Inside Grotta Zine, art lives in Frosti Gnarr’s world
Everyone should have a place to exist outside of his or her own mind, which is probably why some people have kids, some write books, some make music and 28-year-old Frosti Gnarr created Grotta (“Cave”) Zine. He publishes the 30-something-page zine under the guise of ‘A forum for Icelandic artists,’ but each issue is sent out into the world as, first and foremost, the tangible manifestation of what goes on in his head when he sees art.
Frosti runs the zine with resources from Frosti Gnarr Studio, his design/creative studio, and calls it “a side project of my side projects.” Fifty print editions of each issue of Grotta are sold at six locations around 101 Reykjavik and the online version, which exists mostly on Tumblr, has more than 100,000 followers. Though the website features an oft changing mix of artists, each print edition features the selected work of just one Icelandic artist.
“I’m in essence a collector myself,” he says, “and I started it [Grotta] because I wanted to collect this art and have a zine where I could expose the stuff I like.”
The first issue of Grotta came out in June 2012 with the help of Frosti’s friend and financial/logistics guy at Frosti Gnarr Studio, Giuseppe Russo. The featured artist was Sigurður Angantýsson, whose drawings came under Frosti’s radar during another of his side projects—teaching a portfolio review course at the Iceland Academy of the Arts. Sigurður’s review came up right around the time Frosti was building up Grotta.
“I said to Sigurður, your design is fine and it works, but your art, your drawings, they are amazing, you have to do something with them,” Frosti says.
Grotta was created as the successor to ‘Frosti Magazine,’ a publication Frosti started while he was working toward a Masters in editorial design at the Utrecht School of the Arts in the Netherlands. The title of that magazine “says a lot about how I like to work,” he says. Like Grotta, it was all his aesthetic and ethos. Grotta Zine is, in every fibre of the print version and pixel of the website, Frosti’s aesthetic. The artists selected, the narrative flow of the zine, the organisation and display of the work, are all by his hand.
When Frosti returned to Iceland, with the intent to continue publishing the type of art compilation he would want for his own shelves, he felt a full magazine was going to be too much. He decided, rather, to make it a zine and traded the eponymous title for Grotta.
Frosti has since published seven print issues, the most recent of which came out at the end of December. The idea is to keep showcasing Icelandic artists who have yet to be granted great exposure, a mixture of friends in the thick artists’ community of Reykjavík and unknowns who he’s had to track down. When he discovered the photography of a man called ‘Hell Cat’ he set to work finding out the guy’s real name and where he could be found.
‘Hell Cat’ was also a pointed moment of divergent taste between Frosti and friends who weigh in on the magazine. “There were some people that were kind of apprehensive about the Hell Cat one because it’s a lot of nudity and drunk photography that’s kind of based upon the worst parts of Reykjavík,” he says. “It’s kind of this border between where is it art and where is it just nightlife photography with disgusting subjects and, with the curation of it, I wanted to show this point. It kind of all came together and it kind of made sense as art.”
Each issue takes about a month to produce and the best part of the process is culling through photos, paintings, drawings, sculptures, whatever the artist brings to him. With Hell Cat, it was sorting through hundreds of photos. In the June 2013 feature that showcased new and old drawings by the hardcore-music/art/weird collective Muck, Frosti took a more active role. The group stayed at Frosti’s studio for a weekend and played music, drew and took turns sandwiching their faces onto a Xerox machine.
“We spent a lot of time going through their stuff, like, old pizza boxes they had been drawing on,” he says. The Muck drawings on pizza boxes are like Brueghel sketches with an Oedipus complex: creature-like depictions of humans with sharp teeth, sagging faces and mostly preoccupied with one or more penises. As a feature in Grotta, the old pizza boxes saw the light of day as art. It works; it’s actually really great and hopefully Muck keeps eating pizza.
Curator Of Your Own Mind
An entire zine about your own perception of art could come off as ostentatious but Frosti pulls it off for two reasons: one, his aesthetic is interesting and original and the execution of the zine is well done. It’s not a coffee table ornament your eyes skate over; it’s a real record of real artists doing unconventional work. The second is, he’s not an ostentatious person, which is probably why he doesn’t lack artists that want to work with him in order to be featured in Grotta. As self-aggrandizing as naming a magazine after yourself might seem (Oprah), Grotta Zine today is intended to promote the artists themselves. “There was a void in arts representation, and there was a void in the representation of the art that I like. This is about exposing it.”
Perhaps over ambitiously, the zine started as a bi-weekly joint, but has now jumped the rails of stringent publication dates. Between print releases, the website is updated and added to monthly. Frosti says there is interest in Germany and the US in starting Grotta-like magazines featuring obscure, local artists from different cities, meaning the curation of art as it exists in his head could expand to bigger, distant caves.
Creating things in the likeness of ourselves is usually with the hope that others will have a clearer understanding of who we are or how we think we are. When you’re talking with Frosti about Grotta Zine, you’re also talking with him about himself. “People connect with it, or they don’t, and both are great,” he says. “It [Grotta] gets you, if you get it.”