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Studio Visit: Johan Wahlstrom Is Bringing New Ideas To Abstract Painting

New York based Swedish painter Johan Wahlstrom has a new solo show opening in Soho NYC. All photos by Noah Becker. 

By NOAH BECKER, March, 2018

Johan Wahlstrom is charting new waters in terms of how we think about abstract expressionist painting. I had a chance to visit him at his sprawling studio located in the Mana Contemporary complex in Jersey City, NJ. Wahlstrom's new solo show opens at Georges Bergès Gallery in Soho, NYC on March 15th, 2018 from 6-8pm.

Noah Becker: So what is your feeling about abstract expressionism? Because what you’re working on could be immediately compared abstract expressionism but the history of abstract expressionism is kind of, you know - not a current history. So where do you see your painting is kind of fitting in to what’s happening in the world?

Johan Wahlstrom: Most of my paintings have some kind of political or social engagement and I’m trying to see where I can meet with some figurative elements being that most of my work has some faces or facial expressions within. I don’t see myself as an abstract painter and I don’t see myself as a figurative painter - I see myself somewhere in both.

Johan Wahlstrom studio, 2018, Mana Contemporary, Jersey City. Photo by Noah Becker.

NB: Everything like that could be sort of characterized as such and your abstractions could be characterized as abstract expressionism but at times elements that pop up in your images are human. This disqualifies them from being abstract expressionism in a certain way – it’s like blasphemy. I mean Blasphemy in the sense of invading the sanctity of abstraction with figurative aspects.

JW: I don’t know because I don’t I don’t try to follow a certain formula from the art world.

Wahlstrom points at the layered texture of his work. 

Mana Contemporary, Jersey City, NJ

NB: I was just using that as an example without having to compare your work any other artists. But yes it’s difficult in that regard as people jump to comparisons easily, especially with painting.

JW: I’m trying to create my own style of reality and then if it fits into trends so be it.

NB: It depends on who you consider owns a similar technique. I mean you could say that your social realism is related to Gerhard Richter. Or you could even go and say that it’s a similar technique to like what Nate Lowman is doing.

Wahlstrom's works that are more political are seen here, they also have a more represetational aspect to them.



 

JW: Yes, images of sketchy political leaders in the world that are going to be within abstract expressionist paintings interest me - I try to wrap my feelings and emotions around that kind of imagery.

NB: How did you meet your art dealer Georges Bergès?

JW: I saw a show at his gallery in New York. I just walked in and said to him, “I’m Johan, I want to be with your gallery.” I was so love that show they had up at the time that I just had to be in the gallery as a represented artist.

Wahlstrom's New York gallerist Georges Bergès

A Wahlstrom painting hangs in the studio.




NB: And that’s how you connected - wow.

JW: Yeah that’s the truth - we connected that way.

NB: Can we talk now about your career as a musician? What band were you part of again?

JW: I had my own band called “Johan Wahlstrom Band” and was in a few other interesting groups.

NB: And then at a certain point you got into art?

JW: I started painting as a kid, I’m actually the 5th generation of artists on my mother’s side. I also started to play the piano as a kid. By 20 years of age I had written a bunch of songs and a record label in Sweden said they wanted to make an album with me. I was debating if I should go for the art or go for the music? I opted to take my chances with music and I got stuck there for 18 years - but I kept up with my painting practice on the side. Eventually my band got so good that other singers wanted to use us as a backup band. Then at a certain point the late great Mick Ronson of David Bowie’s band moved to Stockholm and actually moved into my apartment as well at one point. Then at one point friends of Mick Ronson wanted to use my band as their backup band. Singers like Graham Parker, Ian Hunter and a few others.  WM


Noah Becker

Noah Becker shows his art internationally. A visual artist and the publisher and founding editor of Whitehot Magazine, Becker has also written freelance articles for The Guardian, VICE, Garage, Art in America, Interview Magazine, Canadian Art and the Huffington Post and contributed texts to major artist monographs published by Rizzoli and Hatje Cantz. Becker also directed the New York art documentary New York is Now (2010) viewable on Youtube. 

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