The 55-year-old New York City artist via Stockholm—is garnering buzz as one of the definitive leaders of painters defining the post-millennial art genre I will now define as IRREALISM. It’s an emerging trend in the contemporary art world and Johan Wahlstrom is the definitive master. Collectors from all over the world have beengobbling up his work fast. Wahlstrom’s work features his signature brusque black strokes incorporating distorted figurations and dark monochrome stencil-type graphics andfigures, laced with wry irony and a clear political edge of a narrative.
We sought to poke the psyche of the artist Johan Wahlstrom even further….
GEORGE WAYNE: Your most recent one-man show was aptly titled—“Life Is Good” and was one of the most talked about SoHo art shows of the 2018 summer season.
JOHAN WAHLSTROM: I’m overwhelmed by all the positive reactions that my new show “Life Is Good” has received in both commissions and comments from viewers. The opening night was hectic, the gallery was full and we had several sales. To me it is a dream coming true to show at a great gallery like Georges Berges Gallery in NYC and to top that with an almost sold out show is more than I could ask for. I was a bit nervous before the show since my first show “Distorted Happiness” at Georges Berges Gallery last year was a sellout, so I wanted this new show to do just as well. My work plays with the narrative between resilience and irony within the context of current global politics in which societies and individuals are made to feel in a continual state of edge. I am inviting viewers to think candidly and critically about the obsessive and aggressive messages that confront them in daily life, to come up with new strategies for survival, and still seek to escape the imposition of certain values.
GW: I have devised a new art term to truly describe the genre of your post-millennial paintings. I call –it—IRREALISM. It’s a provocative mix of irony and your signature painting technique of sometimes seemingly combative brush-strokes. Would you agree with my coinage? Or how would you describe your artistic ethos in general terms?
JW: I love that definition—IRREALISM! That is the perfect way to describe my work; I never thought of that. Living in Europe influenced my previous work, so my recent projects are more limpid and leaning toward figurative. My work has changed a lot since I moved to New York City. The energy that I feel is not the same and the brushstroke becomes more energetic, same as the city itself. Also, the spirit of my paintings in the past was full of dark narratives.
GW: Your brushstrokes look like charcoal on canvas—those hard-edged stencils. How would you define the process?
JW: I was probably thinking about black-and-white colors. As you know white is not defined as a color because it’s the sum of all possible colors and black is not defined as a color because it contains absence of light. So, describing technological progress, obsession and the addiction of using devices such as iPhones in relation to social media, selfie culture, etc.… it came naturally to me that this series should be in black and white.
GW: I was most impressed with your black-and-white series of paintings, which I have called Connect/Disconnect. I love the anomaly of the irony and the works which capture with utmost irony the smartphone addictive universe we now live in. These paintings are the ultimate definition of what I mean by—IRREALISM.
JW: Ha-ha, yes, subversive irony! I like this term. It’s been a while since I’ve been observing people’s obsession and addiction with the use of their phones, especially the addiction to social media, which is connected to their phones. So, as I like to say, I paint today’s history.
GW- There is something to be said for subversive irony through the brush and canvas of the astute artist. I consider you one of New York City’s most buzzed about post-millennial painters. You must be thrilled with the continued upward trajectory of your career. Your atypical Abstract Expressionism has clearly garnered you a fervent coven of collectors.
JW: It seems like you enjoy a lot of subversive irony. (joking) Now reading your idea, I find it interesting to think about millennials and how this generation will react to my work. Of course, there is a gap and differences about the way of thinking, but I believe that art is connecting people and has the power to erase all types of generational gaps.
GW: What are the origins, intent or better yet the philosophy of Johan Wahlstrom?
JW: I don’t know if I can really call it a philosophy, but I feel lucky to be able to live from my passion and my motto is “it’s boring to die,” that came from the idea of my show in Malaga, Spain 2011. So, I think we should all use the best of our talents while we can.
GW: You were a famous Swedish rock star at the height of ABBA-mania! Were you friends, or still friends, with Bjorn, Agnetha, Anna-Frid and Benny of ABBA fame?
JW: Hah! I’m not that old…. I signed my first record deal in Sweden in 1980 and that lead to18 years of touring and recording with my own band as a backup band for Scandinavian and International artists like Ian Hunter, Mick Ronson and Graham Parker. I toured, wrote songs and recorded with Mats Ronander, who played guitar on ABBA’s World Tour back in the days of ABBA. I do know Benny Andersson’s son Peter who is an acclaimed and successful songwriter in Sweden.
GW: Resilience, irony and politics are other subtle contextual touches to your work which are not clear at first blush.
JW: Yes, I agree 100 percent, but you forgot humor. Humor is an important quality in human beings. Maybe I have a notion of a dark humor in my work… I think that the humor is more obvious in the (connecting/disconnecting paintings).
My previous opus was political, maybe the next will be about aliens.
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