Johan Söderström is a Norwegian artist, born in 1969.
I work with material and process-based painting with a distinct tactile, yet graphic expression. Often in long series where the pictures relate to each other and the exhibition space. My practice also includes participatory art projects with painting in focus.
The minimalistic expression of my work consisting of only one straightforward contrast – white and light grey, is due to my exclusive use of unmixed fine and coarse construction filler as material. By limiting the number of aesthetic parameters, I can focus on the ones that are most important to me – concept, composition and physical presence. The material’s properties contribute to irregularities and cracks when applied in thick layers. The method renders visible the process of drying, and I emphasise this in a way reminiscent of Japanese Kintsugi, where cracked ceramics are repaired with gold-coloured lacquer to highlight the ageing and history of the object. The cracks become a visual metaphor for time. I am also inspired by arte povera and informalism artists like Alberto Burri and Antoni Tapies, because of their works’ immediacy and raw materiality.
All my paintings have a frame of untreated oak strips. It has a functional purpose and serves more as a production mould than decoration. But it offers a clear boundary which makes the works versatile and easy to install in different exhibiting environments. And the familiar appearance of a frame allows radical expressions and conceptuality to be more accessible.
Reminding of Richard Serra’s famous list of verbs, I use a limited number of methods to apply filler into the frames, described with simple words such as press, spread, roll or cast. The reason is that I want to limit my artistic cognitive choices, and let the properties of the materials and the methods I choose shape the composition. This way, I let go of control to increase the possibility to reveal something unknown. Another way to utilise contingency is to do participatory art projects were the public is invited to interact in the art production. This practice also interests me because it challenges the positions of the artist/producer and the viewer/consumer, and introduces a more open and fluent relationship.
The main subject of my work is the human existential solitude, and it links to social and political issues. Our self-consciousness only lets us perceive the world from an outside point of view. This position creates a profound alienation, or a lack, which transforms into desire with a multitude of expressions, propelling all human endeavours from relationships and enterprises to art and politics. Psychoanalysis theorist Jacques Lacan thoroughly described this process, and others as Slavoj Zizek further introduced it to contemporary discourse. In today’s social climate, the subjects alienated vulnerability is even more exploited, resulting in rising economic and social inequality. Although my works are abstract or use simple, archaic figuration, they can be related to phenomena in the outside world. Through titles and conceptual approaches, I wish to highlight and explore issues of power, equality and exclusion. While doing so, I insist on using a poetic, aesthetic language to talk about concrete and specific material conditions. I see this as the artist’s unique opportunity and specific social responsibility.
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