometimes it’s soft.”
Sandberg said reception of his work is varied.
“Some people find it interesting. Some people think it’s creepy. Some people think it’s funny … for the most part, people are sort of interested in the process of it,” he said.
“Others are just interested in the imagery itself; they just enjoy the overall initial impact of the image and then they begin to break down the meanings or why I did that,” he added.
Sandberg focuses on pop culture because he grew up in it, and said he sees how it affected his life.
“It (pop culture) fuels something; it’s a reference I know about. I grew up in the 80s with the sculptural masterpieces of He-Man and G.I. Joe, and these great things,” he said. “I’m just a child of that generation. I’ve come back and seen the direct effects of my own life … how MTV and those things have influenced it.”
Sandberg has been involved in art at a young age. Since his mother was an interior designer, he said she enrolled him in summer youth art programs offered at a university.
In high school, Sandberg said he deviated away from art and started working on cars and racing dirt bikes professionally.
“I came to the realization that racing is not the healthiest of lifestyles, so I revisited the arts,” he said.
Sandberg enrolled in the Art College Center of Design in Pasadena in 2002, where he received his bachelor’s of fine arts. He finished his Master Atelier in 2007 with master printer, Anthony Alan Zepeda.
When Sandberg graduated, he turned to illustration to help fund his gallery paintings and launch his art career.
“I basically hit the pavement promoting illustration work. I had a handmade portfolio case with strange drawings that really didn’t fit into any market at the time, I had a pickup truck that was smoking,” he said.
With his broken-down truck and several envelopes featuring his artwork, stuffed with handmade promos, he set out looking for work.
Sandberg said he eventually started receiving phone calls and letters asking him to work.
He had worked for Rolling Stone, United Airlines, UCLA Magazine, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, to name a few. He also worked several high-profile illustration jobs and showed his artwork in underground street galleries.
Sandberg is now showing in exhibitions all over the world. He has two shows scheduled in Barcelona in 2010, and he will also have an anniversary show at the Jonathan Levine gallery in New York in 2010.
One of the upcoming shows in Barcelona will be a solo exhibition, where Sandberg will show his newest sculptural pieces.
Although Sandberg said he doesn’t focus on sculpture, he became inspired to create his new series while traveling abroad this summer.
“In Venice I picked up a few things, at the stands … I find really interesting the locally made artifacts and these things change your perception of faraway lands — these little artifacts I brought back with me are these jumping points to these sculptural pieces,” Sandberg said. “It deals with tourism trinkets that I’ve been thinking a lot about, the things you can buy at the tourist stands for real low prices … these little artifacts from faraway places.”
On top of exhibitions, Sandberg teaches digital illustration and illustration I and II. He came to teach at CSUN about four years ago, he said, to get out of the studio.
“I never left the studio for the most part (in the beginning of my career). I was so busy painting and painting at all hours of the day,” he said. “Teaching helped me get out of the studio and exchange ideas with young minds and give a little back and share my experiences.”
He said teaching pushes him to continue learning.
“It also helps me as a professional stay fresh, it helps me keep my research up with contemporary artists, what’s going on where, how the market is changing,” he said. “A lot of the students are really inspirational, their ideas, their takes on current events, and current issues is really fresh. I enjoy hearing that and seeing the visuals that come out of that and the exchanging of ideas.”
To see the collection of Erik Sandberg’s works visit www.eriksandberg.net.