The enigmatic paintings by Carl Johan Högberg are deeply rooted in classic Surrealist montage. There is a man at the piano with his face upside down, old newspaper clippings and posters pinned to a wall, a portrait of a gentleman with a large leaf over his eyes and athletic young men with their legs cut off. Those interested in unraveling the mystery will often find clues in the paintings' titles and in the broader narrative that the individual works create together.
The man at the piano turns out to be the jazz legend Jan Johansson, who in 1965 made a remarkable gymnastics musical recording, a vinyl LP with an accompanying exercise folder, all under the mystifying name Rädda Sverige (Rescue Sweden). The gentleman with a Monstera leaf over his eyes is the Swedish prime minister Per Albin Hansson, active in the 30's and 40's. The newspaper clipping with gymnasts on the beach is an image of Idlaflickorna, post-war female Swedish gymnasts, strictly adhering to Leni Riefenstahl aesthetics. A poster of a Donkey Show, depicting a woman in costume and a donkey, belongs to an adaptation of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. The poster has a sinister feel to it and brings to mind the infamous Mexican Donkey shows - an awkward type of sexual performance in which women engaged in zoophilia. By juxtaposing images and titles saturated with social and political connotations, Carl Johan Högberg creates an unsettling aura around his works. They evoke an unheimlich, low-intensity discomfort as we start to freely associate within the framework outlined by the artist.
The overall vision becomes even clearer when we realize that many of the paintings refer to Health Through Sports, a collage by Max Ernst, the title of which Högberg even borrowed for an earlier exhibition. The collage, representing an athlete wearing a monstrous mask, alludes with it's title to Nazi Germany's wellness slogan, Strength Through Joy (Kraft Durch Freude). Sweden also entertained the idea of a liaison between fitness and a better society, with fascist undertones that were immanent in the very vision of the future. A future in which strength always was preferable to, and dominant over weakness. In his work, Carl Johan Högberg examines societies sorting mechanisms and the lingering segregating tendencies in all human beings.
Carl Johan Högberg was born in 1979 in Eskilstuna and works in Amsterdam, where he studied at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie as well as the prestigious De Ateliers. In 2010 he won the Netherlands' largest painting prize " Koninklijke Prijs voor Vrije Schilderkunst ". In 2013, Högberg received a IASPIS scholarship in Stockholm and has recently participated in the group exhibition " The Black Moon " at Palais de Tokyo in Paris, curated by Sinziana Ravini . For the Swedish audience, his art was presented for the first time in 2010 in the exhibition Runaway Train at Bonnier Konsthall.