Facts: Ulla Wiggen
Family: “I live with a man.”
Inspired by: “Other people. What they say and what they do.”
Next project: “The closest thing is to show 20 of my paintings from my entire artistic career at the Gärdet subway station. It’s a really fun assignment. And I have promised to exhibit in Stockholm in two years. Next spring I will also have a big solo exhibition in Berlin.”
About painting during the pandemic: “the pandemic stressed me terribly. Every day I read in the newspaper that you were not welcome to the emergency room because you were over 75. It was disgusting. You were not allowed to get sick, because then you died. Then you could you get a morphine injection so you fall asleep peacefully, that’s what was offered. I was incredibly stressed and probably painted quite slowly then.”
On the fascination with the inside: “I have a word in me, it’s the question why. If you want to understand how things affect each other, you have to look inside. If the dishwasher has a problem, I take it apart. I want to know. It’s the same with psychotherapy, though intangible.”
A large round painting representing an iris leans on a home-made stand – Ulla Wiggen spins it to slowly build up the color layers. Recently, she has received more requests to participate in exhibitions than she can accept: a painting can take up to three months to create.
Her art is suddenly visible everywhere. She was one of the selected Swedes at the Venice Biennale, 20 of her paintings will be shown at the Gärdet subway in Stockholm and she has four works at Liljevalch’s exhibition “Evigt liv”.
“There’s been so much that’s fantastic now so I don’t think it’s true,” says Ulla Wiggen and lights up.
To top it all off, she is one of this year’s Gannevik scholarship recipients, and the jury calls her victory procession the “comeback of comebacks”. As a scholarship recipient, she receives SEK 500,000.
— I was about to drop the phone on the floor. It took a long time to understand that I was going to get so much money. Now I don’t have to worry about the electricity bill exactly. It feels incredibly honoring and affirming, says Ulla Wiggen in her studio at home in the house on Lidingö in Stockholm.
The brushes on the shelf
Already with his first exhibition at the end of the 1960s, Ulla Wiggen made a breakthrough. Then she painted the inside of electronic devices, a motif that was highly unusual, but she was fascinated by the small precise components. She was also married to Knut Wiggen, who was involved in electronic music and was chairman of the association Fylkingen, and a lot of gatherings were held in the couple’s apartment.
— Knut was extremely visionary and we met the engineers who were developing computers. It was the future, I understood that, says Ulla Wiggen.
But despite her success, she stopped painting – for over 20 years. Partly it was because she worked as a psychotherapist and was chairman of the National Association of Psychotherapy Centres.
— It was intense and demanding. So then I put the brushes on the shelf. But I always thought “I will start again”. “I am an artist.”
After exploring electronic devices, Ulla Wiggen thought to turn his gaze inward towards the human body. But life got in the way. Her daughter fell ill and died in 1980. And looking at different organs in the body reminded her of her daughter’s illness.
— When she died, I felt quite lost. I had a very hard time being creative, I couldn’t go down into those layers of myself because then only pain came up.
– It feels just as new every time I start with an iris and just as exciting, “what am I going to find in this”, says Ulla wiggen, here in her studio. Tape big expense
But art has always meant a lot to Ulla Wiggen, it was the way out of a conservative childhood, when you had to be well-mannered and neat. The marriage to Knut Wiggen and their association with creative people was “like being born again”.
“It was to come alive,” she says.
It was also a strong experience to be invited to New York by Öyvind Fahlström. He worked unconventionally, instead of sketching he used, for example, a camera and projector. He made fine lines with tape, which Ulla Wiggen adopted.
— All my electronic paintings are made with tape, that was my biggest material cost when I painted these paintings. I have tubes of color left that I bought in New York, I don’t get rid of that much. I never paint thickly.
After Ulla Wiggen was invited to the Modern Museum in 2013, she also gave painting a new chance. She painted organs such as lungs, intestines and skeletal parts before deciding to paint our minds. At the time, she had glaucoma and her vision was particularly relevant. One day she woke up and realized that it was irises she was going to paint.
— When you look at an iris painting, it looks at me and I look at it. You are sucked into it. It’s a very strange experience and I was caught by it immediately, she says.
The artwork does
Nowadays, she starts from specific people in her iris paintings, without making “iris portraits” for the sake of it. With the electronic paintings, she was careful that they would all be different, but now she is not worried about painting the same subject.
— I think of Morandi, who painted the same pots and bottles throughout his life. I thought “should you see a whole exhibition about these small pots” and went out to Artepelag in Stockholm. And I loved every single painting, because they are so vivid. He is there all the time and that is what makes the work of art. You have to be involved in every brush stroke – then the painting comes to life.
Ulla Wiggen has always painted people. Her first portrait – which was a self-portrait from 1969 – hangs in her studio on Lidingö.