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For An Icelandic Conceptual Artwork Pioneer, Dwelling Was His Inspiration

For An Icelandic Conceptual Artwork Pioneer, Dwelling Was His Inspiration

For An Icelandic Conceptual Art Pioneer, Home Was His Inspiration

REYKJAVÍK, Iceland — My educated guess is that Birgir Andrésson (1955-2007) — one of the crucial vital and progressive Icelandic artists of the previous a number of a long time — will likely be unfamiliar to most Hyperallergic readers.

Typically referred to as a conceptual artist, Andrésson exhibited internationally in his lifetime (and continues to be exhibited), together with representing Iceland within the 1995 Venice Biennale, however most of his reveals had been in Iceland, removed from the artwork world limelight.  

Had Andrésson left his nation for a extra seen location he possible can be significantly better identified worldwide, but remaining made good sense. Iceland was his deeply felt dwelling. He was steeped in its methods and lore, panorama and historical past. It was additionally his advanced topic and an energizing pressure. With ardor and irony, precision and droll humor, he investigated and challenged Icelandic id and historical past, and located novel methods of inserting his island nation into a world context. 

Birgir Andrésson: As Far because the Eye Can See, curated by eminent American artwork historian Robert Hobbs, gives an engrossing overview of Andrésson’s work in a number of mediums. The exhibition coincides with the monograph Birgir Andrésson In Icelandic Colors (Distanz Verlag, 2022), which options an illuminating, totally researched essay by Hobbs and a memorable ahead by Ragnar Kjartansson, Andrésson’s former scholar. 

Set up view of Birgir Andrésson: As Far because the Eye Can See on the Reykjavik Artwork Museum Kjarvalsstaðir, 2022. Pictured, “Right here Comes the Solar, Right here Comes the Moon” (2006), wallpainting in two components, dimension variable. Assortment of Dorte and Nils Stærk, Copenhagen.

For his famend wall work in home paint, Andrésson boldly (and little doubt satirically) claimed colours from the NCS common shade system as particularly Icelandic; he did the identical in different works with Pantone. That is, after all, nuts; such colours may be wherever. Nonetheless, the matte tones Andrésson favored — russet, grey, inexperienced, yellow-gold, and lightweight blue, amongst others — are prevalent in Iceland, and in addition lodged within the nationwide psyche. They’re within the panorama, on the steel exteriors of homes in Reykjavik’s outdated metropolis, and elsewhere, on fishing boats and ships within the nation’s many harbors, on farm buildings and rural church buildings (together with the well-known pink and white one in coastal Hellnar, the place Dieter Roth, an immigrant and a polymath precursor to Andrésson, is buried). 

In “Blackest Evening” (2006), the title is painted in grayish inexperienced lower-case textual content on a black floor; beneath, in the identical shade, are “Colors: ICELANDIC 4010-B90G” and “ICELANDIC 8505-G20Y.” (The precise hues Andrésson used may be present in NCS.) Seemingly impersonal, this portray recollects an absurdly outsized shade chip at a ironmongery shop. Additionally it is immersive and curiously elegant.

Whereas “blackest night time” could possibly be the title of a paint tone, it additionally conjures lengthy, darkish nights in Iceland’s lengthy winters. It could possibly be the start of a poem, story, saga, or music in a rustic that abounds with all of those. It may point out a fraught psychological state; Andrésson’s conceptual works are sometimes poetic and evocative. 

Set up view of Birgir Andrésson: As Far because the Eye Can See on the Reykjavik Artwork Museum Kjarvalsstaðir, 2022. Pictured, Nearness, Information, Studying (Huge Home Poem) (1993), 80 lower black cardstock paper, every 12.2 x 8.66 inches. Assortment of the Reykjavík Artwork Museum.

One other wall portray is a yellow and inexperienced diptych (colours reverse within the two components) that reads HERE COMES THE SUN (suppose George Harrison, the Beatles, and world popular culture) and HERE COMES THE MOON, which shifts from pop music to cosmic our bodies and planetary rhythms. In Iceland, typically grey, windy, wet, snowy, and chilly for weeks on finish, the solar may be rapturous: pure well being, heat, and vitamin D. The identical goes for the moon, which is commonly obscured by dense clouds. 

“Nearness” was essential to Andrésson, a time period he steadily cited and included in some titles.  Although properly versed in worldwide artwork, he typically labored with issues from his very explicit surroundings and tradition: colours, in addition to the nationwide flag, turf homes, lava, old-time images, stamps, historic supplies, and even canned items. On no account did nearness indicate consolation or familiarity. As an alternative, he de-familiarized his topics, investing them with ambiguity and complexity.

Turf homes, as soon as widespread, stay an everlasting image of outdated Iceland, though they’ve lengthy since vanished, save for a couple of preserved as historic websites. For “Nearness, Information, Studying (Huge Home Poem)” (1993), Andrésson rendered the layouts of turf homes, as revealed in archaeological ruins, in black cardstock paper; every element is individually framed. Organized on the wall, they’re like hieroglyphs in a big, enigmatic poem connecting the deep previous and current, visible artwork and literature.

Birgir Andrésson, “Nýbúar (Grenada fruit from Iran)” (2004), Diasec print, 18.5 x 12.2 inches (courtesy the Property of Birgir Andrésson & i8 Gallery, Reykjavík)

Pictures of inexperienced vegetation rising from Ora produce cans in Andrésson’s Transplants (2003) collection are riveting and hilarious: Granada fruit from Iran bursting from a can of asparagus, tamarillo from South Africa climbing from a can of carrots and inexperienced peas, Fiji apples from China in a can of mushrooms. But the placing images entice viewers into his conceptual considerations. For hundreds of years, greens had been scarce in Iceland, particularly in winter. World Battle II introduced an financial growth, and in 1952 the Ora firm started advertising canned greens, which quickly grew to become quintessentially Icelandic, feel-good staples at Christmas dinners. Within the images, unique vegetation from faraway nations (“farness” was additionally essential for him) inhabit Icelandic cans.  

