Like Robert Longo, the Swedish born post-millennial abstract expressionist Johan Wahlstrom does work that riffs, if even in a far more blithe and cynical manner than Longo, the socio-political landscape of the world today. The artist recently rejigged his metier with a laconic series of brush-strokes portraiture, many of which featured Donald Trump brain-farting over his iPhone Twitter feed. The work is a series of oil and canvas paintings that have drawn a fervid following from the MAGA/Trumpian collectors who clearly identify with the droll, clearly glib wink and nod to irony, which their dear leader has mastered to perfection. For the artist, the fact that the MAGA-crowd have been snapping up his Trump/Twitter paintings is the biggest surprise. "This clearly was not my intent," says Wahlstrom when we meet at his studio at the famous Mana Contemporary mega-art complex in Jersey City. "I'm from Stockholm and now living in New York trying to capture the times in my own way." His signature portraiture is brilliant for the way the work subtly weaves the dry, droll Scandinavian sense of humor of the artist.
Talk to me about your personal worldview of contemporary art in the era of Trump.
I don't know if we really should only talk about art in the world of Trump. There are many political issues all over the world and they all affect the world of contemporary art. At the end of the day I want my art to also express a hope for a better world for generations to come.
The MAGA-rati crowd have certainly been snapping up your work. Why do you think that is?
I ask myself that question all the time. I don't know. I guess they feel a sense of comity with that Trump/Twitter series of paintings. And I think it also helps that my art dealer Georges Berges is the best in Soho and New York City for all I care.
It is clear that lately you've been unabashed about your obvious reference points and your inherent grasp of art as political irony.
I am as surprised as anybody that the Trump world collectors seem to like my Trump/Twitter paintings. I have sold already four of them and rumor has it that Trump Jr. wants to buy one for his father.
Would be perfect to hang in the Lincoln Bedroom. The president brain farting is the perfect title for that next series of work if and when you have a Part II. Is political irony important to your work?
You are completely right. Political irony, and irony in general, is a very important factor in my work. But my thought process is never constant on one theme. It changes all the time.
How has living in New York infused your creative fecund?
Moving from Marbella, Spain to New York has been the best decision of my life. It's such a different and inspiring city. I am completely in love with New York City and its incredible diversity.
Johan Wahlstrom, Disconnecting 28
When was the first time you realized this was your calling?
When I was 6 years old and first started painting and playing the piano. I come from a very artistic family. My mother is a well established and famous artist in Scandinavia.
What is the first book you ever read that truly impacted your life?
On The Road with Jack Kerouac. From that moment I always saw myself living in America.
Johan Wahlstrom, Selfie No1, Beth Rudin DeWoody with Liza Minelli Polaroid by Warhol on the wall.
The most dangerous situation you ever found yourself in?
Crashing my Porsche at a very high speed in the mid-1990s in Stockholm, Sweden.
And where do you find your favorite pair of jeans?
At the Helmut Lang shop in Soho of Manhattan.
Splash photo: Johan Wahlstrom, Disconnecting 10