This summer, MK Gallery presents Pushwagner: Soft City, the first solo exhibition outside Norway by the visionary artist Hariton Pushwagner (born Oslo, 1940). Since the recent discovery of his work, Pushwagner has become a celebrity in his home nation, appearing regularly in newspaper headlines and television talk shows, renowned for his homelessness and hedonistic lifestyle, and compared to a modern day Edvard Munch.
Pushwagner's defining creation is the graphic novel 'Soft City', an epic satire of capitalism and life in the modern metropolis, produced intermittently in Oslo and London between 1969 and 1976. His work also takes the form of intricate and obsessively detailed paintings, presenting a personal mythology of a world under perpetual siege from pollution, totalitarianism and mass destruction.
At MK Gallery a tightly focussed presentation of Pushwagner's early work will be shown in three distinct groupings; Soft City, Family of Man and Apocalypse Frieze. In addition, Pushwagner's design for an enormous Pop Art inspired mouth will be realised in the form of a mural surrounding MK Gallery's main entrance. Visitors will have to step onto its projecting tongue and enter the cavernous mouth to reach the exhibition beyond.
The 154-page graphic novel Soft City provides an account of mechanical, daily life in a dehumanized, dystopian modern city. Completed in 1976, the humdrum lives of Pushwagner's characters allude to George Gurdjieff's descriptions of people in a state of 'waking sleep'. The menacing controller in charge of life in Soft City and the pills the family swallows on a daily basis evoke Aldous Huxley's 'Brave New World' (1932).
The Family of Man section focuses on Pushwagner's series of thirty-four silkscreen prints produced in the 1980s; these enlarged variations on Soft City, printed with a gaudy pink colouring, will be exhibited alongside the Oblidor Guide Book, a sketchbook that reveals the artist's working process. While charting the transition of his work from the book format to the wall, the obsessive repetition and endless reworking of almost identical images reveal Pushwagner's interest in mass production, mass distribution and making his work available to broad audiences.
The Apocalypse Frieze, rife with literary allusion and piercing social commentary, comprises seven large-scale works of meticulous detail: Heptashinok, 1986; Dadadata, 1987; Gigaton, 1988; Jobkill, 1990; Oblidor, 1991; Klaxton, 1991 and Self- Portait 1993. It shows endless processions of haggard figures, doggedly advancing towards Armageddon, where factories double up as death camps and the ravages of war are perpetuated under the watchful eye of robotic men in suits. These works (shown for the first time as the artist intended) will be grouped in the style of Jan Van Eyck's Ghent Altarpiece of 1432. Self-Portrait suggests that the artist's mind is spiralling out of control, as the watchful eyes of thousands of female nudes witness faceless automata marching down the vortex to oblivion. The Apocalypse Frieze will be presented alongside early sketches made in homage to artistic figures from Hieronymous Bosch to Vincent Van Gogh.