Johannes Högbom: Before My Country Had a Name

June 3 - July 8, 2023

1819 3rd Ave



The blind sheep will follow the herd to the white city. He rests, unaware of how a horn could be crooked, but prodded air will wake the being born wrong, and under the sun, he will move as directed through edificial blossoms that suck underground runoff and overtake the skyline. Their blossoms, like the buildings, will be mummified in the searing gauze of pastoral time, but they are perennial.

The translucent are not slugless, they burn with salted fingers. It is all we can do to poke the skin of the sighted, who incubated in the tributary poisoned with the booze of before, grew tentacular vision from the larval body to become the giant lung. A wart is a dead eye grown from a slit in the cheek. It was a swift vertical motion that left the bottle empty, but it was a slow growth of scales that made clouds of the trouts’ eyes. Would you cook them and eat them? Are you a guest of the party? Do you want to be the one to stop the music? The frog’s heart, like your waving mallet against stretched hyde, beats in echoes throughout our idyllic pasture.

The mouth is full of natural glass, but the dog tongue is not scalloped until after it is pierced. Its dripping muscles learned to avoid sharp peaks. The cow was pulled toward he who forced silver through his septum on a strap of familiar skin. This is good weather, blue gold and green, but the orchard is overgrown, and the strap has long since fallen.

—Toniann Fernandez

Harkawik is pleased to present Before My Country Had a Name, the first solo exhibition of Swedish painter Johannes Högbom. Högbom's exhibition offers a neatly assembled aggregation, in which ritualistic human behaviors and the herd mentality of animals are freely interchangeable; the stillness of the country and the bustle of the city are both understood as ambient phenomena, and the contested status of the animal among humans is foregrounded in all its terror, brutality, and artifice. Often drawn to figures engaged in ambiguous activities, here Högbom fixates on a young woman, offering vignettes that might be seen in her eyes: a truculent bull; a vicious black dog lost in blue dawn; clouds mingling among fresco-like landmasses; a nightscape pitcher tableaux, lit mysteriously by noon-day light. In the exquisite Blint får ("Blind Sheep"), a sheep rests, its hulking rectilinear mass thwarting the eye from its journey along civilization's beckoning path. The sheep appears to be made of the stuff of clouds, and could easily be resting, dead, or perhaps reassembled from material gathered from strolls through the forest, tufts of wool combed from the fur of mischevious cats, bloody horns found ensnared in the mantle of a yak, vestige of some unseen skirmish, hooves borrowed back from an unkind taxidermist's hearth. There is exquisite pleasure in Högbom's brush, and much of what he accomplishes registers in painterly, not pictoral space. The surfaces of his canvases evidence multiple work-rework cycles, giving rise to another kind of time-marker; alongside nature's larghissimo and the frenzy of humans, we come to know the casual accumulation of marks that define organic forms much in the way that those forms themselves accumulate outside the painter's window. The cities that linger in the background of Högbom's compositions are a gentle reminder that the humble compact between steer and master has become the stuff of urban legend, and that absent this awe, this compassion, in the age of extreme and unrelenting subjugation, mutation, and consumption of animals, we have become less human.

Born in 1994 in Dalarna, Sweden, Johannes Högbom attended Örebro Konstskola, Örebro, Sweden, in 2019 and earned his BFA from the Trondheim Academy of Fine Arts, Norway, in 2022. He work has been exhibited in Sweden, Norway, and New York.