In our ever-accelerating media cycle, we process vast amounts of textual information daily, but often it is an iconic image that endures. For every crisis, triumph, and political intrigue, there is often an image that puts a human face to the news, capturing our empathy and becoming shorthand for the event itself. Faces serve as a barometer of the news—how we should respond, how we should feel, how much we should care—they symbolize the times and political systems that we live in, to human monstrosities and their conflicts for dominance. Wahlstrom’s paintings explore both our emotional entanglements with current events and the space these images hold in how we collectively understand them.
Wahlstrom draws inspiration from his previous career in music, reflected in the layered density of color and composition. There is a constant feeling of alienation in his paintings, which in tandem with his dark color palette connects to a long history of a gloomy and mysterious aesthetic from the Northern Hemisphere. Some compositions resemble deep, color infused grounds, others seem to show slinky ink signatures of famous figures unknown. In terms of style, Wahlstrom paints in the tradition of neo-expressionism, with nods to Jean Dubuffet, Jackson Pollock, and Jean-Michel Basquiat, and he is adept of fitting information and news into these complex compositions.
Johan Wahlstrom was born in 1959 in Stockholm, Sweden, and is a fifth-generation artist. Though art was in his blood, his first creative direction was rock and roll, where he had a successful and long career as a keyboardist and singer, touring with Ian Hunter, Graham Parker, Mick Ronson and many Scandinavian artists. After 20 years, the rock and roll life caught up with him. Wahlstrom moved to a small village in France where he did nothing but paint for seven years, part of that time under the tutelage of Swedish artist, Lennart Nystrom. Wahlstrom’s dark narrative paintings of heads and torsos in acrylic and ink are inspired by cryptic, often ironic social critiques that he collects on scraps of paper in his studio. He currently lives and works between Malaga, Spain and New York City.