Even superheroes get hangovers, wrinkles

Being a superhero isn't always easy. Crave talks to artist Andreas Englund about his work, which features a superhero dealing with life's everyday trials.

Michael Franco
Freelancer Michael Franco writes about the serious and silly sides of science and technology for CNET and other pixel and paper pubs. He's kept his fingers on the keyboard while owning a B&B in Amish country, managing an eco-resort in the Caribbean, sweating in Singapore, and rehydrating (with beer, of course) in Prague. E-mail Michael.
Michael Franco
5 min read

How does a superhero age? This painting is entitled "Sitting." Andreas Englund

Getting scared at horror movies. Dropping the eggs in the parking lot. Taking selfies.

They're all normal, everyday kinds of things, but not necessarily activities we associate with our superheroes. After all, superheroes are supposed to never age, never flub, and certainly never get hangovers.

Swedish artist Andreas Englund has a different take on the superlife though (see gallery below). He paints oil portraits of his very own superhero as the masked crusader navigates daily life. So, in his work we see the blue-cladded wonder battling bird droppings, bad clementines, and his own demons of addiction, vanity, and growing older.

I recently talked to Englund, who lives in Stockholm and turns 40 this fall, to find out more about his background and what motivated him to create such a unique series of paintings.

Q: How long have you been painting?
Englund: I have been painting all my life, but seriously since the early 2000's. My education is actually in communications, as an art director, but two months ago I quit and went full-time as an artist.

When and why did you start painting your superhero?
Englund: The idea emerged from when I was working with a copywriter and we came up with an idea to do an ad for a gym. And the ad was that a Greek sculpture became fat because he stood still. So you have the perfect Greek body becoming fat and having a tummy. That for me was very interesting, because to me, playing with archetypes and stereotypes and looking at them in a different view is interesting. At the same time, I'm very interested also in the human body.

So that idea kind of lingered in my head and I wanted to do a version of the famous Greek statue discus thrower -- but mine would be like a modern version of a guy that's trying to open a jar.

When I was painting it, I was thinking that it would become the Greek sculpture but it just felt uninteresting. Then I remembered that I had done another job at school where I changed another statue into a superhero.

So those two ideas kind of merged and I thought why not put a costume on this Greek sculpture? The Greek ancient heroes are to me just an ancient version of the modern superhero. And when I got the costume on him, he had his own personality.

So that was the first superhero painting, which was made in 2003. It's called strawberry jam.

The painting that started it all. Andreas Englund

Tell me a bit more about the costume.
Englund: Since I was playing with his role as being the perfect superhero, it was interesting to put him in a costume that also was telling everyone that "I am the baddest ass," with the skull and everything, like the pirates. They come in with a flag and skull and it's meant to scare the hell out of you. The drama gets so much bigger to see this person that thinks he's the coolest and baddest guy in the world and failing with it.

What led you to paint more superhero art?
Englund: A while later I wanted to paint again and do a painting where the superhero was supposed to be kicked by an older guy. This older guy was my dad.

When I started to work with that material I found that it was the old guy that was interesting, not the young guy that got kicked. So then I just flipped the costume. The older guy became the superhero. And I think that was also because it's my dad -- you know, the human brain always take small leaps when an idea is evolving.

And then for me the idea kind of opened up and I thought, "Oh, here we have a guy where I can show his full life from being young and being in the mid-40s and growing older and being really old and what comes with it." Even though he's a superhero, old age is probably not that fancy, it's not that great, it has a lot of downsides. So that's how it all came to life.

Does the superhero actually look like your dad?
Englund: Oh, yes. my dad's actually the model of the old superhero. For me, painting people that I know and have a relationship with adds to the picture. I can treat him with respect in that way.

How does your dad feel about being the superhero?
Englund: I think he enjoys it. He has humor and he's like me; we get along really good. So thanks to him I get to capture very nicely the way he's looking and what he's doing.

Do you put him in that costume?
Englund: No, I work at first digitally. I take a picture of him in his underwear and then I color his skin digitally. Then I put out a reference I can paint from. It's like the Old Masters, they had models they could paint from. I could not have my dad sit in his costume for hours, so I take a picture and paint from the picture. For me it's like being a director who can make up whatever I want to be in the picture.

Does your superhero have a name?
Englund: No. I was working with a guy once to write a comic book and we had come up with a name, but it never became official.

Does he have any powers?
Englund: Yeah. He's strong and he can fly. I think that's his superpowers. But he's not extra smart (laughs).

And maybe he's a good shot because he carries a gun around?
Englund: I'd say he's the classic superhero figure with the classic powers. Nothing odd or special other than being strong and flying and I guess he can heal pretty fast. But he can be killed I think, and of course, he's also aging.

Superheroes looking less than super (pictures)

See all photos

About how long does it take to complete a picture?
Englund: The idea is actually the hard part for me, coming up with what to paint. If you're a designer you don't know how long it will take to come up with the design for a chair, but building it you can easily calculate. So for me painting the bigger ones -- after I have the idea -- takes about 100 hours.

What are you doing commercially now?
Englund: I am selling prints and oils on my webpage, and then I have two showrooms in Stockholm where I have oils in one place and prints in another. And then I have a gallery in Oslo below a restaurant. I'm also actually exhibiting at 111 Minna Gallery in San Francisco in early June. And I will have an exhibition in Beijing at the beginning of June as well.