Adalsteinn Ingólfsson, catalogue 2001
Matter in Flux
In the summer of 2000 painter Guðrún Einarsdóttir took part in an exhibition entitled “Energy Centres” in the Laxá hydroelectric station in the north of Iceland. Her contribution consisted of a large circular work or tondo, made mostly out of wood and styrofoam and painted white. Like the other participants in the show, she had been given the task of making visible concepts such as “energy”, “flow”, “electricity” and “natural power”. Her solution is both simple and effective.
She builds up her circular piece as a kind of relief, with irregular forms that are scattered equally over the whole plane, creating an impression of incessant movement, of ceaseless energy. This energy is further manifested in the brilliant white of the tondo´s surface, brought out by the spotlights. Hanging as it does high above our heads, directly above one of the hydroelectric station´s turbines, the work is a palpable reminder of the greatest source of energy that we know, the sun itself. Perhaps it has always been Guðrún Einarsdóttir´s goal to find a powerful visual equivalent for the natural forces that have constantly energized her paintings.
During the first half of the 1990s, a new type of landscape painting, metaphysical and conceptual rather than descriptive, appeared on the Icelandic art scene. Guðrún Einarsdóttir´s work emerges out of that movement, yet her approach to landscape differed from that of her fellow painters. Though some of her paintings seem to contain references to a horizon or mountains, they are strictly speaking neither “of” or “about” landscape. Rather, one gets the impression that the artist really wants to simulate what happens when erosive gravity, matter and time come together to create the phenomenon we call nature, long before it becomes a culturally designated “landscape”. If Jóhannes Kjarval, Iceland´s best known landscape painter this century, had not stopped at his close scrutiny of lichen, grass and rock, if he had burrowed below the surface of the land, he would most likely have come up with similar results as his much younger colleague.
Guðrún Einarsdóttir´s work is also about matter, materia, which she sees as the source of life. Which is why, during those early years, she worked exclusively with whites and blacks, the non-colours that make colours possible. A full palette would have dissipated the effect of paint as matter. Instead of using her non-colours to cover surfaces, she treated them like malleable clay, kneaded them like dough, stacked them into thick wedges on plywood or masonite ground and then went to work on them with all manner of tools, a palette knife, pieces of wood or the wrong end of a paintbrush. The end result would be a surface that managed to suggest the instability of matter and the incessant push-and-pull of natural forces. A further bonus was the fact that the thick surfaces of these works refused to soften and dry. Thus they preserved the character and odor of a “living creation” for years.
During the last few years Guðrún Einarsdóttir´s conception of the “natural” has widened considerably. At one stage she decided that colours were an integral part of matter. As a consequence a whole range of warm and wonderful colours entered her work: extraordinary maroons, a range of bog-greens, almost ecclesiastical blue-blacks and mustard yellows. All of these colours are “natural”, yet they do not seem to correspond to anything that we have actually seen in nature. The main reason is probably that the painter has gone way beyond nature-as-landscape, to include biology-as-nature, even the wonderful world revealed by electric spectrography.
Furthermore, and as a direct consequence of her wider range of references, the artist´s conception of the nature of nature, as it were, has also changed considerably. No longer does she regard natural forces as assorted phenomena to be isolated and studied, as in aspic, but as ever-changing fields of energy, a constant flow without beginning, middle or end. Consequently she works to animate every single inch of her paintings, to make them truly “all over”, to use a painterly term.
One thinks of the Greek philosopher Herakleitos who insisted that there was no such thing as “stability”, that everything was constantly in a state of flux, forever changing into something else, “panta rei”, even its opposite. Furthermore he maintained that the only “truth” worth pursuing was the truth behind the incessant movement of matter.
Today Guðrún Einarsdóttir´s pursuit of truth takes the form of sudden assaults on time. Using a camera she attempts to stop the movement of “natural” matter for a brief second and transfer the results onto canvas in its entirety. What makes these results so fascinating is the artist´s imaginative reworking of matter. Likening it to elaborate stelae, covered with an indecipherable but mysterious script, or to an intricate spider´s web on a sunny day, or to the soft texture of finely combed fleece, she brings matter, the fount of life, into the middle of our lives.
In this holistic treatment of natural forces Guðrún Einarsdóttir contributes to the current – and very important – debate about the natural world and our place within it.
Director, Museum of Design and Applied Art