Ståle Gerhardsen: The artist who gave up the dream job to live the dream
By Hanna Margrethe Enger | Photos: Amanda Gerhardsen Vollen
Ståle Gerhardsen is an artist in every sense of the word. There is no point trying to put him in a box, he is in all of them and none of them. He is not bound by one medium or genre. “I have only one rule,” he says. “If it is fun, I’ll do it!”
Art has always been a part of his life. But for a very long time it was a hobby, a passion project. Not that he was not being creative; he worked in the design and advertising industry for 15 years. But in 2016 he gave up his day job – his dream job – to turn his passion into a living.
It is all about art
At the age of 17, he spent time as an exchange student in Barcelona. This opened his eyes to the vast potential of art. Picasso and Dali, who defied conventions and established their own unique styles, played a big part in this. From nine in the morning until nine in the evening, he would devote his time to painting at Can Serrat’s studio.
Gerhardsen finds inspiration everywhere – like the bright blue bicycle riding past the window of his studio, or how an elderly woman packs her shopping at the supermarket. Just like Picasso and Dali, he is doing what he wants and doing things his own way.
By 2016 he already had one big exhibition under his belt; it was at Trondheim Art Museum and was a collaboration with the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and Tate Modern. Since then, he has presented two sold out solo shows in 2017, and a record-breaking solo show in Trondheim in 2018, both in terms of audience and sales. He went on to set another audience record in 2019 as Olsok Artist of the Year at Stiklestad National Cultural Center.
His latest exhibition is on at Galleri SG from 25 May 2023 until 18 June 2023. No, it is not his gallery – although the initials do match. In fact, it’s named after its owner Sissel Giæver. It is fitting, however, that his first exhibition in his home town of Trondheim in five years is at a gallery that shares his initials.
The collection on display is a mix of some 35 new paintings and sculptures, and it is called Håp/los. The title is a play on the Norwegian word ‘håpløs’, meaning hopeless. Changing the second half of the word gives an entirely new meaning. The word ‘los’ means pilot, the kind that guides ships and helps them navigate coastal waters. Hope is important to him. “Nothing is hopeless,” Gerhardsen says. “Even the word hopeless has hope in it.”
Gerhardsen aims to bring some joy to the world with his art, and fill it with good things. With his street art, he is doing just that. Many of his murals can be found in Trondheim and in cities and towns all over Norway, and in other spots from London to Los Angeles.
He breaks the norm in other ways too. “I have a graphics series called Unseen where people can buy prints unseen for half price before they are launched,” Gerhardsen says. “The last few times I’ve done it, the entire print run of 100 has been sold out in less than a day.”
Reaching a broader audience
While galleries are open to the whole public, not just paying customers, street art is even more accessible. It is free, it never closes and it springs upon you unexpectedly. You can be sitting on the bus to work and suddenly you drive past a large mural covering an entire wall.
With this kind of art, people rarely stop to admire it. To tempt the audience to pause, it needs to be more stylised and thematic. A canvas painting in a gallery may have more layers to it that the viewer can spend more time discovering. But whether it is a wall or a canvas, some things are always the same. “It has to be real and honest, no gimmick,” Gerhardsen explains. “People see through that.”
Just like he expresses himself through paint, he also likes to express himself through words. A lot of thought goes into the title of every art work. In 2016 he combined words and illustrations in a book called Pappaperm about paternity leave. He was interviewed on Norway’s biggest breakfast show on a Tuesday, to talk about his book, and the following Friday the book was completely sold out. He wrote a follow up a year later, called Hva som helst?, which won a prize in ‘The Most Beautiful Books of the Year Awards’ in Oslo in 2018. It is about Thea who wonders what a pencil holds. The answer is ‘anything’. If you can imagine it, the pencil can draw it.
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