Swedish painter. Following a childhood spent in Brazil, he moved to Sweden in 1939. He studied archaeology and the history of art, specializing in pre-Columbian manuscripts, and he showed an interest in the theatre. In the early 1950s he worked as a journalist, wrote plays and poems and in 1952 began to paint his first composite pictures. In 1953 Fahlström published a manifesto, Hipy Papy Bthuthdth Thuthda Bthuthdy: Manifesto for Concrete Poetry (Stockholm), which manipulates language irrespective of the meanings of words. He saw an unexploited wealth, both sensual and intellectual, in its phonetic materials and in the distortions that occur when letters are transposed. In the following years he worked mainly on a large painting entitled Ade-Ledic-Nander II (oil, 1955–7; Stockholm, Mod. Mus.), where little hieroglyphic signs are arranged in major, antagonistic groups. Next, he appropriated images from such comic strips as Krazy Kat (for illustration see Comic-strip art) and Mad, successively shattering and recycling the figures so as to render them almost unrecognizable. The absurdity of events and absence of any moral sense in Krazy Kat held a particular appeal. Fahlström used language as basic material and unexpected angles of vision to reveal hitherto hidden contexts.
In 1961 Fahlström resettled in New York. His painting Sitting was executed in 1962 in several versions. In the second of these (1962; Stockholm, Mod. Mus.) Fahlström introduced loose forms that, with the aid of magnets, could be moved anywhere across the picture’s surface, creating what he termed his ‘variable paintings’. In such works as The Planetarium (tempera on vinyl-covered magnets, 1963; Paris, Pompidou) the variable forms still remain on the surface of the painting, but in Dr Schweitzer’s Last Mission (installation, 1964–6; Stockholm, Mod. Mus.) the parts have left the picture surface and float in space. Fahlström wished to draw no lines between the media he used. Besides painting he organized happenings and designed plays and films. Sometimes he abandoned his artistic pursuits in favour of newspaper and television journalism. The pseudo-journalistic content of his late paintings is concerned with the struggle for the wealth of the Third World and other political issues (e.g. World Politics Monopoly, acrylics, magnets and metal, 1970; priv. col., see 1979–82 exh. cat., p. 82).
From Grove Art Online
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