In Conversation: Alice Herbst | Next Top Artist

Alice Herbst is a Swedish former fashion model – turned artist. She won the 2012 season of Sweden’s Next Top Model and subsequently decided to drop modelling and pursue her artistic passion.

Hi Alice, give us a little background on yourself and where you are from?
I was born in Stockholm, but my family did not stay there for long. My childhood was spent in a couple of different small towns. My dad used to work at the harbour and I remember it being a tough time in that business to find permanent employment. We moved back to the suburbs of the city when I was 13 and since then I’ve been staying here.

© Alice Herbst
© Alice Herbst

How did you get into art and what influenced you?
I was always into art at some level. My parents were interested in culture and we often went to different museums during weekends. I took classes in painting at a very young age but when school started to get serious my creative passion had to be put aside. I had a hard time in school where I was getting bullied and I became very unsure about myself and that affected my focus on studies. I asked my parents if we could move for the last time and we ended up in Spånga in the north of Stockholm. Here I felt secure and sheltered from the bullying. When I was 19, I started to use aquarelle and promarkers as a therapeutic ritual. I got my inspiration from magazines, life experiences and social media. Through my teachers at school, I learnt about, and started to get influences from artists such as Jenny Saville, the Swedish painter, Karin Mamma Andersson and Lucian Freud.

© Alice Herbst
© Alice Herbst

You were the winner of Sweden’s Next Top Model. Tell us about that, and how it ties in with your artistic passion today?
When I was younger, one of my biggest dreams was to be travelling around the world and act out different roles in fashion magazines. I also loved to watch America’s Next Top Model and when it was announced that a Swedish version would be held in 2012 I got convinced by a friend to apply. After many nervous minutes at castings I got my approval to be one of the contestants. The contest took place in Los Angeles, and the first prize was to sign with a model agency from the city. I managed to win and I worked with the agency for a very short time – a couple of months. I did quite well and we were making plans for me to sign with an agency in New York to hit the fashion shows but I started to feel very anxious because of the body ideal in the industry and my meetings with unprofessional photographers who wanted me to pose nude for free. I made the decision that the industry wasn’t for me. It actually was at that time, coming home from California to Sweden, I started to create again. I had thoughts on body ideal and the fashion industry so my therapeutic work was a lot about that. My time in modelling and my interest in fashion definitely inspired me to create.

© Alice Herbst
© Alice Herbst

Did you make a complete shift from modelling to art or were you always involved in both?
It was a complete change of path. But then I have also been like that a lot in general, I cut loose from interests and discover new ones. I think it has to do with figuring out who you are. I’m still very young and I finally start to see how I can combine all my different interests at the same time. I do not want to be limited to one form of expression. While I understand why people like to place labels, I find it problematic and extremely limiting . I sometimes get questions from people that wonder if I want to be a social media model, since I’m posting photos of myself, or if I want to be an artist. I am a person with a lot of different sides and I am finally confident enough to live it out, despite what people may say.

© Alice Herbst
© Alice Herbst

You do a lot of figure drawing; does that draw from your personal experience in modelling?
I often use my own body as a reference for my graphite drawings. That means I still pose as a model but now I’m in total control of what to do with my body. The women in my drawings aren’t supposed to be pleasing someone. I often exaggerate what I see, make the muscles a bit more visible and the angles a little more convincing, it creates a depth that I’m interested in. It’s like the complete opposite of what my body had to look like as a model.

© Alice Herbst
© Alice Herbst

There’s something quite loose and free about your style, we like the strokes across the figures; tell us a bit about your technique.
Thank you! I first started to draw my figures with the techniques I learned first year of school in croquis class. The strokes were just a part of making the angles of the body more distinct and getting the anatomy right. I prefer not to erase my wrong decisions. Later on I started to use the charcoal strokes in a different way. I saw how I could build up a composition and an atmosphere where there would have been just empty white spaces. It also helped the figures to not be as static as before the strokes. I want to make them move, like they are about to get up if they are sitting down.

Are you familiar with the work of Mikael Kihlman? 
I have to admit that I did not know about his work. It was interesting to read his perspective on the art world and read about the differences since the 70’s! It seems like a lot of the structures that he experienced still exists today.

© Alice Herbst
© Alice Herbst

What is your perspective on the art scene in Stockholm and how the current environment nurtures artistic talent?
I think there is a big problem with the current attitude to art and especially painting as a method. It’s no longer appreciated to paint figuratively if you don’t have a strong statement to make; something that can be associated with the narrative of the painting. If I say that the process of each painting, the choices of colours creating depth or the composition is the most important in my work it will not be enough. The artists have to explain why the painting is good enough, story wise, to be hanging on that gallery wall. There are great opportunities for artists that work with art installation, conceptual art and abstract painting though, but that is just not what I would like to work with. I know that there will be people thinking that my work is conventional. Some will think that I don’t seem aware of what art “really” is about. In school I got feedback saying that what I do needs to be uglier, bolder, and some want me to get political. I don’t want my visual result to be less important than the concept. I just want to paint what I feel like, and not conform to the norm.

© Alice Herbst
© Alice Herbst

What are you plans going forward with you art? And would you consider getting back into modelling?
Like I mentioned earlier I’m starting to figure out how to manage working with different projects and make them go hand in hand. Right now becoming a model again is not an option for reasons stated earlier. I like when I can be completely in charge of what I am doing. I will continue being creative and that involves everything from drawing and painting, but also all the other things that I like to do. For example I just started a project where I talk about my experiences from bullying and I post this as videos on the internet for people to watch. it is something that goes against the traditional “mysterious artist” role, but it is something I would have wanted to listen to when I was younger and alone. I am right in a puzzle; where I really want to succeed combining all my interests and plans. Not even I know exactly where my ambition will take me, but I will definitely not stop to draw and paint. That has become a part of expressing myself naturally.

Thanks Alice!

© Alice Herbst
© Alice Herbst