August 2020  Vol. 1, No.4

Erla Thórarinsdottir’s Majestic Forms of Endlessness

Where the continents meet

Oil color and sheets of silver on canvas

200 x 110 cm

It’s cold and windy in Iceland. When the fierce wind blows boldly down from Greenland over the Denmark Strait, the people hunker down inside and center their activities at home. Iceland is a literary society going way back to the sagas of the 12th Century and the Old Norse. The visual artist Erla Thórarinsdottir was born in the capital Reykjavik. A Scandinavian through and through, she grew up in Iceland, Denmark and Sweden. She acknowledges, “Icelandic culture is literary, and not as much visual. When I went to Denmark and Sweden I learned that language is not reliable. I used my eyes to understand.” Nonetheless, she seems to have mastered linguistics as she speaks five languages fluently, including English on a high intellectual level.

Erla Thórarinsdottir by Henri Alain Ségalen

During covid lock down

Oil color and sheets of silver on canvas

180 x 80 cm each

Always remain in your heart

Oil color and sheets of silver on canvas

180 x 80 cm

Tectonics — all colors

Tempera and sheets of silver on canvas

200 x 100 cm

Thórarinsdottir is an internationally renowned artist who creates stunning Dionysian forms and sculptural shapes, 2-D and 3-D, in a “sacred space” by “looking inside her own sensibilities.” Even her two-dimensional paintings carry a visual illusion of three-dimensionality. She studied at Konstfack in Stockholm and Gerrit Rietveld Akademie in Amsterdam and has worked and exhibited in Scandinavia, North Europe, USA, China and India.

64°09N & 21°57W

Oxidations at Hafnarborg Museum 2013

Oil color and sheets of silver on canvas

200 x 130 cm and 200 x 90 cm

The artist is pushed by an inner urge that compels her to release the imagery that “just comes out” in whatever expression she needs, be it painting, meditation, photography, textile design, stone works and installations. The results are spontaneous and emotional expressions, impressive in their seemingly understated simplicity of shape and form. She avoids the complex. No pretentiousness. No banalities. Her work is approachable, contemplative and somehow transformative to the viewer, yet powerfully deep. It exudes beauty and aesthetics and is best viewed by the heart over the mind.

The continent to be

Oil color on canvas

150 x 150 cm

Exhibition view at CEAC — Chinese European Art Center in Xiamen 2005

Thórarinsdottir explained, “I am essentially primitive and bring forth bodily shapes. Painting is physical. It is an act directly from the body to the shape to create a new physical body.” As she releases these inner feelings from her body, she sometimes uses her own body to press against the surface. While entirely different stylistically, Georgia O’Keefe comes to mind as both artists play with a hint of movement, sensuality, even eroticism.

Hieroglyph

Oil color and sheets of silver on canvas

180 x 80 cm

The continents are seven

Oil color and sheets of silver on canvas

200 x 130 cm

On the island in the middle of the world

Oil color and sheets of silver on canvas

190 x 110cm

L. A. Museum in Iceland 2016.

From left to right: West – East/ Reykjavik – Istanbul, East to West/ Reykjavik – Washington, Path

Oil color and sheets of silver on canvas

200 x 130 cm each

Her work is dimensionally large, bold and instantly appealing, grand and magnificent. There is a purity, a form of freedom and confidence in her work. You can feel the honesty. “I want my art to be accessible. Something that belongs to everybody.” She impresses with size and scale. The textures of her oxidation series, for example, are subtle, like ripples on a lake or morning dew on a leaf, evoking a permanence of peace, a form of timelessness, as if it had always existed. With these paintings, she used sheets of silver, building light sensitive bodies and structures which exposed to light and time and whatever is in the air, oxidize and transmute on site. Sometimes experimentation brings surprises. The silver turned golden when an adhesive changed the oxidation process. Working in China, she was impressed with the fake money the Chinese use in a ritual to respect their deceased ancestors. In a culture where she did not understand the language, she again turned to the visual to express her innermost sensibilities by illustrating the paper money.

Fake Money Paper Paintings

Water color and acrylics on paper with silver

30 x 30 each

Fake Money

Fake Money

Fake Money

Fake Money

Shell — shelter

Oil color and sheets of silver on canvas

150 x 200 cm

Her perpetual dance with shape and form is the core of her expression. She describes her process as “bringing out shapes that all of us have inside of us.” One profound example is the painting “Shell/shelter.” She was by her dying father’s bedside and she visualized a shape that haunted her for 20 years thereafter. In 2016, she was finally able to get it out. It was a shape she experienced, something that appeared and was there already, until she was ready to release it. The result is profound. The viewer will not know the story behind the art, but will be compelled to experience their own reaction. The artist said, “The endlessness appears in different ways.”

“Art is an expression of humanity. It is the highlight of being human. We are gifted with art.”

Shell — shelter

On site at Islandsbanki/The Bank of Iceland

The artist understands the interconnectivity of sounds and visual energy. Art, like music, carries tones, vibes and rhythms for those capable of experiencing the phenomena. The artist who is in tune with that sees their art come to life multi-dimensionally. Thórarinsdottir explained, “At a certain point in the process I feel my art making sounds, then the synchronicity of sound and sight emerges.”

When the tones resonate, Erla Thórarinsdottir’s art speaks the truth.

Erla Thórarinsdottir in front of Part of an endless structure

Oil color and sheets of silver on canvas

200 x 120 cm

Still life on site

Oil color and sheets of silver on canvas

190 x 80 cm

In the studio, 2019

Frank Matheis
Writer. Photographer. Producer.


Contributing writer to the Hammond Museum, Frank Matheis, is a music, visual arts and culture writer and photographer. His latest project was the book ‘Sweet Bitter Blues’ co-written with National Heritage Fellow Phil Wiggins (University Press of Mississippi, 2020). His Hammond Museum column ‘In Other Words’ features member artists in all disciplines. He is also a contributing writer to ArtsWestchester, Living Blues magazine (Center for Southern Culture Studies) and thecountryblues.com.