The Expat: Frederik Olsen

Born: Föllinge, Sweden
Lives: Belgrano
Education: Economy and marketing degree
Profession: Artist
Book: The Light People
Film: Save Love
Can’t live without: music

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After working in London’s demanding private members’ clubs and nightlife arena for several years, Swedish transplant Frederik Olsen welcomed a change of scene when he moved to Argentina to be with his boyfriend five years ago. Suddenly finding time to develop his passion for painting, he now calls both Europe and Buenos Aires home and recently showed at Art Basel in Miami Beach.

Frederik says: “I’m from a small village called Föllinge in the north of Sweden, which is home to about 600 people. It’s a forest – it’s peaceful and clean, you have to use a snowmobile to get around and people produce home-made vodka – and while I embrace nature, as soon as I finished school I moved to Stockholm to start my life.

“I’d been working in clubs since I was 20, booking celebrities, and had been living in London for five years working as a door host. I’d come home late in the morning, always tired and exhausted. And I realized I needed to make some changes as the nightlife was killing me.

“I’ve always painted ever since I was a kid, and had always dreamed about doing it but had never followed it through. So when I moved to Buenos Aires for love – to be with my boyfriend, who I met in London – I didn’t have a job, had lots of time on my hands and so I started to paint. And that changed my life.”

Swedish atelier
The timing of the move to Buenos Aires five years ago was ideal for Frederik, as he was finally able to indulge his creative side and fulfil that childhood dream to become an artist based in a city that fully embraces the arts.

He says: “In the beginning I’d share my paintings on Facebook, and people would like them. Then I started to sell a little bit. When I broke up with my boyfriend, I moved in with a friend. She was in a bad situation as her husband had recently left her, taken all their money and gone back to Brazil, so she had nothing. She had to sell all the furniture in this enormous flat and a lady came round to buy some luxury pieces. One of my first works was of a man and this very rich lady wearing Christian Dior sunglasses and big hair said she wanted it. And my friend told her she couldn’t have it, as it was one of my works that happened to be in the apartment because I was living there. And the lady said, ‘But I’m going to have it.’ So we gave it to her for free.

“She then asked if I had any more paintings, so I showed her lots of pictures. Then she called her assistant, who rang an art dealer – who is my agent today – and I sent the dealer a reel. She loved everything and told me she would get me a show at the Centro Cultural Borges. That was my first exhibition, there at the Centro Cultural Borges, which was amazing! In the past four years, I’ve exhibited in London, Sweden, New York and Miami and this is just the beginning! And the craziest thing is that I saw a medium in London years ago, who predicted that all these things would happen and told me to never give up. And now that I’m doing something I’m passionate about, I’ve been able to find myself. I’m quite obsessive-compulsive so art helps calm me down.”

Easy move
Moving to Argentina was an easy decision for Frederik, even though he’d never visited the continent, as he’d already adapted to living in Ibiza and the UK. He adds: “I wasn’t scared, not at all, because I like to see what’s going on – in fact I’d like to start over again! Perhaps I’ll pack my bag and check out Brazil. Experience is everything, as are contacts.”

Now dividing his time between his homeland and adopted country (although Argentina tends to win out), Frederik has the good fortune to be able to tap into both cultures for inspiration. He says: “It’s interesting because I paint differently when I am here than when I’m in Europe. You can see the difference, but you can also tell when I’m happy, sad, confused or stressed through my artwork – it always shows. I get so much inspiration from Buenos Aires. The architecture, where old meets new, all the greenery – it’s like Paris, it’s like Sweden…

“In the beginning, I lived with my boyfriend in Recoleta, then I moved around until I got my flat in Belgrano, where I’ve now been for two years. It’s a very inspiring place with a lovely roof terrace and that’s where I paint – it’s great, although I’m thinking about trying to rent a space in a crazy, old Argentine-style studio where I can go mad. I also make a lot of electronic music in my loft – the next stage for me is developing that further.”

While his friends are mostly Argentine, Frederik doesn’t tend to hang out with other artists that much. “I didn’t study art and while I like to see other people’s work, I don’t do that too often. I always feel like I get ideas from their art and I don’t like that. So I’m quite bad at being part of the scene! I don’t go to exhibitions much. Some of the art is amazing here and I think works made here could be sold for a lot more somewhere else!

Tight-knit group
“People are so warm, especially when you come from Sweden or London where they are nice but cold. It’s another story here. Argentines are so sociable, and if you’re waiting for the weekend, you don’t have to wait long because there are dinners every night of the week. It’s like Alice in Wonderland – it’s magical!

“When you really get into a group of friends, it’s very strong although it can take a while. But when you have it, it’s for real. My friends include a dentist, a lawyer, or come from fashion and PR. There used to be a big group of 20 Swedes but almost everyone went back. I’m not here to meet other Swedish people though sometimes it’s nice to have someone to speak my language with – plus my Spanish is still quite bad! When I was learning it, for a while there I started to lose both my English and Swedish!”

Frederik also enjoys Buenos Aires’ gay scene, calling it “amazing”, although he thinks the city is lacking its own gay neighbourhood. He says: “It’s big and Buenos Aires is amazing in that sense: mafiosi marry transexuals and it’s really fun. But perhaps it’s missing a gay area or community like London and Paris have – everything is very spread out here.”

Although he misses his friends and family, Frederik definitely doesn’t regret leaving behind Sweden’s weather. “It’s so depressing! And I don’t miss the attitude toward money. This (points around) is money for me; the good weather, cheap wine. Nature and a good climate are a luxury for me – they are priceless.

“My family think I am mad! Though my mum does say ‘oh well, I’m not surprised Frederik, has ended up on the other side of the world. They want me to go back although they accept the fact that I live here.”

Buenos Aires Herald, February 7, 2015

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