John Andersson – To come home

Artist John Andersson with his print Black sheep cat family

John Andersson sees things. He is flooded by images. No matter how fast he can draw, there is no way he can catch up. John Andersson is the medium for an unstoppable stream of visions of 20th century pop culture against a backdrop of dull suburban architecture from the golden era of Swedish socialism. No matter how strange or far or deep the visions go they are always rooted at home: The last stop on the green subway line south, a Stockholm satellite center surrounded by tower blocks, a square and a few shops – groceries, tobacco, flowers, hairdresser, a cafe and a restaurant with alcohol license. A home with a spectacular view over the southern suburbs, salmon colored 50’s architecture, green parks and concrete public art. A magical place with a portal to a third dimension. The future is not what it used to be, says John Andersson. It’s too dystopian these days.* Once the future used to be soaked in sweet nostalgia.

John Andersson sits by his window at night. It’s spring when the evenings are light and airy and spiked with pheromones, or autumn when the asphalt is sticky and the suburb smells of coffee and wet leaves. The neon sign “Högdalen Centrum” glows reassuringly from the top of a high-rise across the park. A simple melody starts playing in his head. Soon a violin fills in the gaps and an entire orchestra bombastically repeats the chorus. The yellow brick road is rolled out under his feet. Fred Astaire smiles a million dollar smile and swirls away towards the subway station with his walking stick tapping the pace. Alice in Wonderland is painting the petals of a gigantic rose and Mia Farrow enters the elevator. Clark Kent with a doppelgänger on the way to his shrink, Batman waiting for someone at the square under the clock, and a tiny ghost dolphin called “Dick” moves into the bath tub. Italian cypresses in a dreamy, overgrown garden, a marble fountain with a mermaid sculpture and a medieval castle on top of a rocky cliff. Russian futurist buildings spring from the ground, a monster octopus is waving his heavy tentacles over the gloomy suburb, a black cat with a zorro-mask is crossing the street, and four tiny gods are floating above the scene quietly observing their creation. On a park bench in front of the radio repair shop Pentagon Pauline is having an ice cream. The corduroy cave is not open tonight. Suddenly! The Ice Skating Falconeer in a phantom costume slides out from a secret tunnel under the subway station, skates furiously past the tenant blocks, around the park, over the pedestrian bridge and into the shopping mall where three mannequins in detective coats wake up in a display window. Scenes and characters flash by, walk into each other and forget where they came from. Andy Warhol as the tin man, Polanski’s nose, Major Tom on the roof, Mandrake’s hat, Tintin, Popeye, Orson Wells, Norman Bates, Judy Garland, the man with the pine cone head… Gene Kelly meets a Japanese girl. They float away on an air mattress through a mazelike building with big halls and long tiled corridors flooded by water. Waterfall curtains, dripping fountains, a room full of washing machines, wet towels on the wall, a medicine cabinet, a marble soap… They are quietly floating upstairs, curled up together side by side, Gene chain smoking and leaving a trail of cigarette buts in the stream as the air mattress slides under an avenue of palm trees. Now he’s out of cigarettes and the girl is gone. Blue velvet curtains.

John Andersson is drawing all the time. He is watching films, reading books, listening to records. A rare comic magazine cover can make him happy, no give him an ecstatic feeling of joy for several weeks. An LP-record with a forgotten 80’s pioneer can change his life. You should envy his presence – when was the last time you felt the universe vibrate with meaning? Experiencing this world of technicolor visions is so wonderful, says John Andersson. It’s a condition of extreme inspiration, of maximum enjoyment of life.* It’s so intense that he has to be careful not to burn out. There were times when he took it too far, before he knew that so much happiness can be bad for you. But he’s older now, he’s learned how to channel the stream. These are not dreams, not hallucinations, these are visions that appear in front of his eyes like a floating screen, a film that flows through the room, a wonderland on top of the suburb. The stories he writes down, the comics that we read, are sometimes so chaotic that the beginning and end feel random, as if the film was endlessly rolling and we just turned on the television for five minutes. They start somewhere with an arresting title, take us for a sublime ride and end before any of the loose threads have been tied. But it all makes sense. It makes sense in the strictest surrealist way – everything is connected, there is no such thing as coincidence, the chain of associations never ends if you open your senses to the hidden clues. It’s trying to tell you something, it’s trying to break through the noice, it wants to meet you alone, without gloves and stick, without editors and deadlines, without morals and punchlines, without agenda or ideology. It’s a place to come home to, if you are looking for such a place. Best enjoyed in peace and quiet far away from today, tomorrow and yesterday. Not avoiding reality, just not liking it that much. This is so much better.

Studi visit with Swedish artist John Andesson 2019

John Andersson is an underdog, a grand old man, a legend, a curiosity, a distinguished visionary on the Swedish comics scene since the early 90’s when he was first published or since the early 80’s when he started drawing comics on his own. His style is unmistakable and inimitable, still true to classical rules of comic book storytelling. It’s familiar and strange, unacceptable but alluring. He outlived the noisy, dystopian, dark humored underground of the 80’s and the strong wave of political, autobiographical, funny comics that has dominated the Swedish scene since. His surrealist visions have a lasting quality, they build up a personal universe with more and more detail over time. John Andersson’s wonderland is a place where the constant reader returns for more of the same magic. Characters, creatures, buildings, monuments, objects reappear and remix until you feel at ease moving through the scenes like an extra on the set of his motion picture. John Andersson has always been there, out in the cold or invited into the editors office. Many of his works were self-published, just as many were picked up by Galago, Kapten Stofil, Tago and other Swedish comics publishers. He keeps in contact with everybody from the house phone in his flat on the ninth floor of the tenant tower we know from his drawings. He has admirers, like us, ring his door bell and enter the bat cave with sparks in our eyes. It’s an ordinary little place, discretely stuck in time together with the suburb; pale wallpaper, lace curtains, teak furniture and walls covered with Andersson’s large, incredible paintings. He will give us the tour, brew strong coffee, show precious artifacts, open up the drawers, pour out images on the table, and talk if you have time to listen. He’s afraid to let the images travel, yet he wants us to see them all. A series of mesmerizing free-hand illustrations in clear calligraphy inks. New work where the narrative is condensed down to single frames, each frozen scene hooked up to the mothership with soft scented spider thread: Jona Blund Nation. The titles will give you an idea: The butterfly catcher, Mr. and Mrs. Invisible Man, The mystery and melancholy of a street, Dr. T’s 5000 fingers, Extraterrestrial boy scout, The dark horse is hiding, The ghost of Florian Schneider, Early in the morning, The day the earth stood still, Blue road, Love, Pink chocolates… The painting with the title To come home shows the back of a woman with an umbrella walking into a deserted crumbling metropolis. It’s quiet, everybody else has left, the music is fading out, soon the closing credits will start rolling. The familiar suburban center has cracks in the concrete walls and all the shops are closed. A wet newspaper with old news on the ground. We know this woman from before, she appears in many of the paintings, always with her back turned, always at the same distance, the distance a detective would keep if he was trailing a suspect. We follow her into the city. On the sky above the distant skyscrapers the silhouette of a bat is the only sign of life remaining. What is this home, we ask, where is it at, where did all the people go, where is the orchestra and the action? This is the artist’s dream home, says John Andersson. Isn’t it wonderful.

 

Find all prints by John Andersson here.

*Quotes from the documentary feature The World of John Andersson by Love Jonasson (2015), available on Youtube with english subtitles.

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