Johan Wahlstrom: Distorted Happiness

Johan Wahlstrom is featured as a featured artist in ArtPulse Magazine, following his successful solo exhibition in New York in March 2018. Very soon we will have a new exhibition of Johan Wahlstrom in Spain, at Es.Arte Gallery Marbella.

Translation of the Paul Laster article:

A rock musician turned artist, Johan Wahlstrom creates energetic paintings that blur the boundary between abstraction and figuration. As a starting point we take one of his paintings from 2015 with a multitude of people seen from the stage, his solo show “Distorted Happiness”, at George Bergès Gallery – New York, changed his previous illustrative style into a more surrealistic nightmare world.

The painting mentioned, entitled “The Search for Happiness”, captures a group of faces crying out to see someone on stage, while waiting to be seen by a figure they adore. Sketched in black paint as human caricatures or masks in an abstract field sprinkled with pigments and newsprint, the assembled heads seem largely devoid of body and soul. Representatively, they merge into the background of the work to become an accumulation that forms a mass.

Although he is a fifth generation Swedish artist, Wahlstrom began his creative career as a keyboardist and singer, performing with such famous musicians as Ian Hunter, Graham Parker and Mick Ronson, as well as with his own group. After almost 20 years making music, he left the stage and moved to France to continue his life as a painter. Inspired by Jean Dubuffet and the Art Brut movement he championed, Wahlstrom turned his audiences into works of art, making them and their mental and psychological state the focus of his expressive art.

When he arrived in New York in 2015 for a residency at Mana Contemporary, Donald Trump’s newly launched campaign caught his attention and became the artist’s theme. One of the paintings from that provocative series was shown in the exhibition. The 2016 work “Punch Them Hard” shows Trump with his thumbs up in a sea of indistinguishable people, while in the depths of the painting we find a man getting punched in the face, and a shadowy gang trampling on a fallen protester.

Over time, however, Trump’s fervent supporters are transformed into skulls in the works, and this is where Wahlstrom’s painting becomes even more fascinating. In “See Me Feel Me Love Me,” the title of which refers to a song by The Who, and “Worn Out” (both from 2016), the artist uses templates and poured paint to create skull-like heads that float in an abstract environment. However, in the 2017 paintings “Distorted School” and “Distorted Reality”, the barely formed faces are closer to the apparitions, with features that flow like smoke.

And taking figuration to the limit of recognisable forms, the 2017 works “Torn Apart” and “Keep the Party Going” look more like scribbles on alleyway walls – where the rebellious side of humanity commonly leaves its mark – than representations of real people. Mixing a sense of anguish about the oppressive politics of the time with memories of youth when his world was a stage, the artist paints an expressive image for the man in the street.

Paul Laster

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