Whitehot Magazine

The Painterly Addictions of Johan Wahlstrom

Johan Wahlstrom, Life Is Now (2016), 94 x 59 inches, Urethane, Color Pigments on Canvas


Johan Wahlstrom was born in Stockholm, Sweden and is currently living and working in Jersey City, NJ, with a studio located at the infamous Mana Contemporary arts facility. Wahlstrom also spends time working at his second studio in Marbella (Malaga), Spain. In 2008 with his exhibition "It’s Boring To Die" in Barcelona, Spain, he latched onto his current style of "distorted" faces. Marking a breakthrough, this series was also exhibited in New York, Bonn/Germany and Zurich/Switzerland. Wahlstrom continued with the “It's Boring Do Die” series until 2014. The series was originally a limited palette of colors: Red/White/Blue and Red/White/Black, where the faces became distorted yet retains strong outlines. “During the 6 years it evolved using darker tones and monochromes and also added graphic/stencil type figures/faces/corporations and politicians,” Wahlstrom says. He then started to address political issues directly in the works. “It went towards more clear political/socially engaged subjects and with some abstractions included in more and more complex compositions.”

Noah Becker: What’s the newest aspect of your work we will see in your exhibition opening in New York?

Johan Wahlstrom: My second big series was "House Of Lies" (2014-2016) and in my upcoming show with Georges Berges Gallery in New York I will show for the first time the series "Distorted Happiness" that is the continuation on the above.

Becker: What are some of the early influences you remember from childhood or your surroundings that influenced you as an artist?

Wahlstrom: My mother and my grandmother on my mothers side where both painters, my parents used to travel a lot so my grandmother took care of me and I loved to see her paint!

Johan Wahlstrom, Punch Them Hard (2016), 74 x 55 inches, acrylic on canvas

Becker: What do your parents do and how did they feel about you being an artist? 

Wahlstrom: My parents are retired, my father was a business man and my mother was a talented painter. She could not pursue her painting career due to travelling with my father a lot in the 1960s-1970s. At the time it was kind of mandatory that a husband brought his wife to dinners and parties after the business meetings.

Becker: Do you have an occupation other than art?

Wahlstrom: No, I only paint today, when I was younger I was in a Rock N' Roll band and toured for 18 years with my own band and as a part of a backup band for Scandinavian and international artists such as Ian Hunter, Graham Parker, Dan Reed, Mick Ronson.

Becker: How do the images of Trump relate to your more abstract works and when did faces start to emerge?

Wahlstrom: I have more or less always been into faces/facial expressions and I kind of see faces emerging in my mind in situations such when the water goes back into the sea from the beach; patterns in a wall; patterns on a street - abstract paintings and so on.

Johan Wahlstrom, Room Mates (2016), 30 x 30 in, Acrylic, Urethane, Color Pigments on Canvas

Becker: Are they imagined?

Wahlstrom: You could say I imagine faces/facial expressions all the time; it’s like an addiction to me.

Becker: Why Trump, he’s such a loaded symbol now.

Wahlstrom: When I use a face of a public figure such as Trump and others together with the more abstract works, to me they are together. The more abstract work describes my feeling about the clear subject.

Becker: Are you promoting a political party?

Wahlstrom: I usually don’t try to paint a political figure where I take stand pro or against that politician - it's a reflection on today´s situations where it is up to the viewer to figure out if it is pro or against.

Becker: Hmm, ok.

Johan Wahlstrom, See Me, Feel Me, Love Me (2016-2017), 92 x 59 inches, Urethane, Color Pigments on Canvas

Johan Wahlstrom, We Stand On The Shoulders Of Giants, 120 x 60 inches, Acrylic, Urethane, Color Pigments on Canvas

Wahlstrom: the figure/situation I painted and of course to have the viewer to take a stand in political and social questions that I paint about regardless if it is political leaders, refugees, religion, social behaviors or social life etc. - I believe that all of us take part of our society´s debates/questions and not only when it is election time. 

Becker: I understand more now, thanks. I was wondering though, is your style varied, or do you see it all as one project?

Wahlstrom: Most likely many viewers see my style varied but to me it is one body of work, Most of the time I paint a clear socially/politically engaged painting and at the same time a more abstract painting, The one with clear subject is painted hanging on the wall and the more abstract one is always on the floor. Some of works have both variations in the same canvas.

Johan Wahlstrom, Worn Out (2016), 40 x 30 in, Urethane, Color Pigments on Canvas

Becker: What do you hope to accomplish with your career over the next few years?

Johan: During 2016 I was exhibited in a few important group shows in Belgium, Holland and New York together with artists such as Gerhard Richter, Joseph Beuys, Jake & Dinos Chapman, Gavin Turk, Shepard Fairey, Nicola Verlato, Ronald Ophius, Nedko Solakov. My short term goals are to continue to be exhibited in important group shows in Galleries/Museums and to make my art well known in the NYC Art Market/World.
My long-term goals are to be exhibited in major museums and entering the secondary market/auction houses once the time is ready.

Becker: Lofty goals and wide target my friend.

Wahlstrom: My overall target is the same as it always has been to continue to develop my art works in a journey without an end, to explore what is the next move when I create, I love the feeling to discover new territories when I create, kind of being an explorer of new worlds and of course to be part of the debates in the society through my art and hopefully be part of positive changes for us here today and future generations to come.

Becker: How do you think of Pop Art in relation to images of celebrities in your paintings?

Wahlstrom: Hard to say for me, I have never had a close relation with pop art, I am however a big fan of repetition and I guess that relates to Warhol´s repetitions that I am big fan of the way he did repetitions with small variations.

Becker: Frank Stella and I talked about the repetition found in Samuel Beckett when I was at Frank’s studio, excellent point. But also your work has a Jackson Pollock feeling with Pop Elements. Do you favor one style more or tries to balance it out?

Wahlstrom: No I do not favor one style, to me my work is one body, where the more abstract paintings are expressions on the more "Pop" style paintings with clear recognizable faces/figures. WM


Noah Becker

Noah Becker is an artist and the publisher and founding editor of Whitehot Magazine. He shows his paintings internationally at museums and galleries. Becker also plays jazz saxophone. Becker's writing has appeared in The Guardian, VICE, Garage, Art in America, Interview Magazine, Canadian Art and the Huffington Post. He has written texts for major artist monographs published by Rizzoli and Hatje Cantz. Becker directed the New York art documentary New York is Now (2010). Becker's new album of original music "Mode For Noah" was released in 2023. 


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