Paintings and Basalt
by Jens Frederiksen
With the opening of this exhibition centre, Faroese fine arts are opening their
windows to the Continent, and being here as a visitor one feels at the same
time tempted to look both in at and out of the window! When opening a window,
although in stormy weather the casement stay has to be hooked on firmly, it
is all the same possible to make conversation with passers-by, and the opening
presentation of Faroese fine arts does provide material for such a visual dialogue.
If we start by peeping through the window, we find several things of importance
on the Faroese art stage which the visitor is wise to bear in mind. The fact
that Faroese art of painting is a more recent phenomenon than that of the Nordic
or European countries has often been emphasized. Faroese art is indeed a recent
phenomenon, as it is little more than a century old.
During the first great stage of Faroese art of painting there were two fixed
points, one was Sámal Joensen-Mikines (1906-1979) and the other is Ingálvur
av Reyni (b. 1920). Both of them have been epoch-making in enlarging the Faroese
concept of classic modernism - and they have formed the axis around which the
first great wave of Faroese art of painting has rotated.
Apart from these two outstanding figures it is necessary too to draw attention
to two other great individualists. Ruth Smith (1913-1958) who was a pioneer
within the colouristic field of portrait and landscape painting and Steffan
Danielsen (1922-1976) who was like a grey echo of the former by painting the
Faroese colour world exclusively by using earth colours, and the subjects of
his paintings were invariably local.
But the picture is, however, subtler than that. Janus Kamban (b. 1913) is the
pioneer within the art of sculpture. His many ornamentations have made the art
of sculpture an integral part of the Faroese art world. His severely stylized
figurative portrayals of man and beast have expanded the Faroese world of images.
With Elinborg Lützen (1919-1995) the graphic arts became an independent
art form which enriched the artistic milieu through her all-absorbing interest
in the technique of linocut, and the result of her artistic work is of high
quality and intensity measured by any standard.
The first stage of the Faroese artistic development has been characterized
as "eruptive in growth" and with good reason too. What has often been
overlooked, however, is the fact that the situation is still much the same as
it was then. If we take stock of contemporary Faroese art, we soon realize that
the eruptive vitality of Faroese art is still expanding and developing with
Since the first great introduction to Faroese fine arts in Copenhagen in 1955,
it is no exaggeration to say that the development of Faroese art can truely
be characterized as a turbulent almost frenetic expansion and by a profound
change of the pioneer basis which we have, admittedly, outlined much too sketchily
A great many of the Faroese artists of today resent being reminded of the fact
that Faroese art is a comparatively recent phenomenon. They find such an observation
annoying as regards their artistic work, and they claim that such a statement
has no bearing whatsoever on them as artists as their frame of reference is
both local and global.
The number of professional Faroese painters, sculptors and graphic artists,
has never been larger than it is at present. This fact is noticeable as regards
motifs, techniques, and interpretations of existence, and the scope and diversity
of which are constantly growing and widening. And I for one feel the genuine
delight, energy and sentiment behind all the creativity.
On the waterfront of Copenhagen, on the wharf with the sky and old storehouses
as neighbours stands Tróndur Patursson's (b. 1944) "Cosmic Room"
(2002-3). It is a glass installation which consists of a row of polygonal glass
paintings set in steel frames. In spite of its igloo shape it immediately begins
to function as a lighthouse when it is lit up at night. A glowing symbol of
light. Not like a tower at the end of the world, but more like a reflection
of a uterus of nature at the beginning of the continent.
The cosmic- and nature-worshipping connontations of his work are, I think,
obvious, and his work is a continuation of his recent expressive works in glass
and ornamentations which he has been doing for several decades now, and which
at this very moment seem to be reaching its peak. Tróndur Patursson is,
by the way, primarily a painter and derives his inspiration from nature. His
figurative language is abstract and expressionistic. He has touched up Yves
Klein's blue colouring (Patursson's favourite colour) in a Faroese figurative
context, but on his own terms: In large monochromic works the amenity value
of the blue colour clashes with basalt-black signs and sometimes too with reflective
effect (water-/sky) which is partly caused by a glass lining fitted along the
frame which constitutes both an integral part of the painting itself and as
a dividing line between it and the frame (e.g. in his work "Inspiration
of Nature", 2000, the Faroese National Gallery, Tórshavn).
In Patursson's works of art local and global currents meet. He does not want
to renounce his roots, i.e. his native background. It has been said of him that,
no other Faroese artist has kept so consciously and stubbornly to
nature as the alpha and omega of his inspiration in his artistic work
(Finn Terman Frederiksen, 2003).
Faroese art shows the visitor yet another face in another location on the wharf.
