Studio visit to painter Tor Nielsen

My first encounter with this artist was actually some time ago when I meet him as a friend. Last month we were hanging out and went to a gallery together where he told me about some new projects coming up and so my interest was immediately piqued. I thought of dedicating him an interview where he could tell me a bit more about him as an artist. One of the things that I find interesting is his way of seeing art through philosophy. He actually studied philosophy and also worked in research for a long time but even though he was always feeling closer to his drawings and paintings. He was about seven years when he started reading comics and so he developed his interest in drawing. I feel very delighted to have had the opportunity to interview him so I hope you like this as much as I enjoyed it.

Cristina Benzi: I know that you come from a Danish island in called Taasinge. Tell us how was it growing up there? How much does your danish background influence your work?

Tor Nielsen: So my childhood in Denmark was really for me the golden time of my life. I still feel romantically connected to that period of my life, At some point I would like to tell stories about the archipelago of Southern Fyen. The islands and nature of that area carries a certain magic. It is something that always comes up in my head and I hope one day I will do some art works based on this inspiration. But I am not yet entirely certain how to approach it.

One interesting story is the island where I was born, which it‘s called Taasinge. It is a small island with maybe two or three tousand people. There is no hospital there but my mother still wanted me to be born on that island. So she decided to give birth at home. She was a hippie to it was perhaps not an entirely foreign idea. But the remarkable part of this story is the name Taasinge historically means the Meadow of Thor. But my mother did not know that. And I only learned it much later. The old Vikings thousand years ago believed that this was the island where the god Thor would come to have a rest with the humans. So I feel very connected to that place. In a kind of spiritual sense, you could say.


CB: Which role does living in Berlin play for you as an artist?

TN: I came to Berlin by accident seven years ago. I had a girlfriend that lived here and then I just ended up in Berlin. At that time I thought it didn’t really make a big difference where you live, as long I just could focus on the things I wanted to. I could do that in Copenhagen, New Zealand or Africa. It didn’t matter the location. But I think I was actually wrong. For me Berlin made me feel more at home than living in Copenhagen. The diversity of people and the openmindedness that comes along makes Berlin a better choice for me. In Copenhagen I had a much harder time fitting in than here in Berlin. In my opinion Berlin allow you to be yourself with all your strengths and weaknesses. And I think many other big cities in the world can learn from this.


CB: A question to Tor the philosopher being an artist. Since you studied philosophy and not art, do you think going to art school is not important?

TN: I think art and philosophy have in common that it is a practice humans have always been doing. People have always been thinking about what is the universe, what is reality, having had critical ideas about what society is etc. Similarly humans have always been always creative. All the way back to our tribal ancestors living as hunters and gatherers on the plains of Africa. These communities painted their weapons or their bodies when they would have ceremonies, rituals and that was their art! They had the same type of drive for something beautiful when they created. And they had the same type of curiosity when asking questions.

The fact artists go to art school today, is just a historic coincidence. I personally do not think that being a philosopher or an artist requires a specific education. Of course education it is beneficial since many people that are interested in art, purchase art or sell art trust in our traditions. Being educated at a certain school might be a sign of quality. But that does not change that creating in itself is a core part of our human nature.


CB: Studying in an art school you will learn about techniques, but most of all you will make important connections to the art world.

TN: I think you are right about that. That is important for the art as an industry. Because we live in a time of capitalism and that means that every aspect of the society is an industry. There is nothing good or bad about that is just the way it is today. If you go a few hundred years back in European history and dominating part of our culture was Christianity. And every aspect of society somehow was linked to that. Yet and today it’s an industry. The artist lives by selling their art to people that collect it and that is just the condition of the existence.


CB: Since you are not formally trained, what can you say about your method of creating?

TN: My approach in terms of method might be influenced from working in research.  There is a lot of experimentation going on in order to discover and refine your ideas. And you need to be a critical evaluator if you want to get the best out of your results. In research you do experiments to get data that you can alase to learn. In art I do the same. For me it is a difficult learning process where you are continuously growing, your style is changing and you are becoming better and better at expressing your ideas. It is a bit like life. You grow older and get to know yourself better. Perhaps when you are old, you really know who you are. And maybe when I am old I can finally make a painting that clearly express my ideas.

When I was younger I would often be unhappy with my drawings. And that was because I was still in the early phase of discovering my voice and learning what ideas I have. Today I can still be frustrated about a drawing or a painting, but I understand that it is a part of the learning process. This comes with being an experimental artist.

As an example, in recent paintings I work with very thick layers of paint. It is called impasto. They also use the word for a pizza with a lot of ingredients, just to give you an idea. I started this technique only by random experimentation but now it is becoming a more dominant style that I have refined through experimentation.


CB: Lately I‘ve seen on your Instragram a lot about Techno and art. For me it sounds like a typical Berlin lifestyle, what does it mean for you and your work?

TN: Well, I am a big fan of Techno music. The connection that it has to my art is not clear and maybe there is no connection. But when I sit and I do my drawings it is very intuitive and freestyle. Words, figures and lines just come out of my mind spontaneously. And since I find Techno very inspiring I sometimes include the word “Techno”.I also use Techno as the music for my animated drawings.

I often have this phrase in my mind going “Techno music is the music of the future”. I know that it sounds a bit stupid but there is something very unique about this music. It is very deep and agressive. At the same time it can be highly intellectual. And in my opinion this makes it go deep in the human soul. I find it to be a sublime artform. I will consider it to be one of the most creative genres of art on the planet today.

CB: Do you want people to have a spiritual experience when they look at your art?

TN: I certainly would but I think I am far away from achieving that. If I should define spirituality in a very broad sense, it is to see yourself as a part of something that is greater than you. As a part of history or a part all living things. This type of abstraction where you look away from yourself is the type of feeling that Techno can give you. Music has that power. And perhaps painting can too. I just have yet to discover how to achieve it.


It has been a pleasure to visit his studio and get more insight into his work. After this interview he commented that it is in his mind to have soon two exhibition projects. Stay tuned so you won‘t miss it!

If you want to see more, then take a look here:

Instagram: @puretor



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