Terje Brofos, better known by his pseudonym Hariton Pushwagner, clearly left his mark on Oslo and internationally. The artist was even being compared to Norway’s Edvard Munch after he died during the night on Tuesday after a struggle with lung cancer.
Pushwagner was being hailed as one of Norway’s most important contemporary artists whose life was as tragic and colourful as the pictures he created. “He has been a living miracle,” Jan Christian Hermann Mollestad, a friend and work partner, told state broadcaster NRK. He noted that Pushwagner had come close to death several times before during his years as a heroin addict and homeless person living on the streets.
Others were also impressed that Pushwagner live to the age of 77, given his rough lifestyle. “He’s been an outstanding character in Norwegian art history,” said NRK’s own cultural commentator Agnes Moxnes, who noted how his art also attained “outstanding success” in recent years.
“It is actually inredible, when you consider the life he led, that he became as old as he did,” Moxnes said.
He was born during a bombing raid in Oslo on May 2, 1940, less than a month after the invasion by Nazi Germany. He survived a serious car crash at the age of four, became a star tennis player but ended up attending Norway’s state art academy from 1963-1965. He entered into a long partnership and artistic cooperation with Norwegian author Axel Jensen in 1968, but also began experimenting with drugs. He took on the name Hariton Pushwagner in 1971.
His commercial breakthrough didn’t come until 2008, after various periods of addiction and living on the streets. His art began to be bought up by museums after exhibitions in Berlin and Sydney and he also won the top prize at Norway’s annual fall art exhibit Høstutstilling in Oslo.
He also landed shortly thereafter in a legal battle with a former manager who took control of Pushwagner’s art when the artist had failed to pay back a loan. A court in Oslo eventually awarded Pushwagner control of his art again, as long as the debt of around NOK 400,000 was paid.
Then he entered a successful period and began to be a household name in Oslo, with his own gallery at the posh new waterfront development at Tjuvholmen. “Pushwagner is reckoned to be the foremost representative of pop art in Norway,” art critic Mona Pahle Bjerke told NRK, noting that it often portrays the loneliness of people made to feel like outsiders in large cities. He made a “considerable uproar” in the postwar years in Norway, added art critic and commentator Lars Elton, who noted how “the success he acheived in the last 10 years of his life stood in sharp contrast to the hard life he has led.”
Elton said Pushwagner portrayed himself increasingly as “a media clown” in recent years, “which made him famous in Norway, but it also overshadowed the serious nature of his creativity. I think that’s quite sad.”
Others contend Pushwagner realized the big dream he had as an artist. “It made him very happy to experience how enthusiastic folks were about his art, and that he became so dear to the public,” said Petter Mejlænder, who wrote a biography of Pushwagner. “He won support in the most unexpected corners. He made pictures that everyone saw something in.” He was married and divorced twice and is survived by a daughter.