Simon Stålenhag, born 20 January 1984, is a Swedish 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, among other things.
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, his work often combines his childhood with themes from sci-fi movies, resulting in a stereotypical Swedish landscape with a neofuturistic bent. According to Stålenhag, this focus originates from his perceived lack of connection with adulthood, with the science fiction elements being added in partly to draw audience attention and partly to influence the work's mood. These ideas result in a body of work that can feature giant robots and megastructures alongside regular Swedish items like Volvo and Saab 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.
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. 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 published a North American edition of the work in October 2018.
In 2016, a Kickstarter campaign was launched to fund a tabletop role-playing game called Tales from the Loop, based on 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 stereotypical childhood roles, for example, "Jock", "Bookworm", or "Computer Geek".
The movie rights for The Electric State were sold to the Russo brothers in 2017, with It: Chapter One and Chapter Two creators, Andy Muschietti and Barbara Muschietti slated to be director and producer, respectively. Rights for a television series, Tales from the Loop, have been acquired by Amazon Studios, with plans for an adaption based on both the book and the tabletop game. It is 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 Salomonsson.
Keep scrolling down, or use the arrow, to continue to the Gallery