"The work of Johan Wahlstrom delves deeply into the realm of human emotion and speaks directly and powerfully to our feelings and emotions. His work that has been displayed throughout the world comes to New York City at a most auspicious time. During this week of great upheaval, few artists can express the raw emotion of loss, turmoil and redemption as lyrically as Johan Wahlstrom"
Stephen Andrus, New York 2012
Miami Times, Miami
Konstvarlden, Stockholm, Sweden
TV4, National Television News, Sweden
Magazine, London, UK
JoinTheExp, New York
Downtown LA Magazine, Los Angeles
Artmosphere, Barcelona, Spain
In images with titles like, Stupid White Men, faint pink and peach fields are traversed with muted greens, and grey strata and razor thin, labyrinthine blues and blacks twisting, bending, and looping briskly across non pictorial facades. Jackson Pollock and other icons of Abstract Expressionism come to mind immediately in Strange Creatures Amongst Us (2017). It is impossible not to contemplate Action paintings—less layered than Pollock’s, more complicated than Morris Lewis’s, though some, like The Best Day Ever (2018) recall Lewis’s staining and pouring into unsized canvas. Edges in Wahlstrom’s backgrounds are more Frankenthaler and Gorky than Styll or Motherwell; brushstrokes more Kandinsky than DeKooning, but Wahlstrom limits his palette here. Think rose-tinted nudes descending staircases.
But one distinction separates this and AbEx. Like DeKooning’s Woman I moving away from representation, Wahlstrom advances, intentionally fusing abstraction and representation, always with methodology skimming the biomorphic, returning not to the whole figure but particularly the human face.
After it enters our eyeballs, data about images seeks a destination. It runs along the bottom rim of our temporal lobes, near the base of our brains, just above the cerebellum, literally between our ears. That is where human faces get processed, a particular spot has evolved to make finer distinctions possible. There, differences are discerned—between individual faces as well as gender, age, trustworthiness, attractiveness, even perceptions of happiness and sadness, anger and fear. Brains categorize faces as important. So does Wahlstrom.
"From Warhol to Wahlstrom: From 60s Celebrity to Today’s Social Media, opening at Ethan Cohen Fine Arts, is an immersive exhibition that juxtaposes Andy Warhol’s most iconic celebrity portraits with a new body of work by contemporary Swedish artist Johan Wahlstrom. The exhibition is timed to coincide with the Whitney’s upcoming Warhol retrospective Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again, named for the artist’s playfully subversive autobiography. Both artists examine the construction of modern celebrity from two sides of a fundamental chasm between the analogue and digital worlds. Warhol explored the spectacle of twentieth-century High Modernism, while Wahlstrom responds to the dawn of the ubiquitous, mobile internet in the present day.
Wahlstrom falls closer to Baudrillard. Unlike Warhol, Wahlstrom is not focused on the images produced by the spectacle, in other words the selfies per se. Instead he captures the new, permeable boundary between “real” and virtual life. Wahlstrom himself bemoans the loss of “real relationships” as face-to-face communication is increasingly supplanted by a social life enacted on-line. But his black and white paintings, which evoke both film negatives and the handmade screen-print of Pop Art, assume no such separation. Instead they freeze moments when digital and analog reality intersect. These can be understood as generative or as impoverished moments, but they owe their very existence to the screen. Asking a celebrity or a politician for a selfie constructs a fleeting, physical relationship based on the performance of happiness and ease. The interaction exists precisely in order to be recorded, posted, and circulated in a hyper-real, simulated reality, no longer distinct from our experience of the “real” world. In many of Wahlstrom’s pictures, the spontaneity characteristic of casual picture-taking leads to humorous juxtapositions. As when a group of six friends tries to pose with Jeff Koons, with most getting pushed outside of the selfie frame, or when a young girl poses for a selfie with Putin, her carefree abandon in jarring contrast to his steely self-control.
“A rock musician turned artist, Johan Wahlstrom makes energetic paintings that blur the boundary between abstraction and figuration. Taking one of his own 2015 paintings of crowds of people seen from the performance stage as the point of departure, his solo show “Distorted Happiness” at George Bergès Gallery pushed his previously illustrative style into a more surreal, nightmarish realm.
When he came to New York in 2015 for a residency at Mana Contemporary, the newly launched presidential campaign of Donald Trump caught his attention and became the artist’s subject matter. One of the paintings from that provocative series was exhibited in the show. The 2016 canvas Punch Them Hard shows Trump giving a stereotypical two-thumbs-up in a sea of indistinguishable people, while deeper into the image a man gets punched in the face and a shadowy gang stomps a fallen protester.
Over time, however, Trump’s fervent supporters morph into skulls in the works on view and this is where Wahlstrom’s painting gets even more fascinating. In See Me Feel Me Love Me, whose title references a lyric from The Who, and Worn Out (both 2016) the artist uses stencils and poured paint to create skull-like heads that float in an abstract realm. In the 2017 paintings Distorted School and Distorted Reality, however, Wahlstrom’s barely formed faces approach apparitions, with features that flow like smoke.
And thrusting the notion of figuration to the limit of recognizable forms, the 2017 canvases Torn Apart and Keep the Party Going appear more like scrawls on alley walls-where the rebellious side of humanity commonly leaves its mark-than a depiction of real people. Mixing a sense of angst for the oppressive politics of the moment with a memory of youthful times when his world was a stage, the artist paints an expressive picture for everyman.”
“Politics are all around us. With Donald Trump sewing hatred throughout our country, and Bernie Sanders talking about the gross inequality suffocating our nation like no politician ever has, it is thoroughly disingenuous to claim that you have no political opinion. Politics have of course always filtered through art, but very seldom do artists present societal woes and the political landscape in such a refreshingly clear way as Spanish-based artist and painter Johan Wahlstrom”.
New York / Los Angeles
“Evocative artist Johan Wahlstrom aims to encourage the celebration of daily life and incite happiness through the acceptance of reality. His emotionally charged neoexpressionist paintings are a contemporary hybrid of Jean DuBuffet’s chaotic geometric canvases and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s subversively scrawled social critiques. Based in Malaga, Spain Wahlstrom works in series that function as pointed signifiers to his artistic intention. His work aims to elucidate the uncontrollable nature of reality in an effort to embrace the small sufferings that signify life.
Wahlstrom’s work continues to gain attention fuelled by his overwhelming desire to connect with humanity in the hopes of provoking conversation. Pushing his abilities to the limit, Wahlstrom transcribes visual stories to enact societal change by illustrating the erratic and confusing nature of human existence”.
Kristen Nicholas, New York/Los Angeles, December 2014
“It’s Boring to Die – Johan Wahlstrom evokes through his paintings, one should appreciate all emotion, because dying is certainly boring. As I walked through the show once again, the work of Johan Wahlstrom’s faces and strategically placed hands became familiar old friends. Some figures were floating, as in Chagall’s work and some, reminded me of Munch’s The Scream. The blues and explosions of red become meshed into a field of emotions that on closer inspection tells a myriad of different stories, like the art goers at the reception. Conversations were revealed and reveled in.”
Olga Turchini, New York, September 2013
Kunstpublizistin & Dozentin Soller Majorca, Spain, Dusseldorf, Germany
“Johan Wahlstrom is spontaneously, emotionally and a story teller”
Dr. phil. Maria-Ilona Schellenberg ▪ 2008