The ceramic skull design.
The ceramic skull design.

Entering the borderland with Per B Sundberg

Get ready for the peculiar yet familiar. IKEA is curious to enter the world of Swedish artist Per B Sundberg. Another collaboration celebrating an icon of Swedish design.

Per B Sundberg. Is he a designer? Is he an artist? It doesn’t matter. He moves between the fields of art and design with never-ending curiosity but always using ceramics as his departure point. “I have always thought that I am an artist or maybe a sculptor. I have never called myself a craftsman or ceramicist,” he says.

With FÖREMÅL, IKEA wants to lift the more absurd and figurative design tradition in Sweden. Even though the objects may raise a few eyebrows, Creative Leader Nike Karlsson doesn’t think the collection is unusual for IKEA. “Right now we are working with a lot of designers that challenge the notion of what IKEA can be,” he says. So, what has Per B Sundberg been up to with IKEA?

Per B Sundberg and Nike Karlsson at the factory.
Per B Sundberg and Nike Karlsson at the factory.

Seeing the art in our surroundings

Pelle often works with objects he has found. In his studio, he has thousands of small figurines lined up on the shelves serving as inspiration for his work. So, when letting him loose at a supplier that makes figurines in Vietnam it was ideal. “Often when I come to a factory that is good at making figurines, I start getting ideas. They are such creative places that inspire me,” he says.

Whilst working with IKEA, a lot of the design work for the collection was done on the factory-floor, Pelle picking and mixing from what he could find on the shelves. “It was absurd at the factory in Vietnam, it was so big and full of knick-knacks. It was so ugly, that supplier was perfect for me. Porcelain suppliers are just perfect” Pelle says.

Naming in particular the terracotta plant pot in the shape of a skull and the candlestick that rises from a dog’s torso, Creative Leader Nike Karlsson’s feeling about the collection is “that it’s really Pelle’s way of expressing himself. By taking something that exists, and putting it together with something else he creates a new context that becomes something interesting.”

Experimenting at all times

While making FÖREMÅL, Pelle disappeared for a short time. The team at IKEA started to wonder what was going on. But soon he reappeared with mountains of patterns, something completely new and unexpected.

In typical Per B Sundberg fashion, he was creating an analogue universe from patterns in his own home. Alongside old Swedish egg cartons from the 70’s and his pyjamas shirt he added his favourite pink sweater, “because I like the colour,” says Pelle. “Then I placed the collage on a normal A4-scanner at home and mirrored the pattern in the computer. It went really fast. Really fun.”

Does Nike know that on one of the small boxes in the collection, the prints are taken from A4 scans of egg-cartons, Pelle’s pyjamas and his favourite pink shirt? “Yes, all sorts of things. And lots taken from his glazing, tiny blemishes in glass objects that he has photographed and then enlarged as well.” These are used on the bacteria-like patterns on the cushions.

Per B Sundberg working with the ceramics.
Per B Sundberg working with the ceramics.
The ceramic skull design.
The ceramic skull design.

Creative mind like no other

When you speak to Pelle about his creative process he describes it as just a feeling. If he sees an unusual colour or composition he thinks: “Yeah, that’s weird, I like it!” Creative Leader Nike Karlsson says it’s true that Pelle gets excited by something that makes you feel uncomfortable or get surprised.

“I’ve had a lot of freedom working with IKEA,” says Pelle. “It can’t be offensive or upsetting, I get that immediately. I could, however, allow a lot of fun in the collection. But humour is hard, it’s a hard balance.”

In typical Pelle fashion, he likes taking on projects that don’t quite align with what people think he will do. “It’s boring to be placed in a box. I enjoy doing different things and try to fight with people’s expectations. Now I can make a tray that is mass-produced and sold for under 100 euros, which makes my things accessible for a big audience. There is a democratic aspect in that that I like” he says.

Nike sums it up nicely: “If you’ve bought a Per B Sundberg, you take something home with you that is more than you normally get at IKEA. Something you can keep in the future, treasure and hand down to generations to come.”

Nike Karlsson working with the ceramics.
Nike Karlsson working with the ceramics.