“Did I really just bare my soul?”: Swedish painter Anna Camner on her new showcase at Stockholm's Liljevalchs

By Anna Mikaela Ekstrand

Photo: Daniela Gyllensten

Anna Camner's latest exhibition, opening this week in Stockholm is “an inviting feminine space” where the artist explores the idea of “unzipping” and “letting go of fear”. Vogue Scandinavia steps into Camner's studio ahead of anticipated 'Synthetopia' series unveiling to learn more

“Painting is a way to escape the ‘bell jar’,” Swedish painter Anna Camner explains to me when I interview her in her light-filled studio in Södermalm. She is referencing American author Sylvia Plath’s autobiography in which the protagonist describes the feeling of living under a bell jar – trapped and isolated. “It’s not always clear why I choose certain motifs when I paint, but in hindsight, it becomes almost ridiculously obvious how my personal life and the collective consciousness dictate the work,” she laughs. “With this particular series,” she gestures around her studio at large-scale oil paintings in pink and white hues hung all around us, “I’ve had a general idea of ‘unzipping’. Letting go of fear, and opening up,” she says.

We are meeting in her studio a month shy of the opening of her next show at Stockholm gallery Liljevalchs, an installation with 11 paintings from the series: 'Synthetopia'. Her works, painted over the past year are truly revealing and unbridled – “as if something has burst open,” I remark. “Yes,” she agrees.

Anna Camner's 'Synthetopia' at Liljevalchs. Photo: Mattias Lindbäck

Sometimes she feels embarrassed about the emotions she pours into each painting, especially when they end up becoming, in her words, so “glaringly obvious”. She likens that realisation to waking up from a vivid dream where you are running through the streets in your underwear, and the clarity of being awake makes you cringe at how revealing it all was. “Like, ‘Did I really just bare my soul (and more) for everyone to see?’” she says jokingly. We have all been there, Camner just had the balls, skill, and a tad of reckless desire to put her feelings on canvas – or acrylic sheets – which give her series at Liljevalchs a sleeker and lighter look.

Photo: Daniela Gyllensten

“The museum, dating back to 1916, is stunning but stiff and gloomy. So, my room nods to a dim boudoir, an inviting feminine space,” she comments on her exhibition design at Liljevalchs, where she chose a pink vinyl floor from Bolon and pink furniture designed by Af-L Architects to bring the atmosphere of the room up to par with her bold and daring works. Her title, 'Synthetopia', a portmanteau of Syntheism and utopia, expands the late 19th century-ism (championed by French impressionists Paul Gauguin and Emile Bernard) that centres an artist’s feelings surrounding their subject matter, rather than just the subject.

“For me, art is a glimpse into the future, a vision of what could be. So, intellectualising art around an -ism or other artist’s work has never appealed to me but I loved the concept of Syntheism, so I altered it to emphasise my forward-looking utopian perspective.” Both the exhibition design and series title attempt to cushion the presentation of her works, to rise to the occasion, rather than the other way around.

With this particular series, I’ve had a general idea of ‘unzipping’. Letting go of fear, and opening up.

Anna Camner

Photo: Daniela Gyllensten

It is particularly exciting for Camner to be interviewed by Vogue Scandinavia, as clothes have been a passion of hers since childhood. “Style is a way of relishing life and should not be underestimated.” However, she had a fashion faux-pas when she unwittingly put together an outfit that eclipsed her work at the opening of The Armory Show in New York with Galerie Forsblom. “My voluminous, colourful vintage Chanel skirt stole the show and ended up on Artnet instead of my paintings.“ In her shoot for this interview, Camner wears Keta Gutmane, Tasha Goodhew, Or Else, and Perlensau, all from The Forumist, and found that their team and stylist Sanna Fried helped her strike the perfect balance between art and fashion in the photographs.

Camner and I first met during Stockholm Art Week (the Swedish capital’s art fair week centred around the fair 'Market') in 2022 at a show organised by an artist collective she has co-founded, Black Iris. It is a great initiative that, through its curatorial framework, beyond the gallery context, welcomes the public to make unexpected connections between its Swedish artist members. An established artist herself, she had many national and international exhibitions under her belt. She was represented by one of Sweden’s larger galleries Wetterling, and has shown with Stellan Holm (New York), Faggionato (London), and Galerie Forsblom (Helsinki), among others. She was ready to make another push to show more internationally as, in her words, “a larger and competitive art scene naturally makes for sharper everything.”

Photo: Daniela Gyllensten

Since then, Camner has exhibited in Japan at the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary, in an all-female public art show curated by the American artist Chellis Baird to celebrate Women’s History Month on the World Trade Center campus in New York City, and signed with the Swedish gallery Loyal, who showed her work in a group show at the storied Old-Hollywood 1920s building El Royale in Los Angeles during its major art fair week, Frieze, earlier this year. Eager to continue to expand her horizons she says: “I want to paint bigger, try new ideas, find dynamic collaborations, and make new, fun connections.”

The stark contrast between my usual, solitary routine – spending months alone in the studio, painting in relative isolation – and the bustling atmosphere of an exhibition opening is both fun and scary.

Anna Camner

Artists are often responsible for determining which contexts they want to be part of. “In the best of worlds, the gallerists would handle the promoting while the artists focus solely on creating their art. However, in today's landscape, artists often need to be self-promoters. While it can be challenging to find enough studio time amidst all these tasks, it also empowers artists by giving them greater control over their careers,” Camner explains. She is however quick to say that all the galleries she has worked with have had a professional approach and helped her reach further in her career and expression.

Photo: Daniela Gyllensten

Although she is collected by major collectors in Scandinavia, the United States, Asia, and Europe, and has exhibited at major museums, Camner is a bit nervous at the thought of her upcoming opening: “Generally, at all my openings, I’ve been stressed out, forgotten to eat lunch, wearing the wrong clothes, and for some reason I always get stuck in traffic and arrive late. The stark contrast between my usual, solitary routine – spending months alone in the studio, painting in relative isolation – and the bustling atmosphere of an exhibition opening is both fun and scary.” Luckily, after the vernissage at Liljevalchs on June 13th, 'Synthetopia' will be in the eyes and hands of the public. Camner will then be free to return to making art, her private form of escapism, as she prepares for her next show at Loyal Gallery in Stockholm which will take place in September.

As I leave, Camner sends me off with a generous revelation: “After more than 25 years of painting, I’ve come to realise that painting conveys an unfiltered truth about my life, my subconscious mind, and even picks up on the broader societal mood.” I can get on board and look forward to a collective moment of sensuality, being emboldened, and celebrating femininity that her new work will usher in for those who are susceptible.

Photography: Daniela Gyllensten @ Lomo Management
Photo assistant: Hanna Frilund
Styling: Sanna Fried
Wardrobe by The Forumist