Magnus Sodamin at Wynwood Walls for Miami Art Week

Sodamin: "It becomes a tangible element that makes you feel like you're inside a painting."
Sodamin: "It becomes a tangible element that makes you feel like you're inside a painting."
© Steven Borja

When artist Magnus Sodamin was young, his grandfather would take him fishing in Norway before sunrise. His grandmother would accompany him into the forest to hunt for mushrooms and into the mountains with a spike and hammer to look for cool rocks. Before flying home to Connecticut, he would fill suitcases with those stones and found butterfly wings. For Sodamin, nature isn't something experienced through a car window. These real-life moments gush from his artwork in bursts of color, smudged delicate flowers, and slowly changing light that alters the way everything that surrounds you appears.

Sodamin was conceived on the ocean. It was there, on a Cunard cruise ship, that his Norwegian mother worked as a stewardess and his Austrian father a chef. They settled on land just a short drive from Manhattan in Darien, Connecticut. Young Magnus' first major artistic influences were the Museum of Natural History and Central Park. At age 12, he found himself a thousand miles from the big city, living in Coral Gables. "I realized how lush everything was here and how different it was from what I was used to, the endless summer," the 28-year-old remembers of his new home. "I think at that age, you're really morphing to the world around you."

As a teenager at MAST Academy, he was greatly affected by one of his teachers, Craig Kirk. An Olympian horse jumper who also sailed on an Olympic sailing team, Kirk started the BFA program at Cranbrook Academy of Fine Arts in Michigan. "I saw something he had that I wanted," Sodamin says. Though that thing was art, after high school, he went to Lillehammer, Norway, to study. The bleak winters and sub-zero temperatures affected his artistic vision. "All the paintings were really just black-and-white — weird, creepy paintings," he laughs. "There was some satanic shit coming out."

So when he returned stateside, his work was packed with color. While he attended Miami Dade College, he and his former high-school teacher worked together, creating about 150 paintings. When his art began to look too much like his mentor's, he went in the opposite direction. But when he showed his new work to Kirk, Sodamin says, "It looked like I'd hurt his feelings. I realized there was a lot I learned [from him] that I wanted to bring back into my work... so I found a new vocabulary."

He entered New World School of the Arts, where weekly critiques by local curators and artists helped Sodamin realize how invested all these people were in the Miami arts community. He debuted his paintings in 2007 at Ada Balcacer's gallery on 22nd Street in Wynwood. It was the same gallery that worked with Maximo Caminero, the guy who smashed the Ai Weiwei vase at Pérez Art Museum Miami in February 2014.

In 2012 at his BFA show, Sodamin caught the eye of artist Typoe, a partner at Primary Projects. A few months later, Typoe and his partner at the gallery, BooksIIII Bischof, started to represent Sodamin as part of their team. Sodamin began with group exhibitions before crafting two solo shows there — "Into the Rainbow Vein" and "Infinity Split." For the latter, he painted the whole of Primary Projects' space. The walls dripped with color, the floors swirled with neon colors, and canvases that resembled individual galaxies decorated the walls.

"Working with Magnus is an ongoing explosion of positive energy," Bischof says. He calls Sodamin's "Infinity Split" the standout. "It was a breakthrough. When you are surrounded by 20-foot-tall walls, inside a giant Magnus Sodamin installation, you know you have stepped through the looking glass."

Sodamin worked with artist and dancer Jenna Balfe to include interactive elements in at least four of his shows. He and Balfe dreamed about bodies emerging from trees and blending in with them. The long vertical streaks of color in the walls of his work reflected both trees and the human spinal column. "The dance should be about the life force within the spine and the stretching and slow movements of breathing," he says. They thought of the performance as a meditation. He painted the dancers' bodies to blend their figures into the background, giving them "an electric kind of feeling."

The last of these collaborations was on Cinco de Mayo at Brickell bar Blackbird Ordinary. He painted dancer Katie Stirman in Day-Glo orange and blue. The crowd got their hands on some of the permanent paint and put it on their clothes and faces. "It was cool to see so many people use it as a background with their sombreros," he reflects. Sodamin wasn't angry that people were taking selfies; he appreciates them engaging with the work and finding joy in it. During the staging of "Infinity Split," he liked that each photo taken in the room offered a unique perspective. People were exploring, he says, "the color but also the expanse of space and how to deal with that. Everything is overly, excessively beautiful — in a way, it gives every single moment of the space some kind of way for somebody to see it in a different way."

Bischof credits that show with "setting the stage for Magnus' continued success." This includes a massive mural he recently painted on the Wynwood Block and an upcoming installation at Wynwood Walls that will coincide with Art Basel Miami Beach. It will be Sodamin's first time showing during Miami Art Week. Opening December 1, his "Calm Before the Sun" will consume one of the huge rooms at Wynwood Walls. He says CEO of Goldman Properties, Jessica Goldman Srebnick, who provided the space, gave him total freedom with this installation.

Though he's working slowly, savoring the journey of this project, the walls and floor are already decorated in his current signature style. Sodamin carefully makes decisions about each color and shape, playing with spatial effects. Describing the floor's swirling eddies of neon, he says, "It becomes a geographical terrain. It feels almost like aerial views of landscapes in a way, but it becomes a tangible element that makes you feel like you're inside a painting." He's still painting florals on round canvases — one of the final touches. He notes that both the beauty and impermanence of blooms are an important part of his vision. "[Painting flowers] allows me to be involved in the work and have sensitivity with it. But then I play it against these huge waterfalls of color that are very chaotic but are actually very controlled as well."

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But most important to the title is the way black lights and conventional lighting, changing on a timer, will affect how the work is viewed. "It gives the moment in between, the moment before twilight or dusk, when the colors are slowly changing and hues are getting more saturated... that fleeting moment of beauty that I strive for in nature," he explains.

"Sometimes I'm on the water when it's pitch black, and I don't know what's around me, and I hear splashes. I don't know what it is, and I'm like, How deep is this water next to me? There's this level of fear of the unknown that can be very terrifying, but then, when the light comes, there's this hopeful moment when you have an anticipation of the coming of the day and how beautiful it's going to be, and there are all these levels of appreciation."

Right after the Miami Art Week activities conclude, Sodamin will head to the sea again, to camp in the Ten Thousand Islands, off the coast of Southwest Florida.

"Magnus is all heart," Bischof concludes. "I love his passion for nature. I know that he is in his element, and this inspires his practice in the studio.One experience lending itself seamlessly to the other. Magic."

"Calm Before the Sun"
11 p.m. to 2 a.m., December 1 at Wynwood Walls, 2520 NW Second Ave.; Miami; 305-531-4411; thewynwoodwalls.com. Admission is free.

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Wynwood Walls

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