July 10, 2020 - Green-eyed Luštica, a beauty of astonishingly inspiring energy, leaves few casual travelers indifferent. Many fall in love at first sight, at the first sip of wine or drop of olive oil. They fall in love and remain forever attached to this area, one of the two peninsulas that make Boka Bay. Among them is the world-famous artist Mats Nordstrom, who has been local since 2004.
Luštica is an area upon which time has left its mark by way of numerous archeological sites, twenty churches, and a large number of buildings of Austro-Hungarian fortification. The dry stone walls also weave a web of the enduring dedication of the man from Boka, to whom every inch of land was a treasure, which he could not, and did not want to, leave. The village of Klinci is located on the edges of such estates, slightly on a hill, with a beautiful view of the landscaped olive groves and Ponta Oštro, which defines the entrance to the Bay of Kotor. And it was in Klinci where Mats Nordstrom found the energy that had summoned him from eastern Adriatic side years earlier. Mats had a dream of Luštica.
I had escaped my life in the US, in New York, and decided to go to Southern Italy. I was there for a couple of weeks, so I decided to take the train to Rome. It was an overnighter, and I had this dream - a man with gray hair was standing in front of something that looked like the Acropolis in Athens. And I went to the man and asked: "Where is this place?" And he said: "It's Yugoslavia!" And then, you know, life goes on, and many years passed. Then eventually I came here, you know, so there is a connection. The dream never left me; I always remember it. So, there is a little bit of a magnetic connection. Maybe my family once upon a time came from here. I don't know. Who knows? Places touch you in unique ways.
Mats Nordstrom in front of his atelier in Klinci, Luštica, Photo by Antonela Stjepčević
Mats starts his Luštica story, as he shows me an old stone complex that he bought in 2004 and turned into his paradise - a place of rest and socializing, but first and foremost - his place of creation. Since he lives partly on Luštica, Mats is less involved in creative processes in Toronto, where he primarily lives with his family.
Mats Nordstrom is a contemporary Toronto-based artist focused on photo, film, sculpture, painting, text, and music. He graduated from the Faculty of Mathematics in Stockholm, Civil Engineering, and Biochemistry in Lund and the Institute of Graphic Arts in Konstfak. Mats spent a significant part of his life and artistic career in New York, where he worked in photography closely related to the fashion industry.
Through his long and vibrant career, Mats found time to explore various media and art techniques. After working in Andy Warhol's team, he deepened his artistic focus and moved towards painting, sculpture, film, and music. His work has been part of art collections in eminent galleries around the world, and he has exhibited at a large number of solo and group exhibitions.
From the whole of Yugoslavia, suggested by the man with grey hair from your dream, you decided to make your paradise on Luštica. Did you find here that energy you felt in your dream?
There is probably no place that looks like Athens here. But somehow, I fell that energy. Who knows about dreams? I think the first inclination was when I looked at the map and I saw Rose. Like most of everybody else, I was looking in Kotor, in Budva, and all over the area, until I finally connected with Rose. And then we couldn't find a place until our last day here when we found Stari Mlin here in Klinci. In the beginning, we felt it was a little bit too far from the sea. And now, when we live here more of the time, it's nice to be up, away from the water, especially in the wintertime. We have plenty of sun throughout the year, so we are lucky to be here.
You are spending corona time in your atelier on Luštica, where you have been mainly working in recent years.
I think it's a little bit like a medicine man. You want to be the local guy. The guy that stays here and works here. And whatever an artist does in terms of spreading the right energy, especially in this time- spreading the good energy you live in is essential.
· I have had the opportunity to take a look at your current creative process. And what was evident is that you have made an excellent connection with our tradition, taking its segments and incorporating it into your artworks.
Some of the pieces we found on the property. I think the most exciting part of that is how something was maybe a functional object two hundred years ago, and now I see it, and I take it, and I put it into an art piece reinterpreting the meaning and the value of the object. It changes, just like we change, just like life changes. So, the parts and the pieces of guns and pistols I found on the property now in my art have symbolic meaning only.
Mats' art is expressed in various media, Photo by Antonela Stjepčević
· You spent corona times here on Luštica. Do you find yourself privileged, since life here has barely changed at all? The atmosphere is nearly the same with or without the virus.
Yes, I couldn't be luckier. I arrived on March 2, and then lockdown happened. It was like ten days later. I am in the place that I love, and I cannot move. I am in a kind of self-isolation. It's been more than four months of a full stop in paradise.
· Are you planning to leave for Canada when it is possible?
Yes, but I am not in a hurry. I think I would like to reunite with my wife and my daughter, and my mother and all the others. But I think it's better to stay safe. I believe this letting go early - who wants to go to the airport now, to take the risk? So, I will wait for a bit more and see how things are developing.
· You have already had an exhibition in Montenegro, in Budva in 2016. I can see that you are working hard. Are you planning to give our audience another opportunity to see your artwork and the world you are building in your studio?
Yes, I am planning a new exhibition. I started making a sculptural tango. And I eventually started interpreting the sculptural piece on paper in painting. And then variations of the tango started coming into, and that became a continual change of the topic- something about human relations, something about touching, something about balance and harmony. And I am just in the process right now of maybe doing the last few pieces that I had in mind. And then we go from there.
· What is also interesting about the cycle you are working on at the moment is your technique. In your long and vibrant career, you could be named a multimedia artist. In this cycle, you are leaving the process itself the space to participate in the final result.
Very early, I started liking the process of painting on glass. It was an exhibition in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. They had collected all Rembrandt's monotypes. And I had a look at that, and it appeals to me. He used the method of darkening the plate and then taking it away from the plate, whereas I build on the glass and paint the lines on the glass. It frees me up. It's a speedy process since I use acrylic. And when you use acrylic paint, and you delude it, it dries quickly. So you have to do your brushwork on the glass, and imprint on the paper in a pretty fast sequence.
