I’ve been following the work of Swedish artist Heathen Harnow for quite some time now, and am regularly bowled over by the way in which his work clings to my consciousness for days after first setting my eyes on it. My body is in England, but my soul is in Scandinavia, and for me, his art is like a deep, cold, wonderful breath of Nordic air.
Can you please speak a little about your work, and the premise behind what you do?
I am a Swedish artist who uses photography, music and text to create a world inspired by Scandinavian nature, folklore and mythology.
Hvíti mær I
Your art is deeply atmospheric and accomplished. Did you learn your skills at school/college/university or are you self-taught?
My interest for photography took form back in 2007/2008. My family and I rented a house out in the Swedish countryside, not very far from where I live now. It was a very historical place as it was surrounded by rune stones and mounds from the Swedish iron-age. Back then I had a bit different interests than I have now.
When I wasn’t in school I was often riding my horse which I had back then. I’m sure it may shock many, but yes, horses was what I lived for. When I wasn’t doing that however, I was out in the forest, taking photos with an old Kodak digital camera. Sadly, I think there is only 2 photos left from that era. However, my interest for horses disappeared as I really hated the atmosphere of horse-people, contests etc, and my interest for music took over instead.
In 2009 I started a music-high school, or gymnasium as we call it in Sweden. I thought it would be the smartest to leave the countryside and move to the town where the high school was, Norrköping. As I didn’t live so very close to nature anymore, my interest for taking photos disappeared a bit. But my musical skills flourished. By the end of the high school era I was so tired of living in a city that I decided to move back home and go by train to school day by day. It was by this time that I begun to take walks in the forest again. As time went by I took a couple of pictures with my phone of the forest, which I edited in a simple editor-software with layers to make them look more dirty and atmospheric.
Some of the photos got popular and I decided after a year to buy an SLR to improve the quality. But yet I used the same editor-software and didn’t change anything in the very style. So yes, I am self-taught.
Your work is deeply ingrained in the mythology, folklore and history of your homeland. Do you have any favourite tales, ones that you find yourself often thinking about?
There are so many stories, gosh. It’s very hard to pick just one. I guess It’s just the special atmosphere that all the stories have. I know the Scandinavian folk-culture is very popular in other countries, but to me it is even more special as I’ve been living here all my life and can see the places where the stories take place right before my eyes. Maybe this is also why I chose this direction. To share the atmosphere from these stories in art and music.
Bland sorgsna träd och sovande troll VII
How far do you travel for your photography shoots? Is every shoot in a new location, or do you have preferred places to go?
As I already live in the countryside, I just have to walk 100 meters and then I’m inside the forest-realm. It takes a 20 minute drive to the closest village, so it is perfect for me. The forest here is quite large, so all I need to do to get to a new location is to walk. I have never travelled with anything else than my feet to reach for the locations of the shots. I guess I have some favourite locations though, but if I return more than once to this very place I always try to give it a different view so it doesn’t look all the same.
Bland sorgsna träd och sovande troll VIII
I have been an admirer of John Bauer’s work for over ten years, and see much of him in your creations. When did you first encounter Bauer, and what is it about his art that you admire so much? Also, do you have a favourite piece of his?
It begun when I was just a small child, like 4-5 or something like that and I was at my grandmother, she was reading a book called “Tomtebo barnen” by Elsa Beskow. The art in this book was very beautiful and I was amazed, I remember especially how I thought the mountain troll was especially scary. If you take a look at her art you see very much similarity to the art of John Bauer. His art has been known to me for a very, very long time but I think the very first time which I still have in my memory was in second grade of elementary school when we were looking at his art on some lesson.
I think I admire his work so much even today because of the atmosphere of the pictures. Somehow he draws the exact same things which I also see when I’m walking in the forest. Many people today just see a bunch of trees and plants when they are walking in the forest, but it is so much more than that. It is a realm, a realm of absolute freedom. Full of mysteries and untouched by human hands.
