Frida Fjellman is among the contemporary artists and designers who have contributed to the renewal of Swedish craft-driven art over the past decade. Her bold, colorful, sometimes radical style in glass, ceramics and other materials has celebrated triumphs in Sweden and internationally – especially in the US, where in recent years Fjellman has completed several prestigious public commissions for clients such as Art Basel.
Frida Fjellman was born and raised in Mariestad, in a family with a strong tradition in craftsmanship, and in which handicrafts in all materials were highly valued. Her mother and grandmother were weavers. Her father brought Frida to a ceramics course. “We made everything ourselves that we could,” she says. “If you carved a knife, you used it, even if it was really bad.”
As Fjellman says, Mariestad was “not a cultural town,” but she consumed all of the art she could find while growing up. One of her teachers during her studies in the ceramics track at Hellidens Folk High School in Tidaholm was the great Rörstrand ceramic artist Inger Persson, who became Frida’s mentor.
“She was wonderful, super tough, incredibly dedicated and great at seeing and encouraging all of her students’ different talents. I learned so much – like casting, raku, wood-firing, throwing, making tile, underglazes, spray-painting ceramics. It was very joyful and experimental, but also incredibly meticulous, precise and aesthetically minded.”
Inger Persson encouraged Frida Fjellman to apply to the University of Arts, Crafts & Design in 1993 through a work sample of tile decorated with pink breasts. “I learned most things from Inger. At the University of Arts, Crafts & Design, it was more of a struggle, a competition, not at all as kind, even though I did learn a lot there, too.”
After her studies, Frida began working in her own studio in Stockholm. She went to the US, where she took different classes at Pilchuck outside of Seattle, at Corning in upstate New York, and in Philadelphia. She found an outlet there for her desire to experiment in glass art, for example by working with neon and unconventional techniques. “It was liberating to get away from the Swedish tradition and the prevalent norms of the time.”
After graduating in 1998 and her excursions to the US and Japan, Frida Fjellman alternated between working on exhibitions and public art commissions. She was one of few artists in her generation who could survive on her art, but she had to work very hard, in a way that was unsustainable. Ultimately, she decided to focus on one last make-or-break exhibition.
This “last exhibition” was called Being Frida Fjellman and it was shown at the Eskilstuna Art Museum in 2016, where the young artist presented a daring installation in a room. Since the beginning, animals have been a central theme for her. She courageously used a life-size bear as the central figure, made of curled ceramics and fired in an enormous oven in Norway – a high-risk project. The bear made it and the exhibition was Fjellman’s breakthrough.
“I thought I may as well go all the way because it didn’t matter; I was going to stop afterwards. That’s one tip I could give to others in the same situation – go into a project as if it were your last.”
After the exhibition, Frida Fjellman was able to begin an international career. Her work had a huge breakthrough at the Design Miami trade fair. Since then, the commissions have come in a steady stream, primarily from the US. She has created spatial designs and installations for clients such as Forbes, Four Seasons, the airline Net Jet, and Art Basel, for which she created the VIP lounge. In Sweden, she is currently working on an enormous public sculpture by Ersta Hospital on Södermalm in Stockholm.
Her mentor Inger Persson is still an important influence for Frida Fjellman. Even if she “consumes tons of art and design,” at the moment, she is not particularly inspired by her contemporary era, but rather by older design, craftsmanship and paintings by classically respected artists like John Singer Sargent and Pierre Bonnard.
“I love going to the older museums, like Nationalmuseum or the Met in New York. It’s overwhelming. There is so much to be inspired by, even things I don’t like. I’m fascinated by Tiffany, but I didn’t know that until I saw a huge exhibition at the Met, because that era isn’t very visible in Sweden.”
Since her studies, glass has been Frida’s great love.
“Glass is incredibly joyful. It smells good, moves fast. You have to be a hundred percent present. I love everything that people find alarming about glass – its allure, shimmer, sparkle. There are endless possibilities. The only limit is your own time. I like color and I love working with color in glass.”
Frida Fjellman’s work is represented at Nationalmuseum, Röhsska Museum, and Public Art Agency Sweden, as well as in private collections all over the world.