A COLOURED STATE OF GRACE
First, about the title. Ljóslitlífun (which we have translated as Coloursynthesis) is a neologism, created through a play on the Icelandic word for photosynthesis—ljóstillífun—by turning the second syllable, “til”, around to form the Icelandic word for colour (in the accusative case), “lit”. The word came up in a conversation with one of the artists in the exhibition, Jón Henrysson, as he fantasized about the place of colour in the creation of life. And the word stuck as a title because of its reference to a conversion caused by light, which is as true and many-leveled a metaphor for painting as any.
Vivid colours and spontaneity characterize the paintings in the exhibition. They share a certain visual kinship, if not a style or a common approach to imagery. They tend to be figurative and playful in a significantly non-ironic way. Formally, they tend to favour flat fields, sharp outlines and unmodulated local colours. While some flaunt appropriated images and found materials, most of the paintings originate wholly from the artists’ imagination. The heavy impasto, drips and sweeping brushstrokes of expressionism are mostly absent. Still, the paintings are far from uniform. Some are crude and emotionally charged, with a superabundance of uneasy energy and fractured figuration, while others are understated and controlled, with carefully delineated forms and decorative patterning. Some are painted with industrial materials on rough wood panels, some with artist ink on fine paper, and some consist simply of poured paint.
The eleven artists brought together in this exhibition do not form a movement and it is pointless to force them into neat categories (try Post-psychedelics for their characteristic colour explosions, or Calligraffitists because of their scrawling lines and street-art savvy, but such pigeonholes fail to fit all of the artists who fit in the exhibition. Nor do they fit their self-images). The scene is simply too vigorous and complex to allow for one designation. But the artists do share a visual culture—shaped by comic books, animated films, computer graphics, and street art—which has profoundly influenced the graphic sensibility of their work (without necessarily resulting in pop imagery drawn from such sources) and which separates them from earlier painting movements, such as the neo-expressionism of the 1970s and 1980s. But not all of the active local painters of this generation are included in the exhibition. There are other directions to be found. As a recent exhibition at the Akureyri Art Museum, entitled Whimsical Impetus, shows, there has been a vigorous revival of abstract expressionism in recent Icelandic painting. And as the Carnegie Art Award exhibitions, which concentrate on new directions in painting, have shown repeatedly over the last few years, there has been an ongoing reinterpretation of the defining elements of painting and a corresponding expansion of the medium into new technologies. These are not our present concerns. The artists in Coloursynthesis have been selected based on the visual sensibility that connects them and for the sensory vigilance and fresh forms of desire that their works display.
One motive for this exhibition is to acknowledge a vigorous interest in painting among the younger generation of Icelandic artists in a time that may seem to be dominated by post-studio production of installation, sound art and video. Although the artists have all, on occasion, incorporated various media in their exhibitions, either directly in their own work or through collaboration, the emphasis here is on their paintings. All of the artists have pursued painting as an independent form of creation and, in most instances, as their primary artistic medium. Not that their work has been limited to easel paintings or the form of “rectangles hung on a wall by a nail,” to borrow Dubuffet’s famous definition of painting. As the exhibition demonstrates, many of the artists prefer to paint directly on the wall (e.g., Davið Örn and Sara Riel), rather than on a transportable support (Ragnar Jónasson removes the support altogether), or to create freestanding sculptural paintings that extend into the exhibition space (Heimir Björgúlfsson and Guðmundur Thoroddsen). But in all instances, they share an infatuation with colour and paint. Untraditional as the outcome may be, they create paintings in a time-honored sense of that word. Whether we look at Helgi Þórsson’s carnivalesque imagery, the Bosch-like figures in Gabríela and Sigga Björg’s drawings, the faux naivety of Sigtryggur Berg’s paintings or the grim scenes created by Þórdís Aðalsteinsdóttir, we find in all of them the rich, deep and lush sensuality of pigment. The meaning and effect of their work is created with and through colour. It is an effect that may best be described as a fulfillment of what Paul Cézanne is reported to have demanded of painting, “an abyss in which the eye is lost, a secret germination, a coloured state of grace.”
Hafthor Yngvason, Print
Museum Director and curator of the exhibition