Twelve Questions with Jannik Abel
Updated: Aug 18, 2019
Jannik Abel, Artist, born 1973, lives and works in Nesodden and Oslo, Norway. Abel got her art degrees in San Francisco and travels the world extensively to create and show. An artist with presence both in the national and international art scene and in public spaces dating back to 2000 up until now. Abel´s practise is concerned with imminence and inheritance- both in humanity and nature.
1. I want to begin by asking about your childhood exposure to the arts and how possible/accessible that world felt to you. Can you speak about what artisthood looked like to you as a child? Did you have creatives in your family or your family’s close circle of friends, or did you strike out in a new direction from your family culture?
My mother and father was gallerists so I basically grew up in a gallery. Every Sunday I went to see art with my dad and many vacations were spent in museums. Art was always the topic around our dinner table. However my family was not artists themselves. I am the first.
Our household was on the outside beautiful, rich and calm. On the inside dysfunctional and unpredictable. I am sure that my childhood created a need in me to connect to myself outside human connection. The art became my own personal space.
2. Is there a formative image or event around creative calling for you? What made you want to pursue your artistic field? And was there anything in particular that gave you the courage to take that first step?
I studied photography in my early twenties. It was a strong need I had. It wasn’t a choice really. Photography connected me to the world around me. A world I had escaped from because of the turbulence in my childhood home. It was a lifesaver.
3. What are some creative works of others that have made the greatest impact on you, stylistically or personally? Is there a work that makes you fall back in love with your craft or industry when you’re discouraged?
I was exposed to so much art growing up but I didn’t have one particular idol. I looked up to Edward Munch's paintings. Because of their raw emotions. Especially the one of his sick sister that he painted again and again cause it didn’t look right to him. Only when he made it blurry like he saw it through teary eyes was he satisfied. And any work of Gordon Marta Clark how he used abandoned buildings as his material. And Any landart really. That probably launched me into being one of the pioneers of street art in the 90ties.
I have over the years found what triggers my artist flow. It’s nature. It’s music. It’s movies. And sometimes going to museums sets it off. But mostly it’s life that inspires me the most. This weird magic human journey called life.
4. Can you share a low point on your creative path and talk about how you dealt (or are dealing) with it? Or can you speak about a greatest fear that you grapple with?
When my mom died I only created one work art in one year. It was buttons with the word: Who are you missing? A statement to make me find meeting points in other humans. I wondered and feared that my art ideas were gone forever. They were not. Grief was just taking care of me and focusing on making me feel the huge amount of feelings that I had visiting. My mom's death was from cancer. A long journey of illness and loss. It was overwhelming. I now know that my artistic path will never leave me. It is always there as long as I listen. I gained a new trust in it after that year.
5. Could you distill the most important thing you’ve learned about your craft or your identity as an artist into one sentence?
I didn’t choose art. Art chose me.
6. Our childhood experiences shape us, the positive and the painful. Sometimes we have access to unusual resources, and sometimes loss, loneliness or lack can be a rich tool to move us forward. Are there any unusual circumstances, weird childhood habits, or difficult challenges that shaped the way you see or interact with the world? How might these things show up in your craft?
Since eye contact in my childhood meant I was about to get criticized I always looked down on the ground. This continued into my twenties. This made me quite lonely but it also made me find a lot of stuff on the ground. Things I used to make art with.
That and that I loved being alone was also a childhood consequence that was good for my artistic practice.
7. Talk about a failure or disappointment—can be related to your career or not—that led to greater success or sent you on a more authentic or whole-hearted path.
I once worked on an exhibition for 3 years. It was very important to me and spent a lot of time and money on it. I had unfortunately chosen the wrong gallery space for it. A gallery that did not represent the work or understood it. It almost ruined me emotionally and financially. It was a big part in me choosing to reject the gallery business all together and do art outside that system. A liberating and rewarding choice.
8. What does a good creative day look like for you? What gets you in flow?
A good day is a day without must do’s.
I work best in the morning so I wake up, eat, light a fire, and start wherever I left off. If my studio is messy I clean first. I work till about lunch, then I take a break since what I do is very physical. I usually pick up work again in the evening for a couple of hours. Since I live in the forest and work with wood a walk in the forest is also a must! I see my artistic practice has five faces. Ideas, find the material (I only use things I find in the forest), sharpen tools, create. The last is choosing how to share the art. Social media, a show or simply documenting it.
9. What has your experience with loneliness and creativity looked like? How do you find creative community?
I have felt lonely most of my life. On the other side I love being alone. I have had a difficult time finding people I can relate to. Lately I have met people I have chosen to ask if they would work with me. And they all have said yes! Such a expansive process. I still do a lot of work alone but knowing I have people to spar with is more important to me now than before.
10. What would be some things on your go-to resource list (ie. books, podcasts, online courses) that you would love to share with others? Any habits or spiritual practices that keep you on track or pull you up when you’re down?
My most important practice is to stay close to the material I work with. Have it in my studio. Hold it. See it. My mind then works its magic and ideas come my way. I see it as my duty to develop as a human being so podcast is my favorite go to downtime. I listen to OnBeing with Krista Tippet and Awake in the World with the late Micheal Stone weekly. I also get coached from a zen coach when I feel stuck or overwhelmed. Another practice is to take care of my body as my most important tool. Teaching classes to other artists also supports me in being sharp.
11. What does success as an artist mean to you?
I early defined success as when I had given a topic/project 100%. But now I consider success giving a project the time and presence it needs. Making is success.
12. If you could go back in time and speak to yourself at any age, what age would you choose and what would you say?
Trust your instincts.
Jannik Abel can be found on Instagram at @jannikabel and at her website. Her current project is the Reconnectors:
"Reconnectors is an art project connecting 100 people with 100 trees.
I have a sense we need to reconnect back to nature to feel our own human nature. These wooden art object are shaped with handtools only, mostly an axe, a knife and a chisel. They are made from fallen trees and come with information on where the tree lived and what type of tree it is. So far 76 people all over the world has one to hold."
You find more info under the hashtag #myreconnector