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It may sound like a stretch, but skateboarding and graphic art have a lot in common. Both require arduous initiation periods of trial and error, performing the same minuscule motions over and over again before attaining even the most basic form of control over the process.

But once you have put in countless hours and landed on your face a thousand times, you possess a level of mastery that may well set you apart from your peers. A level that allows you to pick up a blank piece of paper and manifest, first try, in clear and flawless lines, something expertly penned and shaded in miraculous detail, executed on a pre-meditated idea full of wit and social commentary.

Something like a gloriously dark and humorous piece by Swedish artist Martin Ander, also known as ‘Mander’.

Working from a studio in the small town of Gnesta near Stockholm, Sweden, Mander has created art in his signature style for album covers, beer bottles, magazine articles, and skateboard decks, among many other things.

His approach is marked by bold line art depictions of robots, dragons, skinheads and other zany characters in the style of 1980s underground comics, caught in isometric cityscapes and dark dystopian environments. Always with that recognizable, dark Mander twist, forged over decades of graffiti art and involvement in the skateboard and underground scenes.

I have never had any ideas of doing anything else then drawing for a living.

Even before he discovered skateboarding and graffiti, art was part of his DNA. Mander grew up in a creative household. “My dad was an illustrator and a graphic designer and my mom was in publishing when I was young. My dad also collected books on political satire, comics and art. So the interest in illustration and comics came naturally. I have never had any ideas of doing anything else then drawing for a living,” said Martin Ander.

As we speak, Mander is celebrating a major milestone in his ongoing journey. Today, September 20 marks the release of a new coffee table book chronicling selected works from his 25-year career as a graphic artist. Published by Dokument Press, Ouff! Mander Selected Works features 96 full-color pages in a 17x24cm hardback book with over 300 illustrations.


Before Mander’s schedule fills up with interview requests and he hits the gallery circuit showcasing the book around Europe, ILLUMINATED PAPER caught up with him to talk about his creative process, taking the leap into the art life, and the role of art in our batshit-crazy political landscape.

Congratulations on your new book, Mander. It came out so good. Please briefly introduce yourself to all our readers that are unfamiliar with your work.

My name is Martin Ander, I draw under the signature Mander. I was born in Stockholm, Sweden in 1976.

When did you first get exposed to skateboarding and street art?

I’ve always been interested in street culture, even though I grew up in a suburb pretty far away from the city. My earliest memories of skateboarding were probably when I was about four, there were always kids riding bikes and skateboards in the street. So skateboards were around. And my cousin had a metal board, but he never let me borrow it.

I remember seeing skateboarding on TV, and in ads on the back cover of comic books. Like a Coca-Cola ad with a skateboarder in the early eighties. I thought it looked so cool. Around the same time graffiti hit Sweden and was in the media a lot. I was fascinated by it, but I had no idea where to find more info.

In 1985, I talked my grandmother in to buying me a skateboard, a little plastic board that I skated around the neighbourhood with. It had a top graphic that said ”Skateboard” in a semi-graffiti looking style. I thought it was so cool.

Serial killer: A Mander-designed skateboard series for US-based company Flip Skateboards.

Was there a moment when you decided to get into it “seriously”?

In 1987, when I was eleven, everybody had skateboards and it was in the media big time. ‘Skateboarding is back!’ I got my hands on both my first real skateboard, a Santa Cruz Roskopp with the target and the robot/monster. And I also picked up a copy of Martha Cooper’s book Subway Art. One year later I was traveling all over Stockholm to skate, look at graffiti and meet friends. In 1988, the first skate shop opened in Stockholm and all the kids would hang out there, every single day.

In my head the board graphic was never just an image, it told the whole story of the company and what kind of dude the rider was. I’ve always wanted to tell a story, not just draw an image.

Aside from skateboarding and graffiti, you also come from an art and publishing family background. Who were your inspirations growing up? I saw Charles Burns and Robert Crumb mentioned in a feature about you.

