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Work / Illustration

Illustrator Espen Friberg’s authentic and deceptively simple characters

“I’ve been drawing as long as I can remember, it’s a passion that never went away,” Oslo-based illustrator Espen Friberg tells It’s Nice That. With a portfolio spanning drawing, graphic design but also music, his love of creativity in all its forms is evident in his instinctive, loose and simple style.

After studying at Oslo National Academy of the Arts, Espen co-founded design studio Yokoland alongside Aslak Gurholt Rønsen, where he remained until moving to the US in 2007. He currently runs his own practice out of his hometown working on self-initiated projects and commissioned work.

Espen’s playful characters are mischievous and spirited, appearing in colourful, hand-drawn worlds. “I always like to start a project with a pen and paper to plot out ideas – it’s natural and immediate,” he explains when asked about his process. In a recent collaboration with Fredrick Larsen, Espen created a comic book series about a fictional land in Nulteliv – Nummer 1. In contrast to their credulous appearance, the characters live in a world where children buy tobacco for their parents, where pornography is found strewn on the forest floor instead of the internet and where children “play with fireworks instead of making a cupcake-blog.”

Stating ad-hoc and DIY solutions to problems outside the creative world as an inspiration for his own practice, it makes sense that Espen also references the realm of outsider art. This term is used to describe work which is naïve in quality or that has been produced by those without conventional artistic training. As a result, Espen’s work retains an authentic nature but is deceptively simple in its execution.

Working mainly in the cultural field – including creating weekly illustrations for newspaper Morgenbladet – Espen often combines his love for music and drawing in the same place. He recently launched Take It Easy Policy, a record label and publishing house alongside co-founder Emil Høgset. With a focus on “releasing music, sound, text and image with a free spirit,” Take It Easy Policy’s work is charming and expressive – the true product of a creative outlet.

In a recent project, co-released by Good Press, Take It Easy Policy produced a sleep-inducing cassette in collaboration with Marianne Røthe Arnesen. “This piece of music and spoken word was born when Marianne had problems falling asleep,” Espen recalls. As a tongue-in-cheek response, they produced a series of slow and pitched down sounds combined with “the most mundane spoken word piece that describes how to walk from our home to the studio, step by step.”

Despite the apparent simplicity of his characters comprised of coloured blobs, Espen has the ability to convey narratives and emotions in the smallest gestures. Although often not even fully formed – devoid of limbs of facial features – his characters say a lot through a furrowed brow or wondering gaze.

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Espen Friberg

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Espen Friberg

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Espen Friberg

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Espen Friberg

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Espen Friberg

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Espen Friberg

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Espen Friberg

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Espen Friberg