Kjell Engman is from a family of musicians and he also has a background as a professional rock musician, mainly as a guitarist. His musical legacy emerges in his glass art, not only through his familiar glass instruments, but also in the musical, dancing feel and joie de vivre radiated by many of his objects and figures. Engman also works with music in the worlds he creates in his installations, for which he composes soundtracks that are part of the overall experience.
“I’m passionate about the larger context, the overall whole,” says Engman. “I love creating worlds with sets, carpets of sound, lights and other effects, even fragrance, in order to build up a mood and actions. I think of my installations as if they were movies without dialogue – like I’m the director and the glass figures are my actors, my artists. I very much want to invite viewers to have a multi-sensory experience, to stimulate their creativity, and invite them to make different interpretations.”
Kjell Engman was born in Stockholm and studied at the University of Arts, Crafts & Design and at the famous, trendsetting Pilchuck Glass School outside of Seattle, Washington in the Pacific Northwest. He has been active as a glass artist and designer at Kosta Boda since 1978. Engman now lives on Öland and commutes to his studio in Kosta. For many years, he has staged popular summertime installations, or “glass performances” as he puts it, at Ekerums Konsthall on Öland.
Kjell Engman’s glass art is characterized by bold colors, generous and playful shapes and the constant presence of whimsy and humor. In addition to music and instruments, his glass art is populated by animals, nature and symbols from daily life as well as from the conscious and subconscious. A life-affirming abundance of joy could be considered a theme throughout his versatile expressions as a glass artist.
“In my view, the glass is the pen for writing my stories. I don’t want to depress my audience; rather, I want to offer them joy and fantasy. My art should make people smile; it should be something positive. For example, take my bathing ladies, inspired by an unforgettable visit to a church in Harlem, New York. The gospel-singing ladies I saw there were some of the biggest people I had ever seen, but they moved with such incredible lightness. It’s not about how you look, but your self-confidence and a joy that makes you float. That is the feeling I want to convey through my art.”
The diversity of Kjell Engman’s work has led some viewers to perceive his artistic style as scattered, as he sometimes says. But he enjoys this whimsical, scattered quality.
“I think the scattered nature of my work is actually what sells it; it’s what people like. I’ve always been guided by imagination and that can be a little too much, something that the cultural elite can’t handle. I have my hobby horses and I don’t care all that much. I know that my work isn’t really considered fine art. What energizes me is when I set up a show, as I did in Stenungssund a few years ago, with my bathing ladies on a beach, and thousands of viewers come to see them in a few weeks. It inspires me when my audience tells me about the fantasies that my worlds have awakened for them. I really don’t enjoy titling my works. I don’t want to guide the viewer; rather, I want everyone to create their own fantasy world.”