January 2021 Vol. 2, No.1
Mireya Samper’s Elemental Forces of Nature
No matter how wide we travel, no matter how far we go into the distance, be it culturally, physically or intellectually, we are always intrinsically tied to our childhood home where we built our first perceptions of the world. You can leave your land, but it never leaves you.
The sculptor, painter, installation and land artist Mireya Samper is Icelandic, from the cold north country where people are exposed to the extremes of the earth’s elements. She resides in Kópavogur, on the outskirts of the capital Reykjavik, with a small pack of Whippet hounds, not far from where her famous artist parents live. She is an internationalist of bi-cultural Icelandic and Spanish ancestry. Her Catalan father Baltasar Samper is a painter and her Icelandic mother Kristjana Samper is a sculptor.
Iceland is a rough-earth island with volcanoes, hot water geysers, wide barren plains of igneous rock, ice, fierce wind and rocky coastline. Living in this harsh, but stunningly beautiful land, the dialog
of humans to their home soil is ancient and inborn. Samper is an artist who has traveled and worked in the world. She speaks fluent Icelandic, French, English and Spanish, very good German and passable Japanese, having lived in Iceland, France, Italy, Germany, India and Japan. Yet, her artistic expression is saturated with the intuitive exploration of her native Icelandic nature. She reflects the stark elements of the earth, the connection between the land and its temporary human inhabitants. Her natural artistic forms simultaneously evoke an East Asian aesthetic, mostly Japanese sensibilities of elegance and refinement. Her organic compositions communicate simplicity, subtlety and unobtrusiveness. Her work is sensitive and at the same time reflective of the ruggedness of the earth. It makes fitting sense, since there is a direct stylistic connection of her innate Icelandic essence to the naturalistic aesthetic of Japan.
In high school in Iceland, she purposely steered away from art, focusing instead on mathematics and natural sciences, “I was escaping the name of my famous artist parents.” Growing up, her renowned parents cast a large shadow. They illustrated her school text books, for example. She considered becoming a furniture designer in Paris, France, but ultimately decided to apply to the Art School of Iceland, a program that taught her strong hands-on technical skills. She ultimately took her Bachelor and Master degrees at the Sculpture Ecole d’Art de Luminy, Marseille, France.
For a period of time, the artist was not cognizant of the homeland aspect of her work, “People would ask me if Iceland has influenced my work; and, at first, I denied it, not being conscious of it. Then, eventually I realized, well yes, it really does totally.”
She belongs to the pantheon of contemporary environmental artists. Not surprisingly, she is an ardent environmentalist, making socio-political statements through her visual expressions, explaining, “I want to reach people to encourage them to connect with nature. I am an environmentalist without being an activist, so that people can connect in their own way. Everyone has a special part of their life where nature plays an important part.”
Her environmental concerns, which she addresses through her art as a way to protect and respect nature, include the global water problem, demanding: “Water belongs to everybody! It’s the most important element on earth. It cannot be privatized.” Global warming is obviously on the mind of anyone in the north country. Not far from Iceland, up in Greenland, the ice glaciers are disappearing at unprecedented rates, contributing to rising sea levels. As a global traveler, Samper has internalized these concerns and manifested them into her art as a subtle protest.
Samper is a fine artist who delves into earthy, natural forms. She uses dry Japanese pigments made of real stones, which she applies with wax and Japanese ink, on thin, long-fibered Japanese paper, because, as she says, “Western paper swallows light.” Her paper paintings are translucent, stating “Light is important in my work.” Indeed, the element of light adds multi-dimensionality, modulation and movement. As an installation artist, her work is often holistic and multi-layered, combining design, painting and sculpture. Professing a dislike of yellow, her use of colors also reflects her native environment: earth tones, blue for the sky and sea, grey for the winter sky, dark greys and black for the volcanic rock, occasionally even red. The colors themselves project earthiness, something real, something you feel.
Whatever form her art takes, it channels nature’s prowess. She exhibits worldwide and in each culture her installations or land art evokes varied reactions, often seen as a meditative space where people get in touch with their own inner realm, and perhaps even the universe. While Samper is in a permanent dialog with the elements, she sees her role as mediator between her audience and the powers of nature, “I hope that my work connects people to see the macro and micro-universe.” As much a physical and metaphysical idea, it is not far-fetched that an Icelandic artist would understand that inter-connectivity. In Iceland’s darkest night, you can see the vivid Milky Way and the Northern lights. Her works Cosmos and Void, for example, reflect those worlds. Maybe the Void could easily be interpreted as a wormhole to alternate dimensions. Perhaps her perspectives of the microcosm go back to her school days studying the natural world, leading her to understand that vast dimension as well.
“I hope that my work connects people to see the macro and micro-universe.”
When viewing her work, we may see elements of nature and feel our own intrinsic realities, but as in all art, each viewer brings their own interpretations. The artist described that often people are moved to tears and find a healing force in her art, which is moving and emotive. In some ways stark, barren and harsh like Iceland itself; and yet, simultaneously utterly beautiful and pure, sensitive and light. “Art is dialog with others. It speaks to what I want to say. People often feel that it is rough and yet delicate, something that brings inner balance.”
One of Samper’s striking environmentalist expressions is her land art, also known as earth-art, making sculptural compositions in nature, fitting perfectly to her philosophical relationship with the earth. The vigorous technical training she had at the Art School of Iceland came in useful in her career, especially when working on large scale, physically demanding projects. “Land art, is out in the open, using natural objects. It allows me to work in any size and scale. It’s liberating because I can take a chance at failing. It allows me to push myself as hard as possible, physically and mentally. You need to trust yourself to take it on. It directs you. You have to give it your all, to be in harmony with the space, completely different than working for an indoor exhibition. There, I work into the space and focus on the theme, thinking of the whole. In land art, the flow comes naturally. For anything I take on, my mental state needs to be good. I want to filtrate something positive.”
Samper exudes both artistic and environmental power and she is also generous in spirit. She is internationally renowned for founding, directing and curating the bi-annual Artist in Residence: Fresh Winds Art Biennale Iceland program, which brings artists from the whole world together to create. “I want to open possibilities for other artists to engage in human and artistic exchange.”
She is a virtual tour de force, as creator, facilitator, global citizen and child of Iceland.
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.