“They asked me in Stykkishólmur if I was getting good motivation from the mountains,” Þórdís Aðalsteinsdóttir tells me, as we stand before a softly menacing painting of a fragile woman with bruised knees. Instead of completing the sentence, she half smiles and looks up at her painting. Then she softly mutters “I just stayed inside.”
Aðalsteinsdóttir, in her late 20s and dressed as though she is making a cameo in a Wes Anderson movie, looks overwhelmed by her own exhibit at Gallery 101 in downtown Reykjavík. It is hard to believe that she is responsible for the nine paintings on the wall, all composed with such understanding of tone and nuance that one would think they required decades to create. But all these paintings are recent, painted in the last three months in Iceland.
I ask her why she left Iceland to paint in New York, where I first discovered her work this winter.
She tells me the change in the environment was essential. And the new views, so many more points of view in New York.
It seems like a lot of New York got into your paintings, I tell her. There is a distinctly modern urban feel.
“Yes, I would say there’s a lot of New York in my painting. It’s funny, because in Chelsea they talked about how there’s so much space in Iceland, and that’s why I have so much isolation.”
The effect of Aðalsteinsdóttir’s work is so overwhelming, that I understand the why critics might look for some explanation for her otherworldly feel. Why, for example, does that monkey in the blanket both soothe me and spook me? And why is a monkey in a blanket mounted next to a picture of a man draped over a counter with the angled cool of … well, of Ethan Hawke?
“I was thinking of the moment when things have totally gone wrong, but they’re also connecting moments. Sometimes those moments are exactly when you feel totally alive,” Aðalsteinsdóttir suddenly tells me as we both look at one of her larger works, “Preparations for a Hare Stew.”
Þórdís Aðalsteinsdóttir’s exhibit will be on display at 101 Gallery from July 8 until September 9 2005. She will then exhibit an outdoor work in St. Louis, Missouri on October 8.