Norwegian illustrator Bendik Kaltenborn on working with director Joachim Trier, making his new short film, and life in Oslo

When Norwegian director Joachim Trier shared some stunning movie poster designs he had commissioned of his film The Worst Person In The World (Norwegian title: Verdens Verste Menneske), I was immediately taken by the striking, bright images. They reminded me of some of the artwork I had seen associated with musician Todd Terje, and further research confirmed they were produced by the same artist – Oslo-based Bendik Kaltenborn.

Bendik studied art in Oslo and Stockholm, before beginning a very successful career in contemporary art, graphic design, animation, illustration, and comics. He’s also a cartoonist, and is co-founder of the Norwegian comic collective Dongery.

Bendik has now also just released his own short film. I spoke to the artist to find out more about his film, his work, and his favourite places in Oslo.

NW: You have a new short film out ‘Liker Stilen’ (Big Mood) – tell us about your influences going into this piece and how the concept came about?

BK: The film is the main work in my artistic PHD I’m doing at the Art Academy in Oslo, where I look at the transition from comics and drawings to live action film, and particularly what happens when the artist takes that journey from one storytelling medium to another by being the director. The film is based on my comic book with the same name, it served as a good ‘lab rat’ since it consists of several short stories, which gave me the opportunity to explore more characters and directions.

There are so many influences, but in relation to my project theme I could mention the Swedish artist Marie Louise Ekman, who makes incredible paintings and drawings, but who also directed some insane movies in the 70s, particularly ‘Barnförbjudet‘.

Another artist that began as a painter is David Lynch, who also makes comics. He discovered film by stop motion animating his paintings in art school. Growing up with mental illness in my closest family and all the weird stuff that comes with this, I’ve always been drawn to the surreal and strange, maybe because we all seek to explain or perhaps normalize what happens to be our life. I think that’s why his work has resonated so strongly with me since I was a kid and watched Twin Peaks for the first time. But while inspiration is important and wonderful, both as an illustrator and director, it’s very important to me to find my own voice and not just copy others.

NW: The film features the music of Todd Terje, someone who you have created work for in the past – how did your paths cross?

BK: Terje and I got to know each other around 20 years ago when we worked in a record store together, where we bonded over the same silly humor and he liked my silly comics. So when he some years later started releasing singles he asked me to design them. There wasn’t any plan involved but after a few sleeves we realized I’d sort of created a visual profile for him, which I think has been a mutual benefit for us. It’s certainly made my drawings travel around a lot and opened many interesting doors for me.

When my comic book ‘Liker Stilen’ was published some years ago Terje made a 7” single that followed the first 100 copies (containing the two Preben songs that later would be part of his album), so since he’d already made a soundtrack for the book it felt natural to ask him to make the soundtrack for the short film as well. Lucky for me he was keen and made some time for this, and it was such an important part of the film. It was also really fun to turn the roles around and hang out in his studio. Finally I got to be the back seat driver for a while and go like “Too much intensity! Cool down the cymbals, man!” ha ha.

Watch Bendik’s Short Film ‘Liker Stilen’

NW: You are based in Oslo – where are some of your favourite places to hang out in the city?

BK: Well, first of all I wanna mention my favorite bar Konoji, in Trondheimsveien. They have incredible dishes and sake drinks and great Japanese records playing. Since they were born during the pandemic, and like other bars and restaurants are hit hard by the second shut down, I made a limited edition art print in support of them.

I also love the good old places with soul that Norway in general has very few of, like Dovrehallen, Teddy’s, Schrøders and Larsen.

Fuglen, which I work with, is also great, both in Oslo and Tokyo. And of course Parksalongen, where the bar scene in my film is shot. And finally, the fantastic book store Tronsmo, they pushed my comic fanzines since I was a teenager, I don’t know where I would be without Tronsmo.

NW: Speaking of Oslo, you also worked on some beautiful prints for Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person In The World – have you re-created many movie posters?

Thank you! I’ve always been a big fan of Joachim Trier and Eskil Vogt, so I was very happy when Joachim wanted me to make an illustrated version of the poster. Got carried away and made two posters, actually.

It also feels crazy that my debut short film is made on the same production company, I think it says something about Oslo Pictures, taking chances and trusting people that they feel burn for something and has a certain drive. I like people trusting their gut feeling, that’s what all my work is about.

Last time I did a movie poster I was commissioned to make a Eyes Wide Shut poster for a big Kubrick jubilee exhibition in London, but due to some unclear legal issues the museum hadn’t figured out it didn’t happen in the end. By that point I’d already made the poster and being a film buff I really enjoyed interpreting a beloved movie in this way.

I also made a version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (which actually hangs on the wall in Triers movie). Although this was originally commissioned by the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago I largely based it on the film version, which is one of my favourite films.

NW: You’ve also worked on other books, including Liker Stilen, have you any more planned?

BK: I just released a new comic book called ‘Det Spirer i Sansehagen’ together with my Dongery collective. I’m also working on a longer comic loosely based on a very intense and weird summer I had a couple of years ago. But it looks like it’ll be more fiction than facts, though.

NW: How is 2022 looking for you?

BK: Looking forward to wrapping up my PhD so I can keep writing on my screenplay, already have some ideas for a feature-length film … Also excited about having an exhibition at Blaafarveverket/Kittelsen-museet.

Theodor Kittelsen is one of my all-time biggest inspirations so being invited to show my work in his old house is an incredible honour.

NW: What have you been watching, reading, and listening to recently – any recommendations?

BK: Just watched Soy Cuba on MUBI, truly blew me away in many ways.

Been listening to a lot of Alice Coltrane – Turya Sings, lately. And my cousin Daniel Herskedal and his girlfriend Marja Mortensson, her incredible south Saami Yoik combined with Daniel’s compositions is truly amazing stuff!

Also wanna recommend Lars Fiske’s ‘Mitt Liv Som Tegning’, one of the best comic books I’ve read in a while.

Discover more and follow Bendik’s work:
Bendik’s Facebook page
Bendik’s Instagram

Interview by Alex Minnis