January 24, 2019

Carolina Gynning

Not yet 40 and Carolina Gynning is already a Swedish icon

Words Tone Schunnesson

Photos Frida Vega Salomonsson

Styling Annie Jensen & Nora Hagdahl

" I had all the attributes you weren’t supposed to have; huge breast implants, on my forehead it basically said “fuck me”. I thought it was given that I should be taken seriously. But no, no one else thought so."

Her journey does not resemble anyone else’s —having gone from winner of the reality show Big Brother, at the start of the millennium, to being an appreciated and bestselling artist. Over the course of the autumn of 2017 she has exhibited paintings essentially different from the expressive, colourful paintings she is known for. She has gained access to a darker and more profound place within herself. Tone Schunnesson interviews the artist who would not mind being the Swedish response to Damien Hirst. In Gynning’s life, art has always had a central role, present long before the things that first made her famous.

CG

I grew up with my mother, who’s a sculptor, so being in the studio with her all day was a natural part of my upbringing. Everything else that happened later, like me becoming a model and being able to live off of my appearance, that was just a damn detour.

TS

As a teenager I had this idea that I could become a Playboy-model as a way to support my dream, which was becoming a poet. Like that was a more likely income!

CG

Yes, I knew my mother was struggling and that she couldn’t support herself on her art but had to have a ‘real’ job as well. That’s why I thought I needed another job to support myself. Making art was more of a hobby back then.

TS

Did you keep your practice alive throughout the years?

CG

Yes, I’ve always brought a sketchbook everywhere, and I’ve made pretty journals filled with drawings throughout my life. I kept it alive, but it wasn’t enough. The modelling industry wasn’t for me; I was a terrible model. I went crazy when they wanted me to stand and be freezing cold for fifteen hours straight in some thong. The agencies I was with called me in for meetings all the time because I was bad. The fact that I am good looking has been some kind of downside of it all, I’ve always had to pay the price of beauty.

TS

In the first art exhibition you had after becoming famous contained, amongst others, a piece that drew a lot of attention—a bronze cast of your torso. Were you nervous about changing the image of yourself in the public eye?

CG

Taking the step to showcase my art wasn’t scary, what was scary was the bad criticism I received after. The newspaper Sydsvenskan, or some other paper, wrote a big article about how they considered it to be ‘reality TV-art’. As if that was the reason I was selling all of my paintings? There was something in what I was making that moved people and I knew that. But I was so fucking criticised for so many years that I still catch myself making excuses. I make shit loads of money off my art and I have plenty of people working for me, and despite this I find myself thinking “Surely I’m not an artist.”

" I’ve always had to pay the price of beauty."

TS

Everyone is so stingy about famous women being multifaceted. It’s as if one’s not allowed to change course or have several talents.

CG

No, and add to that the fact that I had all the attributes you weren’t supposed to have; huge breast implants, on my forehead it basically said “fuck me”. I thought it was given that I should be taken seriously. But no, no one else thought so. Instead I realised that if one looks like I do then you’re supposed to be walked all over and treated like shit.

TS

Then your art must have been an outlet through which you could express your entirety and all those emotions.

CG

That was exactly it! And many of the first paintings I made depicted screaming, crying women with large breasts haha. I publicly called myself bitch feminist, now there’s a constant debate, but I did it before it all started. When Ego Girl was published I was one of the first Swedish celebrities who had written their memoirs. To do it now isn’t that big of a deal, there’s a whole bunch of them, but I picked up on it early because I was inspired by American celebrities.

TS

Speaking of being inspired by the American, I heard the interview Nemo Hedén did with you and he really wanted to make a point out of you and him being birds of a feather because you’ve both been reality show contestants. I didn’t think he understood who you are at all. You’ve never been an insular reality show-celeb, instead it feels like you’ve had a surveying eye of sorts. 