I have got so many influences, first of all it was Disney and all the French and Belgian comic books, combined with Mad magazine, fantasy art, M.C. Esher and Swedish illustrators like Hans Arnold, Jan Lööf, Tove Jansson and Ilon Wikland. Then came graffiti, skate graphics, punk rock, Swedish and American underground comics and of course the San Francisco psychedelic poster scene from the ‘60s. I can still find traces of all of the above in my work.

Up to the sky: 1960s psychedelic influences loom large over Mander’s art.

On that note, your artwork always communicates a thought-out idea or concept that really gets people thinking. How would you characterize your style?

I think my style actually comes from reading lots of comics and from staring at the deck wall at the local skate shop as a kid. In my head the board graphic was never just an image, it told the whole story of the company and what kind of dude the rider was. I’ve always wanted to tell a story, not just draw an image.

Nowadays you get to tell stories across a wide range of projects and media. At what point did you realize you could do art for a living?

I’m also a graphic designer. When I was in my early twenties, I worked in B2B graphic design at an ad agency for a couple of years. But once I lost that job I didn’t really want to go back to another agency, mainly because I didn’t have any proper education and that was required to get a good job. But I knew that I was pretty good at what I was doing and I had my goal set on being an illustrator rather than a graphic designer.

So I started my own business and started doing lots of small jobs for my friends which gave me more creative control and the chance to incorporate more illustration in my graphic design. Nowadays I still do some graphic design, but 80% of my work is illustration.

So you created your own path, which can be a bold step. Do you have any advice to upcoming artists?

My advice to aspiring artists is: Be social, get to know lots of people from all walks of life while you’re young. They are your future clients. Learn the basics, study the masters. Never half-ass your work, take all the chances you get, have fun doing it.

Darkness in black and white: Cover art for Fever Ray’s album.

My advice to aspiring artists is: Be social, get to know lots of people from all walks of life while you’re young. They are your future clients. Learn the basics, study the masters. Never half-ass your work, take all the chances you get, have fun doing it.

SKATEBOARD INSPIRATIONS

You mentioned staring at the board wall at the skate shop in Stockholm as a kid. What kind of artists were your inspirations in skateboarding, in particular?

In skateboard graphics it was Jim Phillips, VCJ, Pushead, Ron Cameron, Sean Cliver and McKee. And I think John Lucero doesn’t get enough props for his graphics. Also a big influence on me has been Swedish artist and skater and friend Gorm Boberg, who was responsible for many of the New Deal and Mad Circle graphics in the nineties.

When you looked at these boards, did you try to copy the graphics at home?

Yes I was already doing that before the shop opened. I bought my first skateboard magazine in 1987, Thrasher magazine. And I started copying things right away (laughs). I bought my first board on a trip to Los Angeles. That was my mission for the trip, find a real skateboard. I looked up a shop in the phone book and it was Rip City in Santa Monica. They are still around today! That’s where I saw skateboard graphics really for the first time – and I was so stoked!

Back in the day boards were so huge, they offered a bigger canvas for cool graphics, right?

Yes and back then people would also do their griptape art in a way that nicely framed the top graphic.

Top graphics are sick! When you design a board graphic, do you create a top graphic?

Almost never (laughs). The Swedish company Sweet Skateboards had lots of money when they started, and they could afford to pay for top graphics. So back then I got to design some matching top graphics for them. That’s the dream thing to have, really. Like Jim Phillips did for Santa Cruz or all the VCJ graphics when he did a top version of the Powell logo for the individual rider.

I’ve seen some of the younger companies experiment with graphics on top of the board. Like Polar has done really big top graphics that were really cool. Maybe it’s coming back that would be cool.

What is special about creating skateboard graphics compared to other media?

Skaters share a language and a tradition that many other clients don’t have. It’s a subculture, for skaters by skaters. I know that a skateboard client will get it when I incorporate a small joke or reference into a bigger image. But it varies from client to client, sometimes skate-clients can be hard to deal with too, and regular business clients can be super chill.

Speaking of clients, how did you connect with FLIP Skateboards?

I had been doing graphics for many Scandinavian brands before I started working with Flip. But my set goal has always been doing graphics for a big U.S. brand. I actually don’t remember how it came about, I think I got the contact from [Swedish pro skater] Ali Boulala.

