Facades become canvases

Martin Wickström often finds his motives in the world of movies

In the imagery of Martin Wickström, the myth constantly relates to both the reality of movies and the reality we see around us. The paintings invite us, figuratively speaking, to dialogues. Courageously they seem to draw our curiously exploratory gaze into their critically examining perspective. And there is a lot to explore, over and over, in his often bold play with form and color. A language within the language, something beyond and beside what you actually see, tries to grab your attention.

– For example, I collect buildings that I like, he says speaking of a painting of one, on whose whitewashed walls the shadows and silhouettes of the surrounding trees and bushes are projected by the bright daylight. I take an incredible amount of photos, fix them up in the computer and then put them on hold for a while until I find a place for some of the motives in a painting.

Martin Wickström shakes his head lightly when I tell him I find that the depth perspective of the image enhances the feeling of alienation.

– I haven’t thought of that. The facade works as a canvas. The plaster receives colors and shapes in its own way, while the window glass both reflects the light and lets you sense someone or something on the inside. But the house is a stranger, he says with a smile.

– Sometimes you feel like a voyeur, he laughs, when you sneak up behind the bushes with your camera to get a good angle. A man came out once and asked me what I was doing. I don’t think he believed me when I said I was an artist.

That alienation is even stronger, or at least present in a different way, in the black and white pictures he painted from photos from authentic crime scenes from America in the 40s. In the nocturnal light beside an open car door you can sense a person with some kind of investigating tool in hand.

The mythologically characterized beauty ideals and obscure mysticism of the movies are reflected in several of his paintings. For example he depicted an actor whose character just found out, by phone, that his beloved man just died. The movie is Brokeback Mountain, the man who is listening to the message on the phone is the actor Heath Ledger.

– Since I made the painting the actor has died as well. It gives the reality of the picture a kind of staggering double effect, Martin Wickström says.

The title of the exhibition is “Laura and the Twins”. Why?

– I guess I like to mystify things, he laughs. No, but I do have a painting that in its own way depicts the Kennedy sisters on a walk with their mother Laura. But the context, with the pictures surrounding the painting, creates something entirely different than if the painting had been hanging on its own, Martin Wickström explains.

No doubt about it. He is cultivating a rebus-like way of thinking that tickles the sensations and constantly produces new and unexpected associations. Two identical (?) portraits of the same woman, hanging beside each other, are called “Breakfast with Mary 1 and 2”, inspired by the breakfast Mary Boone, legendary gallery owner from New York, bought him.

He travels a lot. He was recently in Japan and got inspired to do a painting of a different facade, surrounded by pink cherry blossom.

– In this one I slanted the facade for once, I don’t know why, just that it felt right when I painted it. The dark, lower part of the painting has the mood of crime scene photo, you don’t know what the hand or the splayed fingers in the images actually are doing, Martin Wickström says with a smile.

A flashy, painted billboard called “Vegas” is cut out from a board of wood in a way that the viewer has to be a very knowing art historian to detect its intrinsic hidden secret, related to the teasing eye of Martin Wickström. The shape of the cut out is picked up from a painting from Goya’s strong suite of dark images, “Los Desastres de la Guerra”, the horrors of war. Maybe slightly typical for his twisted social criticism?

– I work a lot with references from both art and movies, sometimes I don’t know from where I got them; they’re just stuck and I have a distinct feeling that they will be useful some day. It’s as impossible to explain as how associations come up. But it’s usually accurate.

Anders Thuresson

Zenit, October 2009