Photo: Kristofer Sandberg
In his early childhood, Jirlow was truly interested in painting and drawing. He remembers spending all his weekly allowance on buying canvas and paint, which resulted in a new painting every week! Already at an early age artistry became the aim for Jirlow and it led him to apply and being admitted to Konstfack (University of arts, craft and design) at an unusually young age. This made the “artist dream” more structured reassuring and pleasing Jirlow’s parents. After two years of education at Konstfack, Jirlow with his canvas under his arm headed south and hitchhiked his way to Holland, France and with final destination in Florence, the birth capital of the renaissance. Jirlow settled in Italy for the following years to complete his education at the Accademia di Belle Arti.
Through a Swedish director – who opened his residence in the French village of Grimaud to Swedish artists – Jirlow came to spend long periods in France. During the summer period, he traveled back home to Sweden where he had his very first exhibition in 1958 on Strandvägen in Stockholm, and a couple of years later, in 1960, he worked with Hilding Linnqvist with a mosaic work. However it was France that attracted Jirlow in the early 1960s so he acquired a studio in Paris. Over the years Jirlow has been widely exhibited in Sweden, but even more in France, Great Britain, Thailand and the United States. Today, he lives in Provence, where he has his home and studio.
Today, Jirlow's paintings adorn everything from posters of Bocuse d'Or, wine labels and the menus of several French star restaurants. At one point, while attending the G7 meeting Bill Clinton visited a restaurant in Lyon, which had a menu with a Jirlow painting. The president became so fond of the motive that he asked the restaurant owner who the artist was. This eventually came to engage the Swedish embassy, which asked Jirlow to sign a menu that later was sent to the White House. Eventually, a very personal written thank you note from Bill Clinton and his wife, as well as a photo of the presidential couple now hangs on the wall in Jirlows studio. Another token of appreciation is the French price of honour "Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres" which Jirlow received in 2000 by the French Minister of Culture.
In addition to painting, Jirlow has devoted himself to sculpture, graphics and stage decor. In the early 1960s he met Marc Chagall in Vence, and Jirlow later came to print his lithographs in the same place as the great master, with the lithographer Fernand Mourlot in Paris. When printing the special ultramarine blue colour that is often found in Jirlow's images, a special blue pigment was created, internally so-called Jirlow-blue.
Lennart Jirlow's paintings are full of colour and vivacity. The inspiration comes from his life-progress and the people that surround him. The variety of characters depicted in his paintings, were found while visiting Paris, sitting in restaurants and cafés. During his first year in France he was fascinated by the fact that a bank director could be sitting next to a chimneysweeper or a large family with children at a bistro. Jirlow often captured these characters in his sketchbook. When he was sketching, Jirlow took whatever was available to him; it could be a restaurant bill or a newspaper. Unconsciously a meeting emerged between ordinary everyday things clearly forming a background in the paintings. When Jirlow later exhibited gouaches painted on this surface, they sold out immediately.