Do you collaborate with the team riders on their graphics? And in how much do you include their personalities?

Not really, not with Flip. I’ve never talked to anyone on the team. All the contacts have gone via [Flip Skateboard co-owner] Jeremy Fox. All the ideas were all mine or Jeremy’s, or we brainstormed them up via Skype. But it’s always nice to get a thumbs up from the riders when I post the graphics on Instagram. When I work with Swedish brands, I usually know at least some of the team or the TM, then it’s easier to make more personal graphics. I like it when the pro is involved, it’s fun to do something they are proud of riding.

Who are your favourite skateboarders, all time and right now?

Of all time it’s Natas of course. Eric Dressen, Matt Hensley and Tom Knox. I’m also a big fan of Neil Blender. Swedes like Andreas Engelkes, Erik J. Petterson, Love Eneroth and Tomas Olsson. Right now Ben Koppl (@rollersurfer on Instagram) is fun to watch. And Oski!

I like it when the pro is involved, it’s fun to do something they are proud of riding.

ART AS SOCIAL COMMENTARY

You are also not afraid to speak out on current issues in your art. On that note, what’s the deal with your Trump “nuclear golfing” image and the cover for the new Michael Moore documentary? The similarity is uncanny!

The thing with that one was that originally the idea was just to make a golfer and a mushroom cloud, not Trump, But when I did a Google search to find a reference picture of how a golfer looks and the image of Trump showed up. That was around the same time Trump was threatening North Korea with nukes and stuff, so the idea just fell in my lap. I thought it would be a pretty powerful and quite funny image to make Trump the golfer.

I drew it and posted it om my Instagram in September 2017 and it got really popular. A couple of days later it blew up on Reddit and went viral. Then one year later a friend of mine notified me that Michel Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 poster was very similar looking to my image. And it was. Much due to the fact that they had used that exact same image that I had used as a reference. And of course the whole mushroom cloud concept.

Pretty funny, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I can’t really sue Hollywood, and since I don’t have any right to my reference image and they probably do, I don’t want to make a big deal out of it. Plus, I like Michel Moore’s films.

What’s wrong is that facts and statistics don’t seem to count anymore, that the ”truth” is dictated by the biggest mouth.

You also posted messages on Twitter like the truth about migration and crime in Sweden. What’s wrong with public discourse these days and how can artists have a voice?

I will try to keep this short. What’s wrong is that facts and statistics don’t seem to count anymore, that the ”truth” is dictated by the biggest mouth. Here in Sweden the Sweden Democrats – the Nazi scum – have totally hijacked the public debate which have normalised racist, homophobic and misogynist thoughts. It has led to numerous violent attacks on refugees, Romani-migrants and homosexuals. I think it’s important to speak up against that shit.

Aside from Twitter, would you characterize your work itself as political?

I don’t see my work as political, but I know that my world view is formed by all the images that I have consumed. I’m happy to help forming the next generation with my images.

It’s not that I have any obvious political statements in my work, but I always say yes to pro bono work if it can make a difference for someone. And I always try to be inclusive and think twice about how I portrait people in my work. Especially in my children’s books. Political correctness is not a bad word, being nice and caring about other people’s feelings should be the norm.

BREWS AND ALBUM COVERS

Your portfolio also includes album art for rapper KRS One, how did the connection happen? And what went into the psychedelic style of the cover?

I was asked by the Swedish promotor to make a poster for KRS ONE’s Scandinavian tour dates, which was awesome! I’m a long-time fan. KRS really liked the poster and asked if I wanted to make the art for his upcoming album. The problem was that they needed it to be finished in 24 hours. So there wasn’t much thought in the image. It’s just my late-night stream of consciousness.

It turned out quite epic! What is the story behind the beer bottles featuring your designs?

My friend, legendary designer and DJ and promotor Mattias Lundin called me and said that he had become part owner in a brewing company and a bar in Stockholm. He asked me if I wanted to exhibit my work at the bar.

