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Gunnar J. Árnason

Norræna húsið 15. júlí –13. ágúst 1995.

Landscape painting is our tradition, one could say. But this tradition, like so many others, can prove both a blessing and a burden. The tradition has acquired so many overtones on its path through history – Iceland’s struggle for independence, nationalism, the need to be true to one’s origins, etc. –that it has become more difficult for artist to observe their subject with clear, fresh vision. After all that has gone before, how can a landscape painting be painted today, without seeming to be a melancholy echo of the heroic works of the ‘pioneers’ of the Icelandic art in the erly years of this century?

So on has reservations when artist choose to work with landscape, especially in painting, in casethey are seeking to ingritate themselves by appeling to our love of nature, and the position of respect enjoyed by landscape painting in Icelandic culture. But I thinkit is safe to say that in the near-decade since Georg Guðni Hauksson first showed his paintings of the country, he has succeded in overcoming any such doubts, if they existed. It vas soon clear that his pictures do not only present a vision of the land which differs from the familiar one; the style he has developed has also succeeded in bringing out many of the best qualities of oil painting.

A landscape pictures they differ in several ways from that to which we are accustomed. It is probably a misnomer to call them landscape paintings at all, for thepresistent theme throughout Georg Guðni’s work is depth and light, rather than ‘the landskape’ as such. It was shadowy mountains, knolls and slopes, simple in form and with a limited palette, that first drew public attention to the paintings. Hismore recent works, however, have been characterised by the valley, with curved slopes on each side, which merges into the horizon. All is smooth, there is no harshness, no rugged textures, sharp edges, rocky outcrops or jagged lava. Instead of sharp contrastsand drama, ther is consistency which produces a peaceful sense of balance. Nowhere is detail, such as gullies, trees and animal life, is omitted. This also means that the works present a kind of no-place wothout reference to recognisable topographyor landmarks. Although we may finde the landscape familiar, it is hardly possible to say that they are pictures of a specific place: they are more like a hazy memory of place whose location one no longer remembers.

It is not least the light which plays on the land, the light that is characteristic of a climate of low cloud and rain, that sets ’s pictures apart. Icelandic artists have tended ro focus on the Nordic blueness, and the rosy rays of the famed Midnight Sun. In ’s paintings the light emanates not from above, but from within. The land seems to glow with a greenish gleam that illuminates the drizzle which cloaks the land. has developed a special technique to capture this light, which is characterised by a fine network of vertical and horizontal translucent strips (the oils being applied in transparent glazes), which he has piled one on top of another. This produces an even texture over the whole plane. The pigment of the paint ‘breathe’, and this creates an atmosphere of proximity and mass.

And this style together with the sense of tnoplace, and thr consistency of texture, emphasises the ambiguity of the pictures. As well as seeing the land in the pictures, it also brings out the painterly qualities of the picture; the fine network has a certain separateness from the landscape motif, whichwe observe through the net. The forms appear not so much rendered as conjured, without ever being shaped by purposeful strokes and brush. Everything solid in the image seems to dissolve and the eye has no fixed reference points, no clear visual cues that orientate it in the space within the picture.

For this reason, I feel that the vision presents of the land may be regarded as a metaphor for the landskape of the pictorial space. The landscape motif is employed to gain control of this space he had chosen within the four sides of the picture plane, and the dimendions that open up within them – depth, light and tone.

Depth and light – the classical subject of the painters through the ages. Yes, why not? To reawaken that sense of wonder that men must have been seized by, as they contemplated the works of the first colonists of the pictorial space, men like Masaccio and Piero della Francesca. And I do not primarily mean the way that the pictures must have seemed lifelike and realistic in comparison to their forerunner; but all the emptiness in them, thst magnificent nothingness which surrounds all in their pictures. One stands before s frescoed wall, and allows one´s mind goes back to Claude Lorraine, that incomparable painter of dawn and of sunset, where the main characters of the oicture are sometimes like marginal notes scribbled absentmindedly outside the bounds of the main plane. The eye is drawn farther and farther into the picture until it dissolves into the luminous haze of the summer day. The attraction of Claude Lorraine’s pictures is the nothingness, and that place that is nowhere.

It is this same nothingness that we find in the pictures of . The eye follows the valley inwards to that undefined place whereall dissolves and becomes one, valley and sky, earth, air and water. We stand before the canvas, the painting, but the eye takes flight.

This is not to say that there has not been emptiness on Icelandic landscape art before. Yet our artists seem to have been a little nervous of emptiness and have striven to fill it woth mountains, glaciers or rocks. The eye’s journey through nothingness had to come to an end, stop somewere; it was necessary to achieve one’s objective and say; ’There it is, Isee it , ‘ whatever ‘It ‘ is. The only thing one can say to oneself as one gazes into the emptiness in ’s pictures is ‘I see’, as one who travels in a plane for the first time might say, ‘I fly’.

Yet this is a different kind of emtiness from that magnificient emtiness discovered by the aesthetes of the eighteenth century, and called by them ‘the sublime’. Kant describes this as simultaneously terrifying and magnificent; it is the indescribable,which strikes us with both terror and joy when faced with the force of nature, when the imagination rushes into infinity with no resistance-‘in comparison with the sublime, alle els is small’,he said . But the emptiness in ’s pictures is close by and enclosed, and tells us nothing of the infinity of the Universe or the awesome power of nature; it is the emtiness within, rather than the great emtiness beyond all that is nearby. Perhaps it has something in common with the emtiness described by oriental philosophers and poets, which comes upon one unawares on the bank of a brook or out in ther garden. But this is an unnecessarily far-fetched comparison. ’s paintings have given shape to a certain experience of nature, which should be familiar to all those who have been to the heathlands and remote places of Iceland.


Related paintings
1995 - Án tritils

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