There we meet Hans Pauli Olsen (b. 1957) who is another exponent of the art
of sculpture. With him artistic creation is neither about the play of colours
nor glass. He concentrates on the mass, on scale dimensions, space, and the
tactile of the surface. He has driven man back into art - on his own terms -
the figures are often being transformed in such a way that they have a thematically
symbolic relation. On the back of the sculture or on the pedestal itself he
often draws something; - like a narrative strip cartoon. A "graffiti"
as an integral part of his work of art. "The Fall" and "The Shadow"
are e.g. meaningful titles of two of his principal sculptures which immediately
makes the visitor aware of his preoccupation with universal motifs. The two
sculptures mentioned above have been erected in the sculpture park of the Faroese
National Art Gallery in Tórshavn.
He is, in brief, a modernistic sculptor who sets into play many different things
- in relation to man - to the artistic tradition - to the material, which on
the surface is expressive and often evokes in the visitor associations of nature.
As an artist he is still in a process of development, but his artistic achievements
have already given him a central placing.
The working title of the scupture on the wharf is "Three Look Alike".
On top of the erected three-metre tall sculpture is placed a figure in full
size (2003). In his use of cubes he is working with the subject of repetition
and with the magical figure three of the fairy-tale. His orientation is twofold;
the upward soaring movement is counterparted by the accentuation on the horizontal.
The sculpture plays massively, but in a balanced way too, against the many visual
layers of the waterfront - and the symbolic and narrative contents expand the
formal dimensions of the sculpture.
Storehouses and storehouse lofts. Brown-tinted memory images pop up on the
visitor's inner screen which transport him back in time, and which call to mind
maritime rooms before the time was out of joint. The interior is brought up
to date. I am not thinking about the architecturally transformed rooms so much
as I am thinking about the exhibitors' active conquest of the space.
The original sea and shipping connection is reflected in the reuse of canvas
which thus gives a part of the exhibition a maritime setting. Concerning scenography
it is possible to talk about "Nordic diagonals" by the way the rooms
have been arranged which bring about a break off of a monotonous longitudinal
The deliberate use of space supports tradition and renewal which on the whole
is the code word for the Faroese painting section.
Astri Luihn (b. 1949) is well-known as a graphic artist, but lately in a number
of exhibitions her work has been a cross-over between graphics and painting.
Her preferred medium is linoleum glued on wood boards on which the cutting,
the printing, and the painting take place simultaneously. An up-to-now culmination
of her work can be seen e.g. in "Bird Cliff" (2000). New very interesting
facets of her motivic fascination with the subject can be seen at this exhibition.
The visitor experiences the plates as a worked up substance. Graphic work still
seems to be predominant - light and dark are in the centre of it. Her works
are often almost monochrome in either white or black landscapes - in which the
play of contrasts between light/dark is a recurrent theme in her individual
The motifs get literally relief effects and burn strong impressions of themselves
onto the visitor's eye-lids. A kind of frieze which gives the surface form.
There is a Nordic 'sense perception' in her works: The struggle between dark
and light to assume control over the form. It is not a question of a narrow
natural illusionism in any sense of the word.
It can be said of a great deal of Faroese art - and it has been said before
- that, "
the landscape that it is, is not necessarily what it becomes
(Henrik Wivel 2003).
This description does also apply to a high degree to Bárður Jákupsson's
(b. 1944) artistic works. With-in the artistic idiom of classical modernism
he transforms the distinctive features of Faroese nature, frequently moors or
rock walls into stenographic signs. In a series of paintings Jákupsson
has especially focused on rhythm and on calligraphic impression combined with
a preoccupation with the richness of the endless shades of earth colours which
contrast sharply with black/and or some few primary colours. Lately, however,
he seems to be turning towards lighter colours - where light in the form of
yellow dominants is characteristic, e.g. such as one of his most outstanding
works "Hesperidan Coast" (1999 - The Faroese National Gallery, Tórshavn).
His outstanding decorative gifts have been utilised in a series of ornamentations
of schools and old people's homes or the like. He is also a distinguished illustrator
and an influential cultural historian who has published several art books which
have considerably strengthened the understanding of the Faroese public of the
value of pictorial art and has thus strengthened the Faroese self-awareness
as regards aesthetic and cultural ability.
Unlike the well-respected and highly esteemed esthetic expression of the slightly
older generation of Faroese artists discussed above, the artistic scope is strongly
experimental and boldly enquiring when it comes to the younger generation of
artists represented at this exhibition.
Anker Mortensen (b. 1961) the oldest of the young artists has visually travelled
far and long. He has either re-done or repainted icons in picture paraphrases
and has used and taken inspiration from the earliest known motifs of Faroese
pictorial art, e.g. in his series "The Doves of the Moon" (which are
based on the bird motifs of Tíðrikur av Skarvanesi (1810-1865). Today,
however, Anker Mortensen has reached a pictorial universe in which he studies
arabesque, ornamentation, and stylization. His use of colours is very much like
that of the East. Turquoise, cobalt blue, and emerald (green) are set up in
a complementary way to shades of curry, Naples yellow and red.
