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On the Road of Life with Kristinn Harðarson

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On the Road of Life with Kristinn Harðarson

Review by Kremena Nikolova-Fontaine. Photos courtesy of the museum.

The solo exhibition Mæting/Transit of the Icelandic artist Kristinn Harðarson (b.1955) at the Gerðarsafn, Kópavogur Art Museum, immediately attracted my attention for several subjective reasons: the passion for images and text in combination, documentaries and autobiographies (especially graphic novels), and the love for any road diaries (books and movies).

As meticulously and objectively as a scientist, the artist has collected accounts of trivial events, encounters with regular people and insignificant places in the form of written notes, photographs, drawings, and paintings based on photographs over the past 20 years.

Harðarson’s work is compared to the pioneer of Icelandic landscape painting Ásgrímur Jónsson (1876 – 1958), the British Romantic painter John Constable (1776 – 1837) and the land artist Richard Long (b. 1945). (Works by Jónsson, Constable and Long are not included in the exhibition, but you can follow the provided links).

While Ásgrímur Jónsson is the first Icelander to take up painting professionally and his style is similar to the French impressionists, Kristinn Harðarson switches between medium and styles. Even though he is not self-taught, the latter also aims at an attitude of an amateur jack-of-all-trades artist.

kristinn_hardarson_maeting_painting

In the way Harðarsson takes detailed notes from observing his immediate environment, Constable did not rely on imagination and was determined to become more scientific in his recording of atmospheric conditions.

The difference is that Harðarsson is not solely interested in nature (even though no humans are visible, just mentioned, in his works) rather in every aspect of daily life, as a way of creating an endless archive of yester moments in the span of a human life.

As Constable wrote, “no two days are alike, nor even two hours; neither were there ever two leaves of a tree alike since the creation of all the world; and the genuine productions of art, like those of nature, are all distinct from each other.”

In terms of subject matter, a comparison with the romanticism of Constable’s landscapes springs into mind the most, especially in the series of ‘Untitled, 1993-1997’ paintings based on photographs and accompanied by written explanations.

For example, a red screwdriver against a typically Icelandic landscape (but we only know it is an Icelandic setting because we live in Iceland). A creek, named Willow Brook in the text, making its way through pipes, pavements and underneath houses in an anonymous American town (I only guess, the subject is of American origin because the artist had lived there in the above-mentioned period of time).

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In fact, the subject could be from any urbanized place on the planet. There is nothing emotional in the approach, but they do provoke a melancholy for the bygone romanticism of Constable’s pre-Industrial times. They are a homage to everyday beauty, where even a broken shopping cart adds mystery to the spoiled nature.

Kristinn Harðarson apparently enjoys traveling (but not necessarily on foot, the way Richard Long exclusively does) both in Iceland and abroad, as evident in the series of works displayed on the upper floor of Gerdarsafn.

You can see part of those road diaries on the artist’s website of the exhibition Mæting/Transit, but the experience of witnessing the totality of his work as an installation within the space of the museum is absolutely not comparable to just a preview on a computer screen!

What Long and Harðarsson have in common is that they both enjoy going on a trip to unpopular destinations of their own agenda.

An epic walker from the 70s, Long brings his experience of being in the open nature back into the gallery space. The meaning of his work lay in the visibility of his actions rather than in the representation of a particular landscape, so each walk is neither site-specific nor conceptual.

kristinn_hardarson_maeting_wall

As Long explains, “Thus walking – as art – provided a simple way for me to explore relationships between time, distance, geography and measurement. These walks are recorded in my work in the most appropriate way for each different idea: a photograph, a map, or a text work. All these forms feed the imagination.”

In this way, both Long and Harðarsson are avid archive-makers, using similar methods for recording their experiences, but they differ in the way they use the gallery space.

Long often employs universal and timeless basic shapes, (such as circle, line, cross and spiral). If there is any text, normally it is just short poetic sentences (often a single sentence). Unlike Long, Harðarsson prefers (not-so-simple, even though reduced to almost stick-figures) panel-frames with sequential art and short narrative text, as known from the world of comic books.

Hardarsson’s comics-inspired canvasses and wall paintings can be seen on the lower floor. When I previously said the experience of seeing his work on the spot is something special, I meant those works in particular which are downstairs and are not road-related, even though I enjoyed both types.

Mæting/Transit by Kristinn Harðarson runs until December 30, 2012.

The Listasafn Kópavogs, Gerðarsafn is located at Hamraborg 4, Kópavogur. Closed on Mondays. Free admission on Wednesdays.

Kremena Nikolova-Fontaine – kremenan (at) gmail.com

Kremena Nikolova-Fontaine is a passionate collector of art books, dedicating every spare moment to learn more about art while dreaming about having an exhibition of her own. She studied graphic design at the School of Visual Arts in Akureyri from 1999 to 2002. In college she realized that she didn’t want to be a designer or commercial artist but rather an illustrator and writer. At the moment she’s experimenting with her first graphic novel.

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