As I mentioned in my last post, while at the Reykjavik Art Museum I was directed to a hotel that had a large collection of Kjarval’s art. The story I was given was that the owner of the hotel had really liked Kjarval and that Kjarval had actually done a lot of his sketches while sitting at the hotel bar. On our last morning in Iceland, we decided to check it out. Unfortunately I forgot to take any photos of the hotel, but if you look on the website for Hotel Holt you can see photos of both the hotel and its extensive galleries.
We told the reception desk that we were looking for the Kjarval art and the very friendly man behind the desk immediately jumped up and said that he would unlock the bar area so that we could take a look around. Once inside we realized that the walls were full of Kjarval sketches- mostly portraits. Some were drawn on scraps of paper, some on cocktail napkins and some on actual pieces of paper. No matter what they were drawn on, they had been carefully framed and preserved on every square inch of the lounge and bar’s walls. Later we read that Kjarval had actually exchanged many of these drawings for meals and drinks at the hotel.
After a good look around we began to head out of the hotel when we were stopped by the man at reception and asked if we wanted to see the gallery in the restaurant as well. Bear in mind, we were not staying at the hotel and this was definitely an “upper end” hotel so for them to have gone out of their way for us like that was most impressive and very appreciated. When he unlocked the door for the restaurant, we were very glad that he had called us back. This was full of paintings, mostly landscapes, from both Kjarval and other Icelandic painters whose work I recognized. The reception desk man told us that this was the largest private collection of art in Iceland. He and my husband then began to discuss how this collection at the hotel was actually BETTER than that at the National Gallery. And it WAS better. I walked around the room stopping for a short while in front of each one, trying to remember details of technique and colours. There was one in particular that I kept being drawn back to- a large field of lava rocks created with swirls of the most unexpected colours like blue and yellow and red. But it really worked.
We left the hotel feeling glad that just as we were about to leave the country we had discovered such a great hidden gem. Goes to show you that a trip isn’t over until you are back on the plane.
This was the last of the art galleries that I visited in Iceland (well, there was one other but it was so weird that I don’t think I’m even going to talk about it).
But I plan to squeeze in at least one more new gallery before this summer is over!
When I visited the Van Gogh exhibit last month I picked up two books. The first was excerpts from the copious letters that he wrote to his brother, paired with photographs of his art. The second was this book above, which has much more in-depth text from his letters. I quickly read the first book and really enjoyed it- it was interesting to see excerpts paired with specific paintings so you got more of a feel for the inspiration behind each work and what it was he was trying to achieve.
The book I’m reading now is equally fascinating. I’m about half way through and have made some observations of Van Gogh and his life and art:
- he really was more than a little messed up in his personal and emotional life. It is kind of easy to see how he ended up a tortured soul who cut off his own ear and then took his own life
- he was one of those people who really like to make their point over and over again just to make sure that you got it the first time. In many of the letters he goes on and on for pages at a time making the same point over and over again. Usually berating his brother about something or the other. The same brother who paid his way for pretty much everything pretty much his whole adult life. I would love to read the letters that the brother sent back to Van Gogh in response but apparently they are no longer in existence.
- he really didn’t know much about art at all when he started out and it was only through lots and lots of hard work and perseverance that he taught himself everything he needed to know and developed his own style. He may have been a bit messed up emotionally but he exhibited a great degree of diligence and persistence. He never gave up, and you can’t help but admire him for that
Hoping to finish the book soon. Will let you know if my opinions change at all. For anyone interested in his art I highly recommend it as it allows you to really see what he was going for in each painting, rather than being told what “experts” and “critics” think he was trying to achieve.
Another busy weekend ahead- enjoy yours!
The second art gallery that we visited in Iceland was ‘Kjarvalsstadir’ which is one of three galleries that make up the Reykjavik Art Museum.
The building itself was not very inspiring but we finally found some good art once we got inside. The gallery focuses on the art of its namesake- Johannes S. Kjarval (1885-1972). His work is really quite fantastic. He was the first Icelandic artist to focus on all the weirdness of Icelandic nature and see it as beautiful. I particularly love his pieces where he focuses on fields of lava and all the strange colours and configurations that it can take on, depending on the weather and the season. This must have really flown in the face of all of the romanticism of nature that was seen in art at the time, but there is something very honest about his work. Yes, the Icelandic landscape can be strange and sometimes even a little eerie- but it is also very beautiful and inspiring. And, there is absolutely nowhere else on earth quite like it.
There was a beautiful book of his work for sale in the gift shop but it a) cost a small fortune and b) weighed about 700 pounds (I only exaggerate slightly). Since I had already purchased a book with several of his pieces in it at the National Gallery and had picked up a brochure of an older Kjarval exhibit, I took a pass on the book. I’m going to study what I have of his work as I think there is a lot that can be learned from his techniques and that can be translated quite nicely using yarn. Watch for a Kjarval inspired piece down the road…….
The man behind the desk at the gallery was very helpful and gave me a map with directions to a private collection of Kjarval’s work. We managed to fit in a tour of that on our last morning in Iceland and I’ll share that experience in a future blog post.
I can cross this goal off in spades as we actually went to three (arguably four- more on that in a later blog post) new art galleries on this trip.
The first was the National Gallery of Iceland. We were expecting big things from this- it being the national gallery. But we ended up quite disappointed.
There were four different exhibits: “Independent People”, “Inspired by Iceland”, “Hypnotized by Iceland” and “Endangered.” Each of the exhibits were extremely sparse- I was expecting the building to house much more art work than it does.
The first exhibit, “Independent People” was very modern and to be honest, we didn’t get it. There seems to be a real movement in Icelandic art and perhaps even in Nordic art, towards the modern and a lot of it is just…well…..strange. This was certainly not the strangest of the strange that we saw, but it was definitely out there and probably completely polar opposite to the type of art that I do which is probably why I don’t get it.
Moving on, the exhibit “Inspired by Iceland” was the only one to have any “traditional” paintings and some pieces from the 19th and 20th Centuries. I understand that Icelandic art does not have a huge history as it really only got started in more recent times but I did expect the museum to have more than a handful of paintings. For a country with such a glorious landscape and that has had some really good artists over the years it was really surprising that the walls were almost empty.
“Hypnotized by Iceland” focused on the theme of waterfalls. There were a couple of good pieces in this exhibit but nothing that I would say was particularly memorable.
And lastly, “Endangered” had one pretty cool piece. It was constructed of a series of panels that when you pulled one out you saw a picture of a different Icelandic waterfall and at the same time you heard the roar of the water from that particular waterfall. The range of sound went from fairly quiet for the smaller waterfalls to almost deafening for the larger waterfalls. The point of the exhibit was to show which waterfalls are endangered by proposals to build dams. When you saw the number of waterfalls that are at risk of disappearing, it made quite a profound statement and was quite sad.
The museum bookstore was quite good and had a number of books on different Icelandic artists. I picked up a few and have found them very interesting and inspiring. But I still don’t quite get why these artists are not represented adequately in the museum.
More later on our other art gallery adventures…some strange and some really good…
I’m back from an amazing two weeks and a bit in Iceland. We had so many adventures and so many little moments that have led to big memories that we will never forget. Love travelling with my little family- we are a real team. And love Iceland. Even though it was our third time there we are always making new discoveries and finding that there is a lot to learn. And there is still lots for us to discover in the future…..
I got tons of inspiration for new art, have ordered a load of new backing fabric and can’t wait to get started on some of my ideas!
Will be sharing some of my trip in the coming blog posts so stay tuned!