The 73-year-old artist Pushwagner, born Terje Brofos, is known to be one of the most eccentric Norwegian artists. He has been embraced by an entire art world, but his life has not always been a pleasant journey.
Today, he sells his paintings for staggering sums, and lives well in his unmistakable “Pushwagner way”: Classic Armani suit and big, black sunglasses. During a gallery opening in the small city of Namsos, the 400 attending could see him coming out of a sleek 1970’s Lincoln limousine – as if he had done it all his life. That could not be further from the truth.
In 1968, Terje Brofos met acclaimed author Axel Jensen at a urinal in Oslo, and from then they established a deep friendship that created the ‘nerve’ in their artistic universe: Dystopian visions of the future. The collaboration was short-lived, but intense. Within four months, they produced a dozen half-finished scripts, including the comic Soft City, and their collaboration was characterized as a ‘stream-of-consciousness’ where their heads worked together as one.
Brofos was, among others, educated from the Norwegian National Academy of Fine Arts, but it was out on the street he would discover his characteristic expression. In the winter of 1970 he moved to London, and the following year he established Pushwagner – named after the supermarket trolleys as commentary on consumerism. However, his stay in London would be a challenge. He lived on the street and survived by selling his drawings. He was constantly on the verge of insanity and tried to commit suicide several times. In 1976, he finished the comic project Soft City, which is considered his magnum opus.
Recently, 400 people gathered to get a glimpse of the renowned artist in Namsos. Owner of Galleri Elsa, Elsa Elden, has waited five years for this day, and her nerves first settled when Pushwagner arrived at the local airport – one day after the schedule.
During the opening ThorNews got a few minutes with the artist, who was in surprisingly good shape.
– Mr. Pushwagner, you have been living out on the streets and consider yourself anti-capitalist, what are your thoughts about that only the wealthiest can afford to buy your paintings?
The little talkative artist had only one answer:
– No comment and you can quote me on that!
Fortunately, he softened later in the conversation and said with a glimpse in his eye that it was not about the art:
– This is not culture, it is business. I need cash and drugs…
Today, 150 Norwegian galleries are waiting to exhibit Pushwagner, and he is more popular than ever.
The comic Soft City is considered his main work. It is an epic satire of capitalism and life in a modern metropolis. It tells the story of a mechanical everyday life in a dehumanized, dystopian modern city. Here, the inhabitants walk around like robots: Parents begin their day by swallowing a few pills and goes into a sedated state of mind that drives them through their automated jobs. Dad goes to work producing weapons of mass destruction, while mom goes to the supermarket and consume. It is a graphic novel, and Pushwagner and Jensen’s first projection about urbanism and loneliness.
The name Soft City was a comment to the advertising industry which used the word soft to create an illusion of happiness. For Pushwagner and Jensen, this was the symbol of an alienating consumer society.
– If the parents in “Soft City” had awakened from their trance, they would let the kids out of the playpen and let them live. The playpen is the grid itself, Pushwagner said about the comic.
In 1981, Pushwagner was contacted by the Norwegian entrepreneur and art promoter Morten Dreyer who would eventually become his assistant. But, in 1998, the partnership came to an abrupt end. At the time, Pushwagner was very poor and heavy addicted to drugs, and he signed an agreement which allowed Dreyer to take control of all his paintings and sketchbooks. In 2008, Pushwagner took legal action to recover his works, and accused Dreyer for exploiting him during a difficult time. Dreyer was also accused for selling fake works with fake signatures.
Pushwagner won on all counts. All the paintings were returned to the artist and he received a compensation of 1 million Norwegian Kroner.
The same year, Pushwagner got his major national and international breakthrough during his 40-year career. He attended the fifth Berlin Biennale and the sixteenth Biennale of Sydney, both important venues for contemporary art. Soft City was first published during the Berlin Biennale, and he received critical acclaim both in local and international media.
In 2011, a documentary film about the life of the artist was made. It was named Pushwagner. Directors Even G. Benestad and August B. Hanssen followed the eccentric artist over three years, and in the film we see that Pushwagner are in danger of losing everything, but refuse to give up the fight.
Last year Pushwagner held his very first solo exhibition outside Norway at the MK Gallery in Milton Keynes outside London.
Text and top photo by: Anette Broteng Christiansen, ThorNews
All paintings by Pushwagner ©