Artist Uses Skulls to Show Beauty is Everywhere, Even in the Unappealing

British artist Magnus Gjoen explores the oldest corners of the world to bring new light to classic imagery, in ways that cause reflection on commonly held perspectives. In his art, he juxtaposes images and icons of religion, war, history and death in a style that is both provocative and hauntingly beautiful. We caught up with Magnus for an insight into his practice.

When did art begin for you?

I guess you could say that I’m an accidental artist. While working in fashion 5 years ago I moved into a new flat in London, and started searching for art to hang on my walls. In the end I decided to do it myself and the rest has snowballed from there to me quitting my job a year later.

I initially started doing limited edition prints, which over the years have become more elaborate and with special finishes like gold leaf and diamond dust. As the demand for originals has increased, a lot of my time is spent making these for specific clients and shows.


Could you explain the motivation or meaning behind layering classical imagery over skulls and weapons in your work?

My mother is a psychiatrist so the first works I did were based on the relationship between the fragility of the mind and the object itself. It was also about presenting something which the viewer already had a relationship to and opinions about and making them look at it from a different point of view. People don’t question anymore, they just follow the mass point of view.


Could you walk us through the process of creating one of your pieces?

It usually starts with a trip to Italy. Now that I live full time in London, I go to Italy for a few months in the summer to explore. Visiting every nook and cranny and churches on hill tops for inspiration.

Not only Italy of course, but I accumulate a wealth of inspiration from exhibitions and museums I go to, and when I get back to London, they’re all printed out into a huge mood board. From there starts the creation and inspiration to make new pieces. From subject matter to finish. I use quite a lot of time doing digital mock ups. Even if the final piece is a 3D object or painting, I need to see it work on a screen before it is made.

It can take between 3 weeks and 3 years to finish a piece. Sometimes the best thing is to let something lay until you find the correct inspiration on how to finish it and execute that.

What is your favorite medium to work with?

I constantly work with new mediums, and a lot of my originals are mixed media. ‘Love Thieves and Fear Make Ghosts’ is painted, printed and gold leafed. I do like print though as there are usually more than one and there is many things you can do with them.

Do you have a favorite piece?

‘Break Glass for the Second Coming’ is my favorite. It took me 3 months to complete with the lighting and shadows and reflections in the glass. One gets attached to something when you spend three months looking at a dead person.

What has been the best piece of advice you have ever received?

It was a question. What is next? How are you going to develop this? It woke me up a bit and I started questioning how to progress.

What are the issues and topics that interest you? What do you like to express through your work?

My work is a lot of the time about rediscovery and taking things from the past and renewing it for the contemporary market. To breathe a bit of fresh air into dusty old paintings forgotten in the far corners of museums or in its basement. It’s also about presenting an object in a new light to the viewer who has innately been told that a specific object is negative. Beauty can also be found in a small piece of engineering like a gun.

What is your greatest dream as an artist?

Fame and fortune.

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