The Art of el bastardo / h. sjöström - Agora Gallery, 27 February 2019
The Swedish-born Henrik Sjöström (who sometimes goes by the name “el bastardo”) is known for creating works that bring a wilding energy into the otherwise staid confines of a square canvas, piece of paper, or white cube gallery. Informed by graffiti and street art, Sjöström’s work often has a mosaic quality about it—as through colours and lines were words conjoined to represent complex statements. This mosaic quality equally pervades his abstract and figurative works. Different planes, different areas of energy come into confluence, in such a manner that a painting’s details never overwhelms the gestalt of its overarching unity.
Working mainly with fast-drying acrylics enables Sjöström to make quick decisions, and to make them count for all they’re worth. This preference is supplemented by the use of other media, such as spray paint and pen-ink—all of which invoke an affinity for writing. The written, streetwise aspect of Sjöström’s work lends his images an ideogrammatic import. Rather than simply displaying something, they also comment on what they portray. If the subject is the illicit pleasure of graffiti art in the context of war-torn Afghanistan, then Sjöström renders one of Afghanistan’s most accomplished street artists as a porous, shadowy figure, foregrounded against a wall stained with poppy-coloured blood.
The crux of Sjöström’s practice lies in the way he can deftly maneuver between the representational and the non-representational, street art and fine art, doing so in such a manner that each mode is informed by the other. Sjöström’s more neutralized, abstract composition are fleshed out with a layered urgency, alluding to from the speed with which graffiti works must be made. Similarly, his more figurative pieces have an iconographic quality, informed by the art-historical tradition of portraiture as much as by the layered lettering specific to graffiti.