I have many favourite pieces of John Bauer, but some that have inspired me most of all is the artworks where there is a white-hooded figure illustrated. As this figure is a man-looking person walking among trolls, taking care of the forest, it completely gave me the idea for the Galdramaður series.
Another artist that comes to mind with your work is Norwegian Theodor Kittelsen. What is it about his work that speaks to you, and again, do you have a favourite piece?
Theodor Kittelsen speaks to me in a similar way as John Bauer, just that here, the artworks are more dark and serious in the atmosphere. I wouldn’t say I like one more than the other, I think both of these artists have inspired me and my art very much in different ways. Just like with Bauer, it’s hard to pick just one favourite piece. But the whole “Svartedauen” series is a big inspiration. The artwork called “Skogstroll” have also inspired really much, especially in the matter that trolls may not always be awake, it makes me think, maybe it is not just stones, moss and rocks that we’re walking on when I’m roaming the forest.
Are there any other artists which influence the direction in which you take your work?
Yes. I guess there is very many out there who hear influences of Wardruna in my music. I do this consciously but still try keep it original. Wardruna makes music which to me is so original it could be a whole new sub-genre. So why not get inspired and follow the same path, but just make some changes. I would say my music is a bit more ambient though, and more about nature and spiritualism.
Minnen från forna dagar VIII (I &II)
Aside from nature, mythology and folklore, what other things fuel your creative fire?
My private life have always been a big inspiration to my art. But I try to show it with metaphors as much as possible.
You have recently crafted a song titled ‘Flykt’ which is accompanied by a video. It is hugely atmospheric, multi-layered and stunning. Can you please talk about how long the process took, the inspiration for it, and your feelings now that it is finished?
This song was actually created on a late night. I was sitting by my music computer before going to bed, just trying to compose something. I did the first 4 chords but I wasn’t really happy with it, so I was about to delete it, but pushed the wrong button and it was saved instead, however I didn’t care so much about it and I went to bed. The next day I opened the song and suddenly I got ideas for how it was about to continue. The lyrics were written later, and it was also a bit tricky, especially as I’m used to write lyrics in English as I was doing vocals in a progressive Black/Death metal band before. However I got it finished quite fast. Then it was time to record the video which also went quite fast. Another guy was supposed to edit the video, as I didn’t have any skills for video editing before. But I bought a program which was very easy to use. And for being my first video, I’m quite happy with the result.
This song will be released digital with 3 other songs (2 with vocals and 1 instrumental) on Spotify and iTunes by the end of October.
How do you want people to feel when they look at your work?
Like I said before, I want them to feel the atmosphere that I’m feeling when I’m walking in the woods and when I’m hearing the tales. I want them to experience the true Scandinavian landscape, not by beauty, but by mystery. Beauty in photography have never spoken to me at all. It’s the thoughts that is awoken when you are looking at an artwork that is the most important thing.
Do the long Scandinavian winters work in favour of your creativity? Do you find that you get a lot done during the dark months?
Both yes and no. Normally we have very much snow here, and the landscape is very unique. But sadly the days are very short, in the darkest days of the winter the sun goes up around 10 AM and down around 3 AM so you have a very short time to get something done outside by this period. And as I’m only shooting outside I’m very affected by this. However when you do get out, there is so much things to capture that you don’t really know where to begin. It’s like a totally different world if you compare it to the summer.
Do you have any other projects lined up? Can you give us a taste of what we can expect from you in the near future?
Like I said it is the EP which is about to be released in the end of October. But there is also another big thing coming up. By the beginning of October I’m moving to Norway, Oslo to be precise. As I will live in a city I will not have the ability to just walk out the door and take a picture like before, so it will be much lesser releases. But in the same time I can promise that every release will be much, much more special and unique. And as Norway has more mountains than Sweden, the nature will change a bit too. To the better hopefully.