That his grandfather, a Swedish emigrant to the US, was a flower farmer, his father a sculptor and his mother a textile artist, meant Sven Sandberg's world was creative from the get-go. Born Albion, California, his ending up in Dublin was a mixture of planning and chance.
In Dublin, does he feel 6,000 miles from home? He quotes James Wood's 'a state of homelooseness' and is happy with that.
As an undergraduate, "I did drawing and sculpture. Then I started painting, had to teach myself, as I knew absolutely nothing about oils. It took two years before I made something worth saving. Chardin says it takes 30 years to make a painter... that's about right."
His subject matter, exclusively figurative, is inspired by Titian, Velazquez, Chardin, Watteau, Manet, Matisse, and he is "constantly looking at paintings, reading, watching films and bringing these things together into ideas for groups of work".
There are contemporary influences too. Growing up in California "where marijuana is the main local industry, images of Bob Marley and other rastas were everywhere. Years later, thinking about devotional images of saints in art history, I started to see those pictures of rastas as contemporary devotional images for Californian hippies. In Dublin, I got interested in the historical links between Ireland and the Caribbean, made paintings of rastas, exhibited two of them."
Sandberg, one of six young artists chosen for Future Series 3 at the RHA, is his own hard task-master: "I only ever keep and exhibit 20-25pc of the paintings I make."
Initially Sandberg only painted from life. "Friends would sit for me. But then I wanted to work on subjects that existed outside the studio" and reading Siegfried Kracauer's essay on photography changed things. "Kracauer says cinema takes all these fragments of photographic images that depict and constitute our world and rearranges them 'in a manner reminiscent of dreams'. I thought painting could do this as well and so I use fragments from photography and other paintings across history."
Sandberg's paintings in the RHA show are "the first paintings in quite a few years that include multiple figures" and Day Trippers "is close in composition to a photograph from the 1930s" though "I like the time period in the paintings to be slippery and hard to place".
This oil on canvas has a watercolour delicacy. "Getting the paint down into the canvas rather than piled on top accounts for the look" and "it took a long time to get the exact colours". The facial expressions, the exotic setting, the light bulb, "one of those wonderful details you happen across and, of course, a link to Francis Bacon", invite the puzzled, engaged viewers to create their own narrative. For Sandberg "it's a cliché at this point to say that art doesn't provide answers, only questions" but Day Trippers offers some trip.
Future Series 3, RHA open today 12pm-5pm @svensandberg svensandberg.com berlinopticiansdublin.com
Sunday Indo Living