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Why art is my lifeline

People often ask me, “Have you always known you wanted to be an artist?” The fast answer is no. It wasn’t until many years after my first exhibit that I made a conscious decision to become one.

I had originally planned to become a business consultant. During my senior year of college, however, my life started veering off course. I had trouble sleeping, cried for no reason, thought I would fail everything, and went to the emergency room twice, terrified I was having a heart attack because my chest hurt so badly. The doctors would tell me nothing was wrong, but I was convinced I was dying.

Somehow I managed to pull through the final stretch and graduate with honors. Soon after, my young family and I moved back to Scandinavia, having lived in the U.S. for seven years.

I interviewed with all the large consulting firms and made it to the final interview three times. Yet I was always turned down. After one interview in Stockholm, I started getting on a bus and suddenly couldn’t move. I held up the line and people shouted at me. A woman gently grabbed my arm and helped me up the steps. I started to cry in public, hiding my face in shame.

I finally managed to land a job in IT sales. After six months of unspeakable stress learning a new field, I just collapsed, falling into the deep darkness of clinical depression. I didn’t want to live anymore. Although I found a wise doctor who referred me to a psychologist, I continued to decline. When I became a threat to my own life, I was hospitalized.

It was during those days and nights of unbearable pain in the hospital that I started to draw. My first ink drawing was of my room. The picture still speaks to me today—the surgical-type bed with straps to tie me down, the strange painting bolted to the wall, the dresser bearing the number of the ward.

I was locked up for ten days. I heard the alarm go off numerous times, indicating some patient had lost it. I often fantasized of making the alarm go off too. Instead, I drew my anxiety. Art had become my lifeline.

When I feel overwhelmed with misery and go to my studio, I can regain some form of control by painting. This is how I’ve been able to survive. I typically start with an empty canvas and see where it leads. For me, producing art is all about transferring emotion, not about copying what I see. Cezanne thought so as well: “A work of art which did not begin in emotion is not art.” Color is important to me and makes my work feel most complete.

I find tremendous empathy in art. Depression screams that you’re alone and nobody understands. But when I look at any painting by Van Gogh, all of that doubt disappears. Vincent feels my pain. It is in every brushstroke, as is the case with any great artist. Art has power beyond logic.

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