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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.

The Faroese nature.

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 unreduced speed.

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 above.
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 Faroese nature. A faroese Puffin bird.

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 axis.

The Faroeses nature. The Church in Haldarsvík

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 works.

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 of refinement

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.

The Faroese Nature. Faroese Sheeps

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 Brittany.

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, new sceneries.

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