The sizes of his works are sometimes huge and in others extremely small. His
works are most often characterized by one single colour dominant. Whereas his
early works were mellow or strongly whitish bright with a yellow colour as a
dominant (e.g. "The Coming Out of the Golden Sun", 2000) his works
are now characterized by his attempt at finding new colouristic limits within
the blue-green colour chords. As we have mentioned the East, we are also obliged
to add that the ornamental subjects of his paintings often have a Nordic basis.
"Clouds","suns" and "sea" have been fixed lyrical
axes of his. The sky, the sea, and the weather have been combined in a poetical
and imaginative way. A typical title is e.g. "The Wind Blows the Way Its
Fancy Takes It" (2002), and it reminds the visitor of both Klee and Surrealism.
Hansina Iversen (b. 1966) works deliberately with motifs on either a large-size
or on a very small one, and she is the Faroese painter whose paintings come
closest to "genuine" painting. As a catalyst for her work she has
used the subject world of the international scene of art. In it she has typically
two large figures which fill up the surface in an amorphous baroque form. The
colours are transparent and applied minimalistically (reddish, black, orange,
pink against whitish-yellow colours). The centre of rotation of her paintings
is a genuinely aesthetic search for beauty.
Her paintings drive the visitor into a contemplative role - he/she is forced
to sense the contents of the surface, and the paintings remove the firmly established
concept of there being a before and a hereafter as far as motifs are concerned.
This playing down of the importance of the motif can also be seen by the fact
that she normally does not give her paintings titles, but chooses deliberately
insignificant terms like "no title". Her unique universe shows the
visitor an immediate presence which demands full attention of him/her. Time
and space are activated automatically. I do not blame you if you find my description
rather esoteric - but the reason is then largely because of my lingustic shortcomings.
In a straight-forward way her works bewitch the visitor by their simplicity
- and that side of her talent was convincingly displayed when she did a great
ornamentation on board the new ferry the Norrøna (2003). Her absorption
in "transparency" has resulted in an original perspex ornamentation
in which the colours have been applied strongly for decoration without loss
Rannvá Kunoy (b. 1975) shares some of Hansina Iversen's characteristics.
She works on a mega scale, and her art is abstract. In spite of the fact that
she is young, she has already had astounding results. She was only 24 years
old when she had her first one-woman exhibition at the National Gallery of Tórshavn.
X-rays were her source of motifs (X-Ray 1999). It was an exhibition which was
standard-setting for Faroese artists in many ways.
There is currently a mythical or media-oriented element in her work. The titles
of her works are typi-cally such as "Neverland" or "Return to
Paradise". The surfaces of her canvases are almost mono-chrome (often reddish
or orange), and the space is full of signs, frequently black or dark which some-how
reminds the visitor of a bottomless proto-colour sea. A dramatic and neo-romantic
appeal to both soaring feelings and to the sublime are fundamental harmonies
to her paintings which lead the visitor into infinite space.
The reader has by now, I hope, realized that the patchwork rug of Faroese paintings
has many patterns. What has been said above cannot, of course, do justice to
the artists or the many individual works of art, but there are some people,
hopefully, who feel like flattening their noses against the window panes of
the exhibition centre to find out more about the artists and their works. We
would have liked to give you many more profiles, but this exhibition does give
an adequate reflection of the artistic currents which are predominant in the
Faroese artistic environment of today.
On beholding Faroese pictorial art at this exhibition or elsewhere for that
matter it is more than likely that the visitor senses a hard definable common
denominator. Like Elgar's "Enigma" variations there runs too a major
dominant theme in Faroese pictorial art even though there are, admittedly, "cracks"
and "gaps". The themes are attached to "scenery" and "nature"
in the widest sense of the words. The same way as the 18 Faroe Islands rest
soldidly on a base of basalt, the Faroese artists' fundamental endeavours seem
to be an attempt at an interpretation of and an acceptance too of the fact that
"nature is larger than reality" as Per Kirkeby once pointed out.
In Danish basalt (basalt) rhymes symbolically with basalt (= basal, basic,
underlying, fundamental, elementary). It is this basic beginning Faroese pictorial
art uses as its substance. Our physical origin - geography in the widest sense
of the word.
Such an effort is not parochial, on the contrary, it is universal. Andre Breton,
an internationalist and surrealist, who was anything but a regional artist once
said that if he were to be dissected, they would find buried in him a map of
Now that Faroese pictorial art has thrown its windows wide open, its visual
signals will, hopefully, reach many of the provinces of Europe - and the map
will, we hope, without our having to dissect the individual artists - bear witness
to a world deeply rooted in the Nordic countries, but which also seeks new horizons,
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