Norwegian nosh is very hard to come by in this country - even Steinar Lund, extremely well known illustrator in the computer industry, didn't know of a good Norwegian restaurant to visit-- and he's been living in England since 1964! So where else could we go, courtesy of the YS luncheon vouchers, to eat and talk about his work! We settled for a Chinese at Mr So's in Winchester.
It was a bit of a disappointment for Steinar - he'd love a meal on a Russian space-station! Tongue in cheek, he tells me that he's been campaigning to get a Norwegian in space (himself!), ever since he first saw the space pictures from NASA. 'There are some things I'd like to do in zero G,' he explains, 'like be the first man to go swimming in zero gravity!' Apparently the contents of a swimming pool would form into a huge sphere in an orbiting spacecraft, so it would be a case of scuba diving in space. Not a man with a mean, petty little ambition in life, this Steinar Lund fellow...
'I'd like to be the first man to go swimming in zero gravity!'
The fried seaweed and crispy wantun arrives; as we take up chopsticks Steinar explains that he used to be a great sci-fi fan. He read avidly and still enjoys 'all the spacey things.' Clearly a major influence when you look at his artwork which has adorned countless computer game inlays. As an artist, he also gets a buzz from cartooning and photo-realism, (check his painting for Hunt For Red October).
'Toffee coated banana.'
Here's a little bit of history. His family moved to Southampton in 1964 from Bergen in Norway, and the young Steinar went through his O and A levels, taking art along the way. Working in a family business - a chain of newsagents - he decided to study interior design, with a view to applying skills to the design of shops. With this in mind he took a year's foundation course at Southampton and completed his studies with three years at Kingston Art College.
Selling a few paintings while at college prompted Steinar to consider a career as an illustrator rather than as an interior designer, and once his studies finished he spent a year building up a portfolio against some parental pressure. 'They didn't realise the potential for making a living as an artist,' he explains.
Crispy Duck Time: we coat little pancakes with plum sauce, add morsels of duck, cucumber and shredded spring onion before rolling them up and munching. (Why can't I do this column? Phil) Weird how some dishes are thought up... some time in the past, a Chinaman must have stumbled across a crispy, wind-dried duck and wondered what to do with it. How did he come up with the idea of combining it with pancakes, plum sauce and shredded veggies? A masterpiece of lateral thinking, (probably would've been an adventure writer today!). But then fishballs count among the culinary masterpieces of Norway - Chinese nosh was definitely the best idea.
Anyway, back to Steinar. Surrealists, and in particular Magritte and Dali, were Steinar's first artistic influences. Taking up an airbrush in his final year at college ('they told me it would take ten years to master, bur I didn't let that deter me'), he soon found other artists whose work he admired: Chris Foss, Chris Moore, Jim Burns, Tim White and then the photo realist Michael English. 'My all-time favourite is Maxwell Parrish - he uses glazes to achieve spectacular effects in his paintings.
Once a respectable portfolio of work had been created, Steinar went on holiday abroad and landed his first major job as a commercial artist. Through the brother of a friend, he was asked to provide cartoon illustrations for a light-hearted DIY book. Then returning from holiday, he got involved with Thorsons, a publisher in Wellingborough who specialises in 'New Age' books. Steinar covers for books on the occult, healthy living and so on, soon followed. Around that time, the home computer software boom started in earnest...
Steinar knew Nick and John, the founders of Quicksilva, and they asked him to provide inlay illustrations for Defender and Asteroids. 'The whole thing grew from there,' Steinar explains, reaching for another sliver of waterchestnut, 'I went along to a few computer shows with my portfolio, talked to people and started doing work for inlays and then magazine covers.
Given the nature of computer games, much of Steinar's work for the software industry is based on space fantasy themes, although a pig wielding a bloody chainsaw (YS, June ish) was a rather unusual commission. And thereby hangs a squiggly tale - when we lunched, Steinar was in the middle of working on a Psycho Pig song with his nephews Paul and Tom. 'We're doing it mainly for fun, playing around with synthesisers, laying down a bass line and building up the effects and chords.' Music is Steinar's main relaxation at the moment - listening to it mostly, but playing keyboards for fun. 'I suppose the next stage is to get an ST if finances stretch to it, and then perhaps a sampler. But it's dangerous... before you know it, you've spent hours and hours messing around and got no work done.'
Toffee coated banana for pud prompts a short discussion about Norwegian desserts, including a yummy sounding sponge cake that is a speciality of the Lund household. Apparently you soak the sponge in fruit juice... But back to computer games. What about designing a game, or working on the graphics? 'I designed a lot of the sprites for a game about the Olympics in 1984, but the game didn't actually come out - the programmer never completed it, so I didn't actually get any money. People now specialise in designing games and I've got more than enough to learn in my own area - as an illustrator you never stop learning about things like perspective, how shadows fall and so on.'
A concrete ambition is to get involved in moving pictures, perhaps involving computers - 'applying art to other areas, maybe using computer graphics in a more artistic way, perhaps basing something on a static painting and then making it move afterwards' A bit like the TV show Knightmare, which used paintings from fellow software illustrator, David Rowe. Or possibly as an art director on film or video.
After the coffee, came the bill and it was time for Steinar to stroll back to the studio he shares in Winchester with a design and copywriting firm. He's in the middle of a commission, and what with Psycho Pig songs and long Chinese lunches, he's got to be careful to keep on schedule.
Life as a Norwegian illustrator in England seems good. Even if you do forget how to ski: 'I was in Norway last Easter, so I rented some skis - I was quite pleased with myself, I went off the biggest hill there and got to the bottom. Once I was off the lip, I had no time to think about anything else, but I made it. I nearly fell over right at the bottom, in front of hordes of people, but I recovered. I couldn't have got away with it if I'd fallen over.'
Clearly, people don't expect Norwegians in space, but they do expect them to be able to ski...