Artist Spotlight - David von Bahr

Interview by Eben Benson
February 23, 2023
photo of david von bahr sitting in his studio with artwork on the wall behind him


While preparing for the artists upcoming solo exhibition and his debut in the United States, writer Eben Benson sat with David von Bahr to talk about his art career, background in graffiti and painting process.

Tell us a bit about your story, when did you start painting and when did you start making paintings like your more recent ones? Did you grow up doing any graffiti? 

I’ve always had an interest in painting since I was very young. I remember when I was about 12 years old I made a painting of a tiger in school and I still have it framed at home. I still love it and think it’s one of the best paintings I've done so far. 

I grew up doing graffiti, I feel that I’ve benefited a lot from that background in terms of composition, scale and color. It’s also helped me to limit myself and be unafraid of making mistakes within a painting, I use these restrictions everyday in the studio.

I received a BA in Fine Art focusing on painting at Konstfack University of Arts, Design and Crafts in Stockholm. I graduated in 2019. 

Do you have multiple pieces going at a time or do you tend to get one entire piece done first? 

Nowadays I usually finish each painting individually, one piece at a time. I recently moved to a smaller studio and it gets too overwhelming and confusing to work on multiple pieces at the same time. Before, when I had a much bigger studio, I could work on 10 different paintings at a time. I haven’t yet decided on which I like more. At the moment I prefer working on one at a time, it helps to keep me focused. When I’m working on a show I really like to have all my finished work visible in the studio for reference. I would say that each work gives birth to another in terms of compositions, colors, shapes and energy. 

What are your feelings about having your first US solo show?

I find it super exciting, the works in this show are also in some ways a new direction for me and I love all of them. I can’t wait to have them shown at the gallery.

Your paintings are mostly pretty large, do you prefer making large work? Is your process pretty physical? 

Yes, some of them are pretty big, I like to think of them as human beings that I can have a dialogue with, and also I like to have constant movement within the canvas, like a dance. This ”dance” presupposes that I can let go and lose control, while maintaining a firm grasp on the materials.

Could you describe more about your process and time in the studio? 

I like to build obstacles in my paintings and try to let go of controlling what’s happening there. I like to surprise myself with compositions and colors I haven’t used before. I also want to achieve a certain sense of speed within my work. For me, it's the most fun part. And I even like failing, too. 

In some of the works from Zoom I would soak the canvases in water and when they were totally wet I’d sketch on them with either dry pastel, pencil, or paint to build new shapes and compositions. It’s like painting with soap in the sink or with your finger on the mirror after a warm shower. As the painting comes together, something else unfolds, a kind of pure, exposed development.

My studio is in southern Stockholm, I go there by foot from my apartment and it takes about 45 minutes each way, and that commute is very important for me. I can listen to music, talk with my friends on the phone, and think about what I’m going to do in the studio. I like to have all the canvases primed and stretched the day before so I can start working immediately when I get there. Usually the preparation is longer than the process itself.

Where do you get inspiration from? Could you expand on what inspires your color palette?

I usually surround myself with blaring sounds which add another dimension to the atonal harmony in my paintings. Transcribed to musical nomenclature, my movements become phrasings as they traverse the canvas from one point to another atop the foundational stratums of the composition. This is clearly a veritable theme in my practice, shaping distinctive and original emblems with ambulant strokes on canvas. 

Similarly, my random automatic practice resembles a virtuoso in my complete mastery of the instrument's technical nature. The same applies to the coloring, which in this context can be translated with timbre. Oscillating betwixt having tonality traits as bright and intense as warning signals in concert with a sfumatoesque disposition

Where did the show title, Zoom, come from? Could you explain how you landed on that title and how it relates to the work?

I like to see these works as zoomed in or zoomed out objects. Sometimes it can be a butterfly, sometimes it can be a flower, and sometimes it's a face. It's all open for the viewer to interpret. Even though I find my works to be more figurative, that’s what I love about their abstract nature.


 Photography by Emanuel Batali.

black and white photo of david von bahr in his studio amongst his paintings


photo of david von bahr in hi studio with his artwork