Erik Thor Sandberg


Written by Siobhan Morrin
19 Tuesday 19th July 2011

Nude girls strapping rabbits to their feet, berating deformed slaves and spraypainting chicks - Erik Thor Sandberg is an American artist with a decidedly surreal take on traditional Rennaissance themes of vice and virtue. Curvaceous and outrightly obese nudes sprout animal heads, gorge themselves, and exist in huge worlds of deformed humanity. Elsewhere, limbless people are made spectacle, and birds fly, tied to tongues. We caught up with him to discuss the depravity and his fascination with humankind’s weakness.


Your paintings have a traditional fine art feel to them, and are reminiscent of Hieronymus Bosch - the naked bodies, God-like position of the painter- do you see him as an influence? Where else do you take influence and inspiration from?

I favor Peter Brueghel the Elder more than Bosch. But obviously he was influenced  by Bosch. So I guess in a way, I have to acknowledge his influence too. I prefer Brueghel for his greater connection to humanity. Bosch did these largely religious, surreal images. Brueghel painted people for the most part with all of the faults and foibles. I find the fallibility of man to be the subject that I connect with the most in most artwork. I love the work of Goya,  James Ensor and Walton Ford for the same reasons.

The paintings seem to reflect on the huge issues of morality such as death, sex, greed. How are you commenting on these as they exist in the modern world?

As I similarly said in the previous answer, I am drawn to vice as a subject matter. My paintings are narratives. I can’t think of a compelling story out there that doesn’t revolve around vice. Vice creates conflict and conflict is what makes life interesting. It is a constant in the world, past present and future. I don’t approach the subject from a theological perspective but instead as more of an existential dilemma.


I’m interested in your models. What encourages you to portray them in the ways you do, for example with deformed limbs? Is there a reason why you focus more on females in the individual images?

I use the human form as a metaphor to help convey whatever the message for a particular work might be. If a figure is broken or misshapen then the idea or notion that they represent is somehow flawed as well. I draw a lot from old allegorical imagery and iconology that made use of the same structure for its narratives. It is also why a good deal of the figures in my paintings are female. When I started the Vice series, I looked at very early representations  of vice and virtue all the way back to Prudentius. All of the vices and virtues in his poems were female because the Latin words that represented all of these abstract notions were feminine. I kind of liked sticking to that translation of the text to physical incarnations. The figures I tended to stray from that gender assignation were the vices that I felt connected to the most. Those I made males.


What is the significance of fusion between humans and animals in many paintings?

I assign attributes to most of my figures so that they better represent an idea. Animals are generally very rich in symbolic history, so it is  much easier to have fun with them and be perverse in my own way.


Do you use life models for your paintings? How about for the animals?

For the small figure work I work mostly from my head. The larger figure work necessitates models. I find people forgive the quirky flaws on a small scale. On a large scale people don’t want the inaccuracies of anatomy.

Part of once and future

How long does each take you, and how do you first set about a new work?

The time dedicated to each work always varies. The most successful paintings always seem to take the least amount of time.  The ones I struggle with may take a lot of time because of a lot of reworking or because it is put aside for some time to rethink it, or both. The answer I always have in my head when someone asks that is, “ Too long”.

To see more of Sandberg’s work, see

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