Electra Ladyland - Coco

Published: 26 February, 2013 - Featured in Skin Deep 222, March, 2013

In paintings by Danish artist, Coco, a big-eyed girl, strikingly much like herself often appears, but it’s no matter of self portrait. She makes that very clear, even though she’s started to recognise somewhat of a protagonist in her art.

Big eyes. That’s what first strikes you when you see a painting by Danish artist Coco. Big eyes, colourful, rich in detail, and a slight comic tendency.

“I love to paint eyes. They are technically difficult and say so much. They can really set the tone of the whole picture. I make them big because I can,” she says, triggering one of her many laughs during the interview. We’re drinking green tea in her small kitchen on the outskirts of Copenhagen. The next room is her studio, covered in colour stains, tubes, paint brushes – just as messy as a studio should be.

She’s been able to make a living as an artist for two years now; a privilege few people enjoy.

“The art world is a jungle. People dedicate their whole lives and a lot of money so they don’t just let anyone in, but I was lucky. I got some good opportunities in the beginning to display my art, through galleries and print, for instance. It made people aware of my existence.”

Her artistic career started in tattooing, but five years ago she got pregnant and decided to go for broke on painting.

“I had tattooed for ten years and travelled a lot. One of the reasons I became a tattoo artist was to travel, but since painting is very space consuming I couldn’t combine the two. When tattooing became more of an annoying interruption in my painting I decided to stop,” she says with a smile.

The main reason she manages to make a living out of her art is the internet. According to her, cyberspace is more or less replacing traditional galleries.

“I love the internet. It makes artists like me able to carry a clientele; people who can discover and explore my work and contact me easily. I’m not much-involved with galleries at all and if I’d been a gallery owner today I’d be pretty nervous. Also, I don’t understand how artists who sell their stuff via galleries survive considering they often take 50 percent.”

She has done a few exhibitions, though, the latest one being in Los Angeles.

“I’m Facebook friends with a gallery owner there and she wanted to include one of my paintings in an exhibition. My son, Blaise, and I were just on our way to the Roskilde Festival where I was supposed to do a mural this summer, so I sat up all night, but I finally finished it and she liked it. It never sold, but she said she wants to include me in the future, so that’s good of course. It opens up for a bigger audience. She might want me on a comic convention as well, which would have been a childhood dream come true.” Something that’s not hard to understand by just observing her art. In almost every painting appears a girl who looks like she’s taken right out of a comic and bears an almost eerie resemblance to the artist herself.

“I’ve started to acknowledge the fact that this is the same person, but it’s not me. She is however affected by my mood and the situations I’ve experienced. We’re definitely related,” she says, smiling.  

Like so many other artists she’s painted since forever, with one important difference; her formal trainging at an early age.

“I quit school after ninth grade. It wasn’t for me, and I was lucky enough to be accepted to an animation school in the city of Viborg. During the ’90s I moved around between a couple of different art schools.”

But her future bread-winning occupation wasn’t very popular at art schools in Denmark at that time.

“Painting something that looked like something back then was reprehensible – it wasn’t art, it was illustration. They told me to paint my feelings,” she says with a loud, spontaneous laugh. Art schools did, however, finally bring her into the tattoo scene.

“I knew it was practically impossible to start a life as an artist, and as a young girl I wanted to see the world, so I took an apprenticeship in the centre of Copenhagen that I was offered.”

The transformation to full-time artist then occurred fairly natural.

“Some of my customers were people who had seen my paintings and wanted tattoos in the same style. I’ve always had a different style, even when I tattooed; I couldn’t do what everyone else was doing, and that became my style. It was the same thing with painting.”

She’s very happy with her situation at the moment, although deep in the back of her head dwells thoughts of taking up tattooing again.

“Because of tattooing I need never be nervous as an artist. I always have that to fall back on. I don’t have to commit to a full-time job. I can just tattoo as much as I want. Sometimes I do think about tattooing again, when I get lonely and weird. I work six to 11 hours a day. That’s definitely too much, but it also gives me the possibility to take some time off and go travel with my son.”

Travelling is, by the way, something she both misses and doesn’t miss with tattooing.   

“I miss the adventure part, but fortunately Blaise loves travelling. At the same time, I would have gone nuts being abroad for too long now that my painting is going so well. I’m on a different adventure now.”



Text: Simon Lundh; Photography: Coco