Oslo’s soft spot

Posted by on October 27th, 2010 at 7:27 AM

The intriguing art, character and dance moves of the norwegian graphic novel legend Harriton Pushwagner (Terje Brofoss) have inspired Norwegians for a long time, although he first got his brakethrough after the turn of the millennium.

For those of us growing up in Oslo in 90’s-early 00’s, Pushwagner was mostly known for his skeletal body which he showed off on the dance floor on clubs like Jazid, usually found up close and personal with the main speakers.

Being about 35 years older than the rest of the dancing community (he’s born in 1940), of course, added to his uniqueness.

The more cultural educated in the crowd, however, could inform you that he actually was a renown painter who’d been working closely together with the Norwegian writer Axel Jensen since the late 60’s.

Jensen was one of Norway’s most progressive writers in the post war era, his work has often been compared to the likes of Aldous Huxley, because of the former’s dystopian visions of the future, showed in his science fiction novels Epp (1965), Lul (1992) and And the Rest is Written in the Stars (1995).

Pushwagner illustrated the books and got hugely influenced by Jensen’s ideas.

The artist in front of two of his piqtures

The streamlined, impersonal society translated in Pushwagner’s work to staggering skyscraper landscapes, cars in endless queues and anonymous faces missing any kind of personal features.

Pushwagner started to work on what would be the graphic novel Soft City in 1969 and presumably finished the work in 1976 in London.

But the book never got published and after some years the originals disappeared.

Soft City tells the story about a family of three, the husband’s working in the soft inc. company, the mother’s a housewife and their baby is the only one who seems to be aware of the world as more than their day-to-day routines.

The other families look just the same and all the men work for the same company. They all eat a pill called “life” every morning and one called “sleep” every night, and the computers, music and TVs all preach the gospel of “soft consume” and “soft work”.

The story draws obviously a lot on books like 1984, but it is Pushwagner’s distinctive drawings that make Soft City such an original classic in its own terms.

The lost drawings reappeared in 2002, they were found in a suitcase in Oslo, locked up for more than 25 years.

The novel, drawn in black and white, looked remarkably fresh and modern, but for those who knew Pushwagner’s art Soft City also provided a highly interesting backdrop for his later paintings. It was obvious that the story told in Soft City, had been Pushwagner’s and therefore also got a lot of attention from the art crowd.

Soft City debuted on the 2008 art Berlinale in Berlin, where Pushwagner also got to show some of his later paintings in a solo exhibition curated by the Norwegian artist  Lars LaumannThe works got highly popular at the Biennale and Soft City got published the same year by the independent Norwegian comics publisher No Comprend Press. Originally written in English, it’s probably one of the most accessible Norwegian graphic novels out on the market today and, a bit ironically, also probably the oldest.

The new millennium transformed the now 70 year old Pushwagner from the weirdo on the dance floor to one of Norways most sought after artist.

Which was very good news for all the club and bar owners in Oslo, as a constantly broke guy, Push had the habit of paying his, rather huge, bar bills with original art, now worth a lot more than what even he could manage to drink during some nights.

He even painted a great wall painting on one of the walls of the Jazid club, now gone forever due to the new owners lack of taste.

But who knows, maybe it will be rediscovered in some 25 years from now on, then starting a new Pushwagner craze in Norway.

References:

Mejlænder, Petter: Pushwagner-English Edition Magikon Press 2008

Pushwagner, Hariton: Soft City, No Comprendo Press 2008One of the piqtures from Pushwagner’s 198o Graphic Print Series “A day in the life of Mann.” These piqtures are thematicaly and visually closely related to “Soft City”.

Front cover of “Soft City” No Comprendo Press 2008

A page from “Soft City”

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