Reykjavík Of Yore: A Towering Artist - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Reykjavík Of Yore: A Towering Artist

Reykjavík Of Yore: A Towering Artist

Valur Grettisson
Photos by
Art Bicnick
Ljosmyndasafn Reyjavikur

Although we at Grapevine can be cynical about art, life and the purpose of everything—some people even think we are disrespectful or flat out rude about these things—there is one guy we deeply respect.

The sculptor Einar Jónsson has carved the Icelandic soul into rocks, metal and plaster, and his work is absolutely stunning in every respect. The self image of Icelanders is found in his dramatic statues, such as the one of Leifur Heppni, which stands in front of Hallgrímskirkja, or the ones portraying ancient folkloric material. Through his beautiful statues, Einar captures what looks like a complicated dialogue with the old gods.

Einar was born in 1874 and in his youth, it quickly became clear that he was not like the other sultry farmers, who could only remember a verse or two from the Icelandic Sagas—he was more poetic than that. At the time there was no tradition of sculpture in Iceland, which is no surprise for a nation that lived in turf houses until the middle of the 20th century.

The Icelandic government realised that the artist was on the next level, so they sponsored him to go Denmark and Italy to learn his craft. He came back 20 years later and struck a deal with the government. In exchange for a home and a workshop, he would donate all his work to the Icelandic nation. This is perhaps one of the most important cultural negotiations this country ever made. Einar’s workshop is now a museum in Skólvörðuholt, near Hallgrímskirkja. And to this day, in the summertime, people still go to the park, drink a beer or two, and play with they’re children, surrounded by the mind-bending, towering statues of a true genius.


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