Ingrid Årfelt was active in Uppsala as a designer and graphic artist, with an understated style often inspired by antiquity and Italy. She also contributed as a columnist and author to magazines and local newspapers.
Ingrid Årfelt was born in Stockholm in 1923, the daughter of Commander Curt Årfelt and his wife Gunhild Pally. In Stockholm, she started her artistic education at Edvin Oller’s art school in 1940. Årfelt later continued on to the Royal School of Arts in Stockholm studying graphic art in 1941–1946 and sculpture in 1946–1948.
In 1946, she married her artist colleague Yngve Svalander, who was active in Uppsala and known for having been an illustrator for many years in Upsala Nya Tidning (UNT). After that, Uppsala became her home, with a break for art studies in Rome and study trips to Belgium, France, and Italy. Ingrid Årfelt participated in the Nationalmuseum’s exhibitions Unga tecknare (Young Designers) in 1946–1948, 1950 and 1953. She exhibited regularly at galleries in Uppsala. She was well-known to Uppsala residents for her signature as a writer, using the pseudonym Pimpinella for both columns and poems in UNT.
As was the case with many other artists, Ingrid Årfelt tried to support herself as an illustrator in newspapers, magazines and books. She contributed to Idun, Folket i Bild and Vi during the 1940s and 1950s and also wrote poetry herself in Bonniers Litterära Magasin and Folket i Bild. It is impossible to know or account for how many books she illustrated, but some examples may be named that show her originality.
A small, pretty book by Eva Berg from 1946, Dagens namn var Stella, was given its cover and emotionally apt drawings by Ingrid Årfelt. Ragnar Stenberg’s article collection Strövtåg from 1954 was supplied with congenial vignettes from Ingrid Årfelt’s pen. Especially buildings and settings from southern lands suited her graphically pure style. Siri Dahlquist’s En lyftad skål. Minnen och dikter from 1955 is also proof of the austerity and intimacy that characterised Ingrid Årfelt’s artistry.
It was however Ingrid Årfelt’s illustrations to Gilgameš-eposet in Knut Tallqvist’s interpretation from 1962 that won most attention. She had already become interested in the ancient epic poem in 1956 and begun to sketch illustrations in ink, that she later cut in linoleum. The edition sold out in just a few months.
Ingrid Årfelt’s many years of making studies of life and landscape in Italy bore fruit in 1966 in the combined children’s book and travel guide Stina och Anders i Italien. Here she writes about tourist attractions in her beloved Italy, illustrated with her own drawings. However, she was more original as an illustrator in relation to other people’s texts than she was in this book that – perhaps without it being her fault – lacked a harmonious typographical form. In this case, the publishers can probably be blamed for the result.
As an independent artist, Ingrid Årfelt would chiefly make her mark through her linocuts. This is an artistic form of graphic method in which a sheet of linoleum is cut with a knife or burin. In contrast to woodcuts, linocuts cannot survive the stresses of being used for a larger number of prints. The technique was suitable since Ingrid Årfelt as the mother of twins was able to carry out her artistic work at home and cut out the linoleum sheets at her kitchen table. Then she did not have to deal with copper graphics which were heavier work, and thus she also avoided having to use a printing press.
Writing in a separate publication, Kim Nicklasson has tried to capture Ingrid Årfelt’s artistic spirit: “Spending time with her pictures is like sitting on a hillside and breathing in cooling, aromatic air while one’s eyes make sense of the surrounding view in smaller sections.” Ingrid Årfelt designed her motifs with a thoughtful and meditative expressiveness. Her antique heritage could be represented by both buildings and landscapes. However, most typical for the artist was a lone twig, a flower or a leaf.
Ingrid Årfelt was active during the second half of the 1900s, a period that saw the break-through of modernism. However, she lacked interest in both the avant-garde and the academic. She went her own way, where art was a way of living and a listening inwards. There is an introversion in her pictures that is reminiscent of Egyptian art or possibly decorative art nouveau. Ingrid Årfelt’s graphics are related to sculpture, in which she had also been trained.
Her linocuts were printed in only about ten copies, which means that Årfelt’s works are hard to find on the art market today. It also lay in her own nature not to seek for larger numbers of copies in order to reach a broader public and greater fame. One example is the pictures from the Odyssey that she printed by hand in a limited edition and that were never aimed at any book publication. Commercial success was foreign to her.
Ingrid Årfelt did however create some public decorations in Uppsala and its surroundings. One example is the wall relief for the Knivsta swimming pool building I stim – ensam (In a shoal – alone), that shows powerfully how the collective shoal of fish follows after one lone fish made of a different material. The artist is also represented in – among others – the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm, the Gothenburg Museum of Art and the Uppsala Art Museum.
Generally speaking, Ingrid Årfelt always tried to simplify things, and her striving mirrored a personal need for aloneness and tranquillity. Out of that concentration of visual reality, her simple poems arose. Wholeness is reflected in each detail. She herself wrote: “Quiet will I be, just simply open my senses”. This attitude to life did not exclude the poetic silence allowing space for literature and music. Art for Ingrid Årfelt was communication both inwards and outwards.
With her closeness to the crafting aspect of graphics, Ingrid Årfelt had already captured her views on art in 1952 in her work on fifty contemporary graphic artists 50 nutida svenska grafiker: “The graphic materials – metal, wood, stone – have in themselves a beauty that excites and inspires and that in happy cases can bestow results of a purity and a wealth of nuances related to the concentrated form of expression to be found in chamber music.”
In her later years, Ingrid Årfelt had a live-apart relationship with the Uppsala artist Christian Due. She died in 1999 in Öregrund and is buried at the Old Cemetery in Uppsala.