Tom Cullberg
Tom Cullberg
Image: Supplied

Describe the colour yellow to somebody who is blind. How we perceive colour is subjective and there are so many variations of the colour yellow from pale to bright, muddy to clear, warm to cool. I would perhaps talk about the origins of the different pigments that make yellows, about the function and experience of the yellow lines in the street, the taste of lemon. I would be more interested in hearing what the blind person imagines colour to be.

What’s the most interesting thing about you that we wouldn’t learn from your CV alone? I’m very good at making a delicious meal even though the fridge is practically empty, building Lego, and fixing random things. I like gardening and singing.

What are you known for? Perhaps I’m best known for my book-paintings, which I showed for the first time at Stevenson Gallery in 2010. They are portraits of my friends through my painterly interpretation of their book collections. Lately, I’m making paintings of furniture, houses and objects isolated on abstract fields that could be experienced as landscapes or rooms.

What inspires you? My kids, music, books and films, architecture and furniture design, the streets of Cape Town, memories/ remembering and perhaps most importantly the act of painting in itself.

What’s the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it? Top of the Lake season 2.  I was waiting for it in anticipation after loving the first season. Excellent acting all round but especially the lead Elisabeth Moss who is so brilliant. Beautiful cinematography and a gripping story.

What was the last gift you gave someone? A hopelessly complicated mini bead loom for my 5 year old daughter. Note to self: stick to unicorns and mermaids for a 5 year old.

What do you think about when you’re alone in your car? I enjoy driving and find it quite meditative and look more than I think. There’s so much to look at driving through Cape Town. I look at people and buildings and on my way. I often stop to take snaps of something or other that I think I will use in a painting.

You’re a new addition to the paint box. What colour would you be and why? What I would like to be is Emerald green. It goes from lustrous light to deep and dark and with the addition of some crimson red it goes black! Versatile, elegant and exciting but in reality I would probably be Cerulean blue.

How do you handle criticism? When criticism is considered, useful or informative, it’s welcome.

What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? I make myself a cup of coffee. If time and family allow, I sit or potter in the garden for five to ten minutes in silence.

What do you worry about, and why? I worry about a lot of small and big things. Inequality worries me. The world seems to be in a crazily unfair and disjointed state.

How do you define success and how do you measure up to your own? Success is being free to do what I love – time to paint, and being acknowledged for what I do. Of course, it’s more complicated than that, life includes successes and failure, there are risks to be taken that can propel you forward or drop you down. The success lies within the act of carrying on.

Would you rather be liked or respected? I find it hard to respect people that are unkind. I don't think you can have the one without the other in the mix but I probably strive more towards the latter. 80% respected / 20% liked if I’m allowed a blend?

What are you reading at the moment? I am busy reading Hennie van Vuuren’s Apartheid Guns and Money and Karl Ove Knausgard’s My Struggle. Both excellent. I try to read every second book in Swedish to keep my mother tongue up to scratch.

If someone wrote a biography about you, what do you think the title should be? Let's worry about that when the time comes. (That's not the title)

What makes you angry? Inequality, laziness, weak coffee

What was the biggest risk you ever took and what did you learn from it? Probably when I left friends and family to move to South Africa from Sweden to go to art-school as a 19 year old. I learned to braai and perhaps a few other things.

What’s your most significant project? Every new exhibition is hugely significant, and marks a chapter in the work I’m doing, regardless of whether the show is in Stockholm or New York or back home in Cape Town. Each one represents a body of work that I have been developing, often in solitude, for a long period, could be up to two years. Everything has to be right, from the work I choose to include, how the work is curated, to where I show it and who will see it. Collaboration with a gallery is very important as they represent your work to the world.

If you were a brand, what would your motto be? Cool calm collected ;)

Examples of Cullberg's work:

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