Mats Nordstrom's Tango, Work in Progress, Photo by Antonela Stjepčević
· If I understood correctly, you started your career as a photographer.
Yes, I've been working for many years as a photojournalist and what we call today a travel blogger. After studying engineering, I went to art school. And during art school, I survived by doing proto-journalistic projects. And also, after art school, I had a job for Andy Warhol in New York. So, I went directly from finishing art school to kind of doing what you are doing - freelance work - for Andy because he was in Stockholm just the spring before I finished school. And he said, probably not meaning that specifically- If you are in New York, come by. Of course, I finished school four months later, and six months later, I was in New York, trying my luck.
· I believe that was an excellent starting point for your future career. All those years, that entire pop-art ambiance- do you find that experience had a significant influence on your future work as an artist?
Yes, I think. When I first went there, I felt a little bit out of place. But, over time, for sure. The expression – I don't know what you want to call it- but the abstract expression; some people had an influence on me, Andy indeed. But, not so much during the time, but more in retrospect. There were certain things, specific issues that I think that generation of painters was trying to raise- that industrial society could use art in branding. Andy with the Brillo boxes, Campbell's soup cans, and many other people. We start seeing language being put in the painting; we see crossovers between video, music, and art. It's become much more democratic to traverse the media. If you are interested in making a film, you can almost make it on your phone today. You don't need to have a huge camera crew. So, certain advancements have democratized the making of art.
· Do you think it is suitable for art, in general, that today almost everyone can present themselves as producers of art, if not to say, artists?
Most of us learn to read and write, but not everybody writes poetry. So, the ease of using a camera and the ease of listening to music doesn't make you an artist. To make something good, you still need dedication and discipline, and many turns of thinking. So, when you give a small child a phone to make a video, I think the chances are that they may make something enjoyable, and maybe in the future, they will make art, but it is in our interest to make it easy to make art. So, yes. It's good.
· You already said that you are amazed by Luštica, but this is not a unique place, or is it? We have a very similar atmosphere in the South of Italy, in Provence. Why is this place particularly interesting for you? Is it just energy, or something else?
I don't know. I think certain places touch your heart. I've traveled a lot in my life. There are places that when you arrive back home, you just lay on your pillow, and you dream about them. And for some reason, this place is also in my heart. I think it is also the reason I've been incredibly creative here because the energy comes together for me. At this time in my life, I am not looking for big city life and a big situation. I look for the quiet; I look for the peaceful, I look for some kind of simplicity, some kind of honesty in what I am trying to do.
Mats Nordstrom property in Klinci, Luštica, Photo by Antonela Stjepčević
· You are undoubtedly aware that we have a lot of development projects on the peninsula of Luštica that do not fit this atmosphere in the very best way. It is not my intention to criticize, but since you have significant experience, and you've been traveling a lot, and in the end, you've shared your feelings toward this place, what kind of development do you find proper for this area? Do you think that peace and calm you found here could be good starting points in further promotion strategies, especially in corona and post-corona times?
It is hard to say no to development because somehow it is probably right that money comes in and job opportunities are made. Still, I think careful development would be appreciated because it would be unfortunate to see this peninsula - Luštica - turned into Las Vegas. It is not what we would like to see. We can see now in the villages across Luštica, for example, in Tići, that people are taking care of the land again. They have sheep. And there is a cultural stimulation going on at the same time as these developments are happening. So, careful development projects we can live with after they are done and do not look like disasters.
· Are your friends - artists - aware of your project here? Your property in Klinci is pretty big, consists of several old stone buildings. Are you thinking of some kind of art school, maybe some international workshops on Luštica?
I've been organizing workshops, and I am thinking of doing it also here. Maybe a couple of weeks of seminars during the summer months. I've spent two years teaching art history and printmaking and simple art-making in the international school Arcadia Academy in Tivat. Sometimes art become too much about the process. An artist spends a lot of energy on choosing brushes, or on deciding how to put fingers on a piano. Or how you put your fingers on a flute. For me, that was very slow to find the art. So I find it necessary to simplify the way you get into art, to make the enjoyment of putting paint on paper or canvas. And it doesn't have to be pretty. It has to be something that you do. And then maybe you'll throw it away, or perhaps you'll love it and keep it. The enjoyment in the process is to give everyone interested the opportunity to join you and make it available for everybody.
Run by great creative energy - Mats Nordstrom, Photo by Antonela Stjepčević
· So, maybe there will be some art workshops here soon?
Yes, I'd like to. But we'll see when this virus is over; I am sure we will have some kind of a new normal arriving eventually. And when the family arrives, and we are here - yes, working life will continue. And I am looking forward to it.
I am thankful for the opportunity to meet Mats again; I am looking forward to new meetings on Luštica. I was so happy to see those parts of the old olive mill that have been carefully preserved, all those objects and dry-stone walls on Mats' property reconstructed with great respect for local tradition. I like even those glass walls installed all over the perimeter under the roof of one of the old mill buildings. The purpose of this glass is to provide adequate natural light in Mats' studio. Although this is an interpolation on the Tomašević family building, which is about 400 years old - this interpolation makes sense by giving new value to old objects. And Mats, as he told us at the beginning of the conversation, enjoys that approach both in his artistic and private life.
View of Mamula and Ponta Oštro, Photo by Željko Starčević
I would be very happy if Mats and Milica, thanks to whom I met this exciting artist, were just a small number of the creative people who have found Luštica. They are perfect ambassadors to spread the story of a paradise that lies under the Boka sky, an astonishing area for travelers who follow an authentic experience. A space to host artists - that sounds perfect!