It was a quite rowdy place so I didn’t really want to hang my original work there so I suggested that I could have a poster show, with all of my old gig posters. He said that they will have a batch of pilsner ready for the opening, so we named it Mander Pilsner and I designed the label.

And… was it rowdy?

It was the best opening ever, all my friends, lots and lots of beer and good music and a wild dance floor.

You have also done quite a lot of magazine illustrations and infographics. What is the recipe for making an exciting magazine graphic?

It depends on what kind of publication it is for. I think it’s important to read up on the subject. And to let the images tell a parallel story. Not say exactly the same thing as the text.

Do you still get up on walls with graffiti? 

It happens.

It was a quite rowdy place so I didn’t really want to hang my original work there so I suggested that I could have a poster show.

OUFF! THE BOOK

Let’s plug your new baby. How did the idea for the book come about and how did you connect with your publisher?

I’ve been working on and off with Dokument Press since the early nineties. They started as one of the first graffiti magazines (UP, f.k.a. Underground Productions) then it morphed in to a book publisher. I’ve done loads of book design for them and we are close friends. Over the years, they have done some books about specific artists.

About three or four years ago my editor Björn Almqvist asked me if they could do a book about my work, but I wasn’t in to it. I thought it was too big of a thing and that I wasn’t worthy of a book of my own. Then he asked me two times a year until I finally agreed. I’m happy he didn’t give up (laughs).

What is the structure of the book, is it chronological?

Well, I started doing it chronological and have different sections on posters and skateboard graphics, but my publisher Bjorn said it looked too much like a catalogue (laughs). So I looked around at some of the other skateboard graphic books out there and realized it was a bit disappointing since there was not that much information in them.

No text about anything, just graphics you had mostly seen before. Then I approached it more like a collage of everything I have done and playing with colors. Basically have two layers going on so every time you opened the book you would see something you hadn’t seen before.

There’s definitely a lot to keep picking it up again and again.

I didn’t want people to get full on just one read. There’s much to come back to and I also wanted to feature informative text as background. One text was supposed to be about my posters but it ended up being about the Stockholm club scene in the 1990s, because my friend who wrote it ran a club that I have made some of my best posters for.

The other text is about skateboard graphics, because people from the outside just think skate graphics is just stealing other people’s art and logos, sample images. I actually wanted someone to explain that and John Dahlqvist, the principle of the skateboard high school in Malmö (Bryggeriets Gymnasium) did a great job.

So you’re trying to bridge the gap between different audiences?

Something like that. Many people know me for one thing, but I do all these other things as well. I just want people to know that I’m not just a ‘skate graphics guy’ or ‘poster graphics guy’. And I didn’t talk about my children’s books or my B2B illustration work. But by talking about the fun jobsI can maybe get more of the fun type of work (laughs).

What’s the concept behind the word OUFF?

It’s just an expression. Two of my favourite people Jacob Kimvall and Leenus use it a lot. Like when I show them something that I have done and their response is just “Ouff!”

In the Urban Dictionary it says:

Ouff = An exclamation of triumph/ making a breakthrough.

I thought it would be a good title for the book. Making people go Ouff, that’s the whole meaning of my work. Plus it describes the feeling I got when I stepped into a skate shop and saw all the graphics for the first time.

Making people go Ouff, that’s the whole meaning of my work.

When will Ouff! be available and how can people get their hands on it?

The release in Sweden is set for September 20. It’s already available for pre-order world-wide on all big online bookstores, but it will probably take a couple of weeks longer before the palette lands overseas.

Will you be doing an exhibit or tour around the book?

We will do a book signing tour, and I’ll probably bring some stuff to hang on the walls. First stop will be a release party on September 21 at Bleck, Stockholm. After that it’s September 27 at Kino, Gothenburg. We will probably show up in Malmö, Copenhagen, Berlin and maybe London too, but no dates or venues are set yet.

Enjoy every minute of your tour, you earned it. And thanks for the interview, Martin!

Follow Mander on Instagram

Check out Martin Ander’s website.

Pre-order Ouff! Mander Selected Works on Amazon


 

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