Johan Wahlstrom, from Stockholm, blends politics, commercial imagery, abstraction and other sorts of modern iconography into work that is a sharp rebuke, a stick in the eye, of fascism and authoritarianism of any stripe. He will be appearing as part of Fridge Art Fair in Miami Beach in 2016. Beyond the meaning there is also an aesthetic appeal, an eye-drawing attractiveness and provocativeness to the pieces.
Wahlstrom says that he is happiest when his work gets one of two reactions--love or hate.
"In both cases the viewer will not forget my work!" he says.
Before devoting himself to art full time Wahlstrom was a successful musician. He toured for nearly 20 years playing with the likes of Ian Hunter (Mott the Hoople), Graham Parker, Mick Ronson and others. When he moved on to painting he also moved to France and spent seven years doing nothing but hone his craft. The two careers, however, are not totally divorced from one another.
"I was used to performing in front of an audience as a musician and today when I paint, many of my paintings features large groups of faces; these are to me the audience reactions, feelings and emotions on my paintings which feature clear political and social statements." he says.
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"It is difficult to have art matter to everyone. However, the more press coverage an artist gets, the more people will be reached. I have had several articles the last few years in the USA and Europe with my political/socially engaged art," he says. "I am confident that I have got some people to start to think about what they can do to be part of a positive change in our society for us and for generations to come. My art practice is focused on to be part of the debate and to be part of positive changes in the society."
It isn't just how good you are or what you have to say; it is delivering that message to the largest audience you can.
Perhaps the attention his work gets is due to it universality. There are famous faces that jump out at us like Trump and Putin but there are other faces, many of them, often buried in the work.
"My distorted/tribal faces figures from around the world are the audience, you, me etc." says Wahlstrom (They are) reactions. feelings, emotions to my clear political & social subject such as the Trumps/Putins and many other subjects."
Wahlstrom's work has progressed through three series:
A. House Of Lies (a series with a wide range of political and social subjects in our society´s focused on USA, Europe and Middle East).
B. Walls-Aliens With Extra Ordinary Abilities ( a series about immigration, refugees, walls that are already built, might
get built, walls in our minds where we divide one group from another group).
C. New York Stories (a series with reflections on daily situations in New York City).
"Linked to the three series, I have tons of titles written done on paper linked to the series," he says. "And in my studio, I find what title to paint and then I focus on the title and do my best to portray that title on canvas."
"I am a good friend of Eric Ginsburg and when he asked me to be part of Fridge at The Besty Hotel in Miami, I was happy to say yes," he says. "The Art Basel week in Miami is one of the most important art events in the world and of course I am happy to show a couple of my works."
After the Miami Wahlstrom is preparing for solo shows in Stockholm, New York, Laguna Beach and outside Chicago in Bensenville.
"My agent is working hard to continue to place me in important group shows in galleries/museums where I will be showing alongside with "the big names" in the art world." he says.
Keep an eye open for his work. You may have seen him over the past year in shows that featured artists such as Gerhard Richter, Shepard Fairey, Dino & Jake Chapman, Joseph Beuys, Nedko Solakov, Gavin Turk, Carlos Aires, Riiko Sakkinen and Nicola Verlato.