CG

Yes, I have always experimented with the image of myself in some way, and especially at the beginning of my celebrity. I thought it was fun to provoke and rehearse the role I was presumed to have. Later I wanted to reshape my image. That’s when I took out my implants and posed with them like an angel in front of Elisabeth Olsson’s camera. Sure, it was a catharsis but it was also PR. You understand what I’m saying? I’ve always worked broadly. It is psychology, sorrow, cleansing myself, but it is also PR. 

TS

To me there has always been a performative aspect to your public life, which you’re in control of. In contrast to Nemo Hedén.

" I have never been scared of losing control when I, for instance, do drugs."

CG

It’s such a freedom to be in control over it, and this is also why I believe I’m an inspiration to young women. I’ve never been a victim. I’ve gone through some awful things in my life, but I’ve never been the victim.

TS

Well yes, early on I felt, like many others, noticeably drawn to you because it was so obvious that there was more to you than other reality show contestants. Could it have been the art you think?

CG

Nah, not just the art. It’s the whole business and my way of thinking. But the art is in everything I do. It creates all parts all the time, and it’s interesting that I’ve had such a turn in my way of painting now. The paintings I just exhibited are so different from what I’ve painted earlier. I have thought of it myself too, like “hell, am I supposed to paint these fucking colourful faces for the rest of my life? I am so sick of it and I know that style so well. I can walk in and finish a painting in three days!” I’ve been waiting for a change but I’ve felt that it can’t be forced. It has to come to me since I’m very spiritual as well.

The therapist me and my ex-partner went to performed hypnosis, which is something I’ve always been afraid of. I have never been scared of losing control when I, for instance, do drugs. Then it has only been exciting to think you’re lying in a pizza and everything is crazy. But in therapy I’ve been afraid of finding something really dark. When I eventually tried being hypnotised I realised that wasn’t the case at all. You’re present but you see images from your past, they’re insanely strong, and those are the paintings I included in my most recent exhibition.

TS

The images are truly incredible!

CG

You think so? Thanks a lot. Even if my way of painting took a complete turn recently, I also have Gynning Design, my company. There, I will always be able to make a living out of my colourful images, and those I can always do. But they are not as much a part of my soul anymore, they are my design and the design is my job; but the art is my therapy. With my most recent exhibition I didn’t sell everything like I normally do. My earlier paintings are easier to hang up on a wall at home, these are harder. I sold four paintings, which I am pretty pleased with. Still I got worried and thought, I have to survive too. Should one think about money or about passion? But giving it a second thought, I just make things coming from my soul.

TS

At the same time, an artist’s income is such a potent element of their daily life, like, the only thing you think about?

CG

This is a thing I find extremely provoking. Just look at men such as Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons. They are only money money money. They don’t do a single fucking brush stroke themselves but have a whole private stab and their own auctions. Surely nothing comes from the soul with those guys, yet no one seems to mind. Then we have Marina Abramović who cuts her wrists and I don’t think she makes any money. She mostly creates huge performances. If you want to be a female version of Hirst, which is something I’ve wanted, and say “I’m going to make some damn money off my art!” you’re given a lot of shit.

TS

When I saw Abramović’s exhibition at Louisiana I thought about the very high price she pays for her art—with her body. Is that what it has to cost for women to be recognised?

CG

Yes, I think so. Close to death all the time. However, as a feminist I’m sick and tired of moaning all day about how the world is unfair. Show it some other way instead! Show initiative in the way we do business, that is when we make a difference.

TS

But I don’t get it, it feels like people are insanely critical of you regarding everything about you, all the time. How do you not just lie down and complain sometimes? That’s what I would’ve done.

CG

Because I make my complaining a part of my success. That is a “fuck you” to me. “Haha, there you have it! I built a fucking empire as a female and a female artist at that.” That attitude I think is so much better than printing a t-shirt with the slogan I work while I bleed. Those exist now!? Hello, come on everyone. We set fire to bras 100 fucking years ago. Now a new type of feminism has entered. It is strong women who take what’s theirs, without having to express that we’re feminists! We don’t have to say shit; we just show that we have power.