We caught up with model turned artist Alice Herbst, who won Sweden’s Next Top Model in 2012, during the Notre Dame/Our Lady exhibition at the Boogie Wall Gallery in early October. Alice was just as colourful and expressive as her paintings, as we delved into her career transition, being a woman in her field and the Swedish art scene.
Tomi: Why is being a part of this exhibition special for you?
Alice: That’s a huge question! Literally when Josephine, the founder of the exhibition, told me about the theme of the show and it being an all-female gallery. The title of the show Notre Dame/ Our lady immediately caught my eye. I got inspired right away because it’s such a good platform for me to just be myself in a room with people that share the experience of being a female artist as well. We had a lot of discussions before the show, preparing and what it means for us to be able to just have a voice. It’s been 5 years and the men have had their platform for so many hundreds of years and now that we’re talking about females having their own platforms, ‘people’ are like isn’t too much now. I got the question before that is it necessary to have an all-female gallery? It’s not even question with an all-male gallery, they don’t even call it an all-male gallery.
T: They just call it an art gallery.
A: Yeah, it’s just the norm. I’m looking forward to everything being normalised, in the future an all-female gallery will not even be questioned. It’ll just be female artists, why not?
T: Why not indeed?! That actually leads into my next question. Who are your favourite female artists?
A: I have a lot of different…[pauses] So many female artists have been erased from history. When I went to art school, I remember my teachers saying sorry for not showing any female artists in this course today. They were excusing themselves for forgetting females. With my work I’m really inspired by the impressionist era, so like Berthe Morusot. She was a French artist. I admire the way she used her brush strokes and her story as well. She wasn’t allowed to paint; females in the 19th century had limited rights to be out on the streets. They could paint some things but not everything, they didn’t have the power to paint in clubs and bars like men. They had to stick with parks. Her story is really interesting and I do love her way of working technically. Tamara de Lempicka is an artist from the Soviet, I love her story as she was this wealthy lady and this glamorous girl trying to find herself. My paintings are very much on the glamorous side!
T: What is the art scene like in Sweden?
A: Sweden has become famous for including women more in art now, the landscape has always been towards men. It’s still a very closed art scene, it’s very difficult to get in and very traditional in the sense that the schools pick you out if they like you. Some people apply for 12 years to get into an art school before they attend. Some galleries will visit your studio in the school and if you’re lucky they will pick you up. There’s like 1 out of 5 people that get a show and they didn’t even know if they’ll continue after that. It’s not until now that female artists have started to have their own voice but I still meet people that question me in a weird way and I know that they do it because I am a female. I had show in Sweden last year where a man exclaimed loudly to the gallery owner, so that I could hear, in a sarcastic tone, that this girl should exhibit her work in the feminist political room. You’ll definitely meet people like that and that’s everywhere in the world unfortunately.
T: Unfortunately but we’re making progress!
A: Yes we are!
T: How did you know you first loved art as a kid? If you could describe a memory?
A: My parents always wanted me to experience cultural things, I wasn’t one of kids taken to Disneyland when I was younger [laughs]. They wanted me to go cultural museums and I was a bit angry about it. One of my relatives had a friend that was a conceptual artist and she made these huge over-floating bathrooms in a glass cube and this exhibited outside. I was so little, I was maybe 5 or 6 years old and I saw this floating toilet, it was so weird to see [mutual laughter]. But it just stuck with me and made go ‘aww this is art’ and it’s not at all what I do today but it got me interested. I have grandparents that were amateur artists.
T: That was going to be my next question, do you have any artistic relatives?
A: Oh, I’m sorry! I’m just like woo-hoo [laughs]. My grandparents on my mum’s side were into wood carving and little bit of oil painting, sewing and all things craft. I always had the supportive side even though they didn’t know I was going to pursue art, I mean I didn’t either. But they cheered for me and I did art courses when I was young once a week; I loved to have exhibitions for my relatives.
T: So you put on your own showings for them?
A: Yeah, yeah I did! When I was 7 years old, I would be like ‘I’m going to have exhibition now’. I just put up papers with drawings and pinned them everywhere [laughs] and everyone was so nice saying “oh wow nice”. It was a good experience.
T: You modelled before becoming an artist, what inspired you to model?
A: It’s also a creative way to express yourself with posing, styling and the outfits. I have a cousin that is a model, her name is Elsa Hosk.
T: Oh, I’ve heard of her.
A: She modelled and when I was younger, I heard her stories and I was fascinated. She’s 5 years older and when I was 11, I purchased all the magazines with her in it and that’s what really got me into fashion. I pursued modelling quite late at 18 years old but it was good for me to start later as I gained a little bit more self-confidence. It was kinda hard to be so young and travelling around the world, I didn’t have the best experience with modelling.
T: Even with you having some bad experiences modelling, are there any important lessons you learned as a model that has helped you as an artist?
A: Yes! In a way they’re both very similar in that you’re very independent, by yourself a lot, you have a gallery or an agency that takes care of your work and you have a portfolio. The critique you get is for what you’ve done, you have to learn to be strong and take criticism. Also making sure that everything on the business side is working the right way. As a model I worked with a couple of sketchy photographers and the agency made a few questionable choices. But it helped me so much so today I know my value! I wouldn’t work with a gallery doesn’t respect me and I wouldn’t go to art school where the teachers treat me badly, so I feel like I’ve been very empowered in that way.
T: Why is it important to have all of these characters that are women, as a focal part of your work?
A: The simple answer to that question is because I am a woman myself so I relate to these characters. I use a lot of my own personal experiences, I have these characters which I make up myself with a collage-like way of working and I put them together in a composition that reenact my experiences. For example, I have this painting titled ‘Dancing In An Empty Room’.
T: Yeah, that’s the one I immediately liked on Instagram.
A: Oh, that’s great! This painting is about so many times where I was afraid of being in a room myself and being the centre of attention. in the painting she is painted blue and she’s very cold because I wanted to express the feeling of being very insecure. You can see this painting in two ways, the first me being insecure when I was young and I had issues with drinking alcohol. I was drinking in order to gain confidence so you can see this painting as someone who is a bit intoxicated. She just forgets about all the people in the room but I’ve also experienced situations where I don’t drink at all and I’ve just decided that I am allowed to be myself even if nobody in the room likes me. I can be whoever I want to be in the room so there’s people around her but she doesn’t notice them, she doesn’t care.
T: Would you consider creating a fashion collection inspired by your own art?
A: I would love to! I’m not limited to just one form of medium, you know dresses and clothing inspire me in my work. I repeat different patterns to create dresses and shapes, so I would definitely love to do something in the future.
T: What do you hope to accomplish next as an artist ?
A: Many people question my choice of showing myself next to my work; I’m very public. Some people support and others want me to separate myself from my work, saying I should feel comfortable enough with showing my work. Some people think that my partner who’s also an artist, is the real painter and I’m just a model that poses to collect likes. This is an interesting point of view from quite a lot of people. I’m not considering myself a conceptual artist but my concept would be my own persona; I really want to question these types of thoughts. Who should be an artist? Can the artist be interested in clothing or makeup? Can it be a woman? Musicians do interviews, you know the face, why can’t artists do the same? I want to break the barriers between the mystical artist and the work.