When he made these works, Iceland had a small however rising immigrant inhabitants. Now, greater than 15 p.c of the nation is international born. The images each encapsulate and anticipate a radically altering, more and more multinational society. Andrésson additionally slyly critiques what’s Icelandic. The non-native peas, carrots, mushrooms, asparagus, and different meals in Ora canned items are transplants, as had been the unique Norse settlers.

Set up view of Birgir Andrésson: As Far because the Eye Can See on the Reykjavik Artwork Museum Kjarvalsstaðir, 2022. Pictured, Stamps (2002), oil on canvas, 30.31 x 40.55 inches every (courtesy the Property of Birgir Andrésson & i8 Gallery, Reykjavík)

His colourful work, silkscreens, and prints of Icelandic stamps, together with ones from 1930 that commemorate the thousand-year anniversary of the Alþingi, Iceland’s parliament, are deceptively simple. From a distance, photos together with a Viking ship, the nationwide flag, and a map of the nation are clearly legible, however up shut they change into elusive and unstable, breaking down into 1000’s of pointillist dots. These works are something however patriotic. A few of these stamps didn’t originate in Iceland (designed partly by a German residing in Austria); some had been canceled — phantom stamps. They handle historical past and nationwide id as blurry, mutable constructs, influenced by ideologies and fantasies from inside and outdoors the nation.

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A distinguishing attribute of Andrésson’s idea-driven works is how acutely visible they’re, how they appear to revel within the sheer act of wanting. His uncommon biography elements in. From the Westman Islands, a distant a part of already distant Iceland, as a toddler he moved along with his father — who grew to become blind from consuming a modest quantity of tainted alcohol — to Reykjavik and ultimately into the Blind Folks’s Dwelling. The sighted baby of blind mother and father (his father and stepmother), Andrésson conveyed the seen world to them and to others. This influenced his exact consideration to colours, supplies, photos, and typefaces, and to the ability of phrases to create psychological photos.

Birgir Andrésson, “Portrait #6 (Barely greater than common peak)” (1999), silkscreen on paper, 31.49 x 23.6 inches (courtesy The Property of Birgir Andrésson & i8 Gallery, Reykjavík)

Andrésson’s textual content portraits in both Icelandic or English are quick paragraphs that objectively describe the bodily look of an individual or animal. “His head is massive and his jaw distinguished, and he breathes by way of his mouth and infrequently sticks his tongue between his enamel,” one work declares. One other describes a lady: “Her face is lengthy, the nostril quite massive and oddly angled, the eyes are blue-gray and tilt outward ….” Many of those texts are primarily based on 18th- and Nineteenth-century descriptions of criminals and lacking individuals within the Parliamentary Gazette, which the artist would alter and generally mix. The “Icelandic” colours are often from Pantone. The mixture of a textual content in a single shade and a wealthy, saturated monochrome in one other is just marvelous. 

Andrésson employed his “Icelandic” colours in eclectic methods. Every portray in Black and White Classics in Icelandic Colors (2004-7) options the title of a well-known non-Icelandic black and white movie, amongst them Metropolis, Casablanca, Gold Rush, and Spellbound. Little Iceland, reaching out to the massive world, has colorized these classics and affected the world. Displayed in a horizontal row, a bit like a movie strip, these in another way coloured work are enchanting. 

Birgir Andrésson was a eager thinker, daring artist, boisterous drinker, provocateur, devoted good friend, jokester, and a charismatic determine within the small but important Icelandic artwork scene — the epitome of what Ragnar Kjartansson calls in his ahead “bohemian requirements.” An early {photograph}, “Náttúruspjall” (1976), or nature chat, reveals the artist himself inclined within the panorama, seemingly conversing with overhanging turf, which resembles an open mouth. His coloured pencil on paper drawings of the ocean’s floor, from his final 12 months, are empirical, mysterious, and beautiful.

Birgir Andrésson, “Black and White Classics in Icelandic Color (Spellbound)” (2005), oil on Canvas, 23.62 x 23.62 x 1.96 inches. Assortment of Lucille and Ron Neeley, New York.

Enlarged, grainy, black and white classic images of people cowl a lot of 1 wall within the exhibition. These images, from the Totally different Folks collection (1991-2006), image obscure figures from Icelandic historical past: vagrants, touring poets and musicians, a shark hunter, a prankster/thief. Solely names are offered, though descriptions seem in different variations of the collection; some may be discovered within the monograph. Oddur Sigurgeirsson, sporting a bowler hat and with ragged enamel, was a “Fisherman (on Schooner)/Brawler/Drinker/Writer”; Ingibjörg Sigurðardóttir, smiling and wrapped in a scarf, was a “Vagrant/Poetess/Minstrel”; Sólon Guðmundsson, standing exterior with a scythe, was a “Designer and Builder of Weird Homes/Poet/Genial Host.” 

In a history-minded nation that for hundreds of years was extremely stratified and oppressive (“feudal,” Hobbs calls it), Andrésson centered not on common or well-known individuals however as a substitute on marginal eccentrics, lots of whom had been artists in some sense. I’m surmising that he felt a lot kinship with this different nationwide lineage.

Birgir Andrésson: As Far because the Eye Can See continues on the Reykjavik Artwork Museum Kjarvalsstaðir (Flókagata 24 105 Reykjavík, Iceland) by way of Might 15. The exhibition was curated by Robert Hobbs.

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