Last Friday, November 20th the Van Der Plas Gallery held its opening reception for Johan Wahlstrom’s new exhibition “House of Lies.” The exhibition featured a collection of abstract and figurative paintings in various sizes, from standard portrait sized paintings to colossal murals, all painted with a monochromatic palette of black, brown and grey. Entering the gallery, the first pieces that come into view are vast abstract drip paintings that posses a striking air of austerity. Proceeding further into the space, the next paintings seem abstract at first, but eerily configure what resemble anguished faces amid the abstract shapes at a second glance.
The grim atmosphere produced by the abstract paintings prepares the viewer for the pieces displayed further back into the exhibition space: the violent compositions portrayed in Wahlstrom’s configurative works. One of the paintings depicts an obvious war scene with dark silhouettes vaguely depicting armed soldiers. In the painting’s foreground;Taliban-resembling characters huddle together over text with a goat confined between them and a cliff. Wahlstrom, who attended the opening, explained that in times of hardship, it is customary for Arabian soldiers to have intercourse with their livestock, provided they kill the animal after. This information shed light on the scene, which was set against a backdrop of vacant eyed faces writhing between the shadowed soldiers. The paint smeared, making them seem to melt into the canvas with a silent scream.
The scenes Wahlstrom creates are a somewhat literal take on the dismal realities of our terrorized world. However, the drip painting and smearing techniques he uses distort the figures, exposing the distorted nature of our present human condition. The atmosphere produced by the compositions and earthy palette bestows the viewer with the grim meaning of his more figurative paintings. The faces imprisoned within the physical and metaphorical borders follow you with vacant stares long after you have left the gallery.
The exhibition is showing now until December 20, 2015 at the Van Der Plas Gallery on 156 Orchard Street.