Simon Stålenhag is an artist, musician, and designer specialising in futuristic digital paintings focused on stereotypical Swedish countryside environments. The settings of his artwork have formed the basis for a range of art books and a tabletop game.
Stålenhag grew up in an rural environment near Stockholm, making illustrations of the local landscape inspired by artists such as Lars Jonsson. He only attempted science fiction artwork after discovering concept artists like Ralph McQuarrie and Syd Mead; initially this body of work was done as a side-project, without any planning behind it. Thematically, these pictures usually combine his childhood with themes from sci-fi movies, resulting in a stereotypical Swedish landscape with a neofuturistic bent. This means Stålenhag's work can feature giant robots and megastructures alongside regular Swedish items like Volvo cars.
As his work has evolved, Stålenhag has created a backstory for it, focused around a governmental underground facility. In parallel to the real-life decline of the Swedish welfare state, large machines slowly fail, and the eventual result of this remains a mystery. According to a 2013 interview with The Verge, "The only difference in the world of my art and our world is that ... ever since the early 20th century, attitudes and budgets were much more in favour of science and technology."
Outside of his usual canon, Stålenhag also drew 28 pictures of dinosaurs for the Swedish Museum of Natural History's prehistoric exhibits, after he rediscovered his childhood interest in the creatures, and contacted the museum to see if he could do anything. In 2016, he followed this with pictures of hypothetical results of a rising ocean under climate change for Stockholm University's Resilience Centre. He also did some promotional artwork for the sci-fi video game No Man's Sky.
Stålenhag uses a Wacom tablet and computer to illustrate his work, which is designed to resemble oil painting. Initially, he attempted to use various physical media to mimic a more traditional style, including gouache. Even after switching to digital methods, he has stated that he puts "a lot of effort into making the digital brushes behave naturally and preserve a certain amount of 'handwriting' in the brush strokes."
Books and adaptations
Most of Stålenhag's artwork was initially available online, before later being released for sale as prints. Since then, it has been turned into two narrative art books, Tales from the Loop and Things from the Flood. Both focus on the construction of a supermassive particle accelerator called the Loop.
In 2016, a Kickstarter campaign was launched to fund a tabletop role-playing game also called Tales from the Loop, based off the book of the same name; multiple media outlets compared it to TV series Stranger Things. Set in the 1980s and either the United States or Sweden, players roleplay as a group of teenagers dealing with the aftermath of the Loop. Different classes of characters are equivalent to steretypical childhood roles, for example, "Jock", "Bookworm", or "Computer Geek".
More recently, Stålenhag has covered the western United States in a third artbook, The Electric State, which was also crowdfunded via Kickstarter. It is centered around a girl and her robotic companion traversing the fictional state of Pacifica. Skybound Books will publish a North American edition of the work in October 2018. The book's movie rights were sold to the Russo brothers in 2017, with It: Chapter One and It: Chapter Two creative minds, Andy Muschietti and Barbara Muschietti slated to be director and producer, respectively.
Amazon Studios have acquired rights for a television series based on the Tales from the Loop book and tabletop game in 2018. It is planned to be produced in conjunction with Fox 21 Television Studios, with the initial season making up eight episodes. Its pilot episode is to be directed by Mark Romanek, who will also serve as executive producer.
As part of the crowdfunding campaign for The Electric State, Stålenhag produced and released an electronic music album with the same title as a backer goal. In 2018, he released his second album, Music For DOS, containing ambient music authored using old keyboards and the Impulse Tracker software package.
Additionally, Stålenhag has been involved in a variety of advertisements, films, and video games. This includes his work on the platformer video game Ripple Dot Zero, which was done in collaboration with Tommy Salmonsson.
- D'Orazio, Dante (August 3, 2013). "Incredible paintings of sci-fi suburbia will make you wish you were Swedish". The Verge. Retrieved December 4, 2017.
- Maloney, Devon (September 6, 2016). "This Art Is Cool: Imagining a Dystopian Sweden Full of Robots and Dinosaurs". Wired. Retrieved December 4, 2017.
- Doctorow, Cory (August 21, 2013). "Swedish seventies neoretrofuturism: the paintings of Simon Stålenhag". Boing Boing. Retrieved December 4, 2017.
- Andersen, Ross (October 5, 2015). "The Artists Who Paint Dinosaurs". The Atlantic. Retrieved December 4, 2017.
- Grey Ellis, Emma (September 22, 2013). "To Save the Oceans, These Guys Are Turning to Sci-Fi". Wired. Retrieved December 4, 2017.
- Estrada, Marcus (March 3, 2016). "No Man's Sky Explorer's Edition, Vinyl OST, More Announced". Hardcore Gamer. Retrieved December 4, 2017.
- Liptak, Andrew (July 5, 2015). "Simon Stålenhag's next book of retro sci-fi art is now on Kickstarter". The Verge. Retrieved December 4, 2017.
- Liptak, Andrew (December 1, 2016). "RPG Tales from the Loop lets you channel Stranger Things and ET". The Verge. Retrieved December 4, 2017.
- Elderkin, Beth (July 30, 2017). "Tales From The Loop RPG Will Make You Feel Like A (Stranger Things) Kid Again". Gizmodo. Retrieved December 4, 2017.
- "Simon Stålenhag's hauntingly beautiful retro sci-fi art". CNN. July 31, 2018. Retrieved August 1, 2018.
- "Skybound Books Picks Up Simon Stålenhag's THE ELECTRIC STATE – Skybound". Skybound. 17 January 2018. Retrieved 2018-02-07.
- Fleming, Mike (December 14, 2017). "Russo Brothers Win Sci-Fi Novel 'The Electric State' For 'It' Team Andy & Barbara Muschietti". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved December 19, 2017.
- Elderkin, Beth (July 19, 2018). "Amazon Is Turning Simon Stålenhag's Tales From The Loop Series Into A TV Show". Gizmodo. Retrieved August 1, 2018.
- Stålenhag, Simon (October 5, 2017). "The Electric State | Simon Stålenhag". Bandcamp. Retrieved December 4, 2017.
- "We Have a Soundtrack!". Kickstarter. July 17, 2017. Retrieved August 1, 2018.
- Bechizza, Rob (August 23, 2018). "Music for DOS: lo-fi album by Simon Stålenhag". Boing Boing. Retrieved August 24, 2018.