Although you may not have heard of him, you might already have come across his art. Every Friday, Patrik Lundell distributes his artworks for free in Florence’s historic centre, leaving his pieces, which are made from cardboard left out for recycling, on streets and buildings for passersby to pick up.
While Lundell himself has a wealth of stories to tell, the art he has tattooed on his body tells some of them for him. Whenever he comes across something particularly interesting or important to him, he immortalises it in a tattoo. Among them is a series of symbols painted on buildings by homeless people in New York, used to communicate information to each other, such as where to get food and water, or which streets to avoid.
Another tattoo is a representation of his grandmother, who was the reason he took up art in the first place. ‘My grandmother gave me art supplies, booklets, paints and all that, every birthday and every Christmas, and they started to pile up. In 2007 she got really sick and ended up in a hospital. A lot of thoughts went through my head and I rediscovered these things and did my first painting. She passed away unfortunately and never got to see the painting. But now whenever I paint, I paint for her.’
Lundell was born and grew up on an island in Stockholm’s archipelago: the landscape and the free and open mindset of the people there inspire his work to this day. After several exhibitions in Sweden, his life changed when he met his girlfriend, Jacqueline, who is also an artist. ‘When we met I felt it was going to be an adventure. We had only known each other for a short period of time when I gave her a tattoo as a gift. “Follow your dreams wherever they take you” was the text she chose to tattoo on herself. This text and the meaning of it took us here to Florence.’
While moving to Florence was challenging at first, especially with the language barrier, Lundell’s motto is ‘Believe in your art and the rest will follow.’ And ‘the rest’ has indeed followed fairly smoothly. He and his girlfriend Jacqueline have already had several exhibitions around the city, and they both love ‘the friendliness of Florentine people. We really feel at home here.’
Lundell’s art revolves around figures and words, and one of his characteristic figures, a waiter, has recently made it onto a wine bottle. Lundell wants to bring his art to ‘a new public and to show other artists that nowadays it’s necessary to really think outside the box’, finding new ways to display art and not just focusing on galleries. The Montalcino wine with his image on the label can be found in Florence’s Enoteca alla Sosta dei Papi (via Borgo La Croce 81a), which is currently working on a Chardonnay to host another piece of Lundell’s art.
A main feature in Lundell’s work is his use of recycled materials. When he recently came across two gun holsters at the market in piazza dei Ciompi he knew exactly what to do with them. After a few licks of paint, the holsters are now up on the wall and engaging in conversation. Explains Lundell, ‘“Who knew I’d end up here,’ one of the holsters asks out loud, and his brother replies, “Peace and love.” Their story was clear for me: [destructive] things may be used for a greater cause.’
Lundell has a number of exhibitions coming up in Florence, including ones at Ètè Bistrot (via Faenza 55r; until October 31) and Volume (via di Santo Spirito 5; October 31–November 30). See www.patriklundell.com to find out about other exhibits and to delve further into the world of this Swedish free spirit who has made Florence his home.
How have you changed by being in Florence?
I’ve become more of an optimist, a positive thinker. Anything is possible, and what it comes down to is you.
One thing that Sweden will always do better?
Apartment upkeep. When a part of the wall is going to fall off, Italians tend to build around it rather than fixing it. You also have to learn to adapt to the a domani mentality, and to having cold water some days.
One thing that Italy will always do better?
There are so many things. The mentality. In Sweden everything’s really strict. If someone cuts in front of you in a queue you start tweeting about how they spoilt your day! Here you are expected to cut the line. Life is more interesting this way. I don’t want to live in a box.
What’s the best place for contemporary art in Florence?
The streets. I especially like what Clet has done, he’s a really smart guy.
Is there a place in the city that inspires you?
The former prison Le Murate. I like to sit in the courtyard, to feel the history. It’s in the walls.