The Japanese tend to have a pretty fair idea of the typical foreigner in their midst. It is usually that of the pretty boy blonde in the necktie; he’s clean-cut, he banks or he teaches the present perfect to reluctant salarymen, and in his down time he plays video games or drinks at foreign bars. Like most of us, the Japanese often prefer to have pre-conceptions realised, and if this is so, then Norwegian artist, Gardar Eide Einarsson, must confound their expectations. His body a canvas for tattoo artists and his mind a vestibule to the esoteric, he has managed to live through adulthood doing his life’s work without ever having to humdrum his hours in an office. His days are spent between his art studio and his home – which just happens to be a Japanese modernist classic – and his downtime, he is a doting father to his three-year-old son, Ellis. Between the tattoos, the mixed martial arts training, the old-school reputation as an enfant terrible, the extraordinary success, and a proclivity to make case study art out of psychopaths, jihadis, and apocalyptic bunker types, it’s understandable that he might cast an intimidating figure. But Einarsson, who has made so much of his art on the idea that things aren’t always what what they seem, is an engaging, friendly and humble man.
On a sunny afternoon, I went to visit Einarsson in Nishi-Azabu,an affluent neighborhood in south-central Tokyo. His studio is located on a quiet lane by a large temple complex. It’s something of a tranquil area, sandwiched by the glitzy districts of Roppongi and Omotesando. When I arrive, Einarsson is wearing his studio clothes, shorts and a V-neck T-shirt splattered with paint drops (which are also liberally sprinkled all over the floor). He politely asks if it’s all right if he paints while we talk and begins touching up one of his pieces.There are four large canvases in his studio, mostly finished, all monochrome and awaiting different destinations, among them Oslo and Los Angeles, for upcoming shows.
Einarsson, 40, is a self-confessed artist of appropriation. A consummate researcher and cultural digger, he uncovers all kinds of material from disparate sources. If if they inspire or provoke, they might catalyse him into painting or sculpting something anew. “All my work is found images,” he says. “These are assorted book covers and comic book cells that I edit and take out all the words.” The painting he is touching up, an abstract of two parallel arrowed lines pointing in cross directions, Intersection, is from the catalogue of a 1960s group show. The painting next to it looks like honeycomb. It is called Assessment of Human Character and its design is borrowed from a 1960s psychology textbook. “I like this disconnect between the flatness and nothingness and the title which has more content.”
What makes Einarsson’s paintings differ from other abstract art is the element of deliberate human error. From this seemingly perfect honeycomb sequence, black paint dribbles over white haphazardly. “I want the paintings to be obviously made in a not so impressive way, to show that they have failed a little bit. A pattern that is not well executed, or a pattern that fails, that is what it’s supposed to be,” he says. “There’s something funny about them being paintings. They’re anti-aesthetic somehow.” There’s a large canvas drawn with the Mitsubishi logo (“It was a famous MDMA logo in the 90s”). My favorite piece is a 1960s Marvel Comics Jack Kirby-era Incredible Hulk, gazing with untempered rage at emerging starlight, titled. Why Is Every Man That Lives My Enemy? Einarsson has taken out the text and replaced it with a lonely constellation, poeticizing the existential fate of the comic book character.
Upstairs from his atelier is something of a research center. Besides his computer is a multitude of paranoid tracts, doomsday volumes, and survivalist literature, the type of thing guaranteed not to make you popular with airport security. These include Modern Warfare; The French Overview of Counter-Insurgency; Prepper’s Survival Hacks; How to Hide Anything; Combative (Hand to Hand Combat); The Most Evil Secret Societies in the World; as well as specialist guides related to riots, crowd control, booby traps, and much else – some geared towards the security services, others towards the revolutionary.