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What do you actually do? – Mads Lindberg

When he’s not making paintings, Mads Lindberg clears out the houses of dead people. It’s an oddly fitting side gig for an artist: it pays well, the hours are flexible, and there’s a bounty of treasure to be found amongst the unwanted belongings. Not that the Copenhagen-based artist is interested in jewels or finery, quite the opposite—its amateur painting that catches Lindberg’s eye. “I’m looking for fuck ups,” he explains. “If the flower looks weird, if the chicken is a little oversized, or the nose is a bit wonky…”

Lindberg’s interest in hobby painting started in 2018 while he was on a residency in New York. After visiting a few thrift stores, Lindberg started to photograph paintings he liked—from pictures of the Eiffel Tower to E.T.—which he then replicated back in his studio. Near the end of his residency he donated his new versions to other thrift stores, asking shop assistants to give each painting a short descriptive title. “Afterwards, I went around these stores a few times to see how they were installed,” says Lindberg. “Some of them looked really good placed next to old basketball sneakers and worn out TVs”, he adds with a smile.

Much like his idol Jim Shaw, who has been collecting thrift store paintings since the 1970s, Lindberg is interested in how artworks gain value. Is his version worth more, either conceptually or monetarily, because he’s a professional artist? And can a bad painting ever become a good artwork? One of the things that can make amateur paintings so cringe worthy is how earnest they are, but Lindberg’s paintings come with a liberal sprinkling of irony. He emphasizes, though, that it’s not about “giving the middle finger” to the original painter. Lindberg sometimes prefers these amateur creations to those by bona fide art stars anyway. “I found the original of this one in a crummy thrift store across the road from an art fair I was working at,” he says, showing me a painting of a pair of boots à la Vincent Van Gogh. “It was by far the best painting I saw that weekend.”

Since returning to Copenhagen, Lindberg has continued making his “Version 2.0’s”, which he paints and stores in his home studio. “What I really like about doing them is that a traditional painter has to deal with composition, color, content and sizing”, he explains. “I’m just doing one of two sizes and then it’s really about just choosing what to paint. It’s almost like doing a painting by numbers. What to paint today? Oh yeah, the one with the chickens, or this nice landscape or whatever.”

Lindberg now has around 60 of these works, forty of which are currently on view at Osteria 16, a trendy Italian restaurant in the Copenhagen district of Vesterbro. Owned by a friend, the eatery will act as the new off-space for Jir Sandel, the artist collective that he runs with a couple of friends. They also have a more traditional space nearby, but Lindberg was excited about the prospect of showing his paintings in this unusual setting. “It’s really nice that the paintings interact with the bottles of red wine and the plastic fruit and vegetables,” he says. “I think it’s nice to have your paintings hanging in a spot where people interact—they become a kind of background.” It’s a bit like seeing artworks in a collector’s house, I suggest. “All of my [sold] paintings are hanging near a nice designer table or something like that”, he agrees. “It looks a bit weird but it’s real. I see it as the utmost honor to be hanging in someone’s private space.”

Seeing these paintings on mass, what’s perhaps the most surprising element is the amount of genres there are on display. There are still-lives, portraits, animal paintings, and copies of famous impressionist painters like Manet and Monet. Ships feature heavily, as do sunsets. Some of these different categories have even spawned spin-off series. Lindberg likes to paint snowballs on landscapes, for instance, and if he comes across a flower painting he wraps it in a “Thank you for shopping with us” bag and covers it in resin. “I’m trying to utilise the different genres differently in different series,” he says. Another body of work he’s currently experimenting with involves making abstracts out of failed paintings, although he says the series needs to “ripen” before it will be ready to be exhibited.

Looking to the future, Lindberg says that the only way he’s put an end to his versions is if he stops enjoying making them. “If it’s not fun to do then, forget it”, he says, going on to admit that the same goes for art making in general. “The moment that I feel that I’m just pressing buttons then I’ll stop doing this. Maybe it would be different if I had a big gallery behind me selling my paintings for a million dollars apiece. But at the moment I’m doing it because it’s fun. It’s a reason to get out of bed.”

Mads Lindberg was an exchange student at the HFBK Hamburg from 2010-11 with Andreas Slominski. From 2006-2013 he was studying at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen with Katya Sander, Hito Steyerl & Thomas Locher.

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