Iceland is a country that has, in a relatively short span of time, become a strong contender in the international art scene. From the early days where the small island dominated literature with the Sagas, to life in modern-day Reykjavík where large portions of the city act as blank canvases for street artists, it’s a society that values individual expression and does its best to nurture budding artists.
All it takes is one look at the raw, untamed landscapes that Iceland has in abundance and you will very quickly understand. When you are surrounded by such phenomenal nature, it’s almost impossible not to become inspired.
A city full of sculpture
Walking through Reykjavík, you are sure to notice the vast array of art that the city has to offer and, in particular, you are bound to take note of its many sculptures. From abstract pieces like Ásmundur Sveinsson’s ‘The Face of the Sun’—outside Reykjavík High School—to more traditional pieces like ‘Man and Woman’ by Tove Ólafsson in Hljómskálagarðurinn, they don’t just add visual flair to the city—they reveal the ever-evolving story of Iceland.
One artist who is working hard to add his own chapter to this story is sculptor Matthías Rúnar Sigurðsson, whose seemingly traditional style of stone carving blends beautifully with modernist elements to create something new and unique. Currently working in the gardens at Ásmundarsalur, which sits next to the Einar Jónsson Sculpture Garden, Matthías was only too happy to share some details of his work.
Traditional work, modern twist
Matthías began experimenting with different materials in 2010, originally working with clay. He soon started to find deeper inspiration when he discovered older sculptures made from bone and stone. Soon enough, he decided to try working with these materials himself. “We probably have better tools now than they did thousands of years ago,” says Matthías, “so I could do this as well.”
Though he learned a variety of techniques during his time at art school, when it comes to his stone carvings, Matthías is largely self-taught. “I have been working exclusively with stone since 2015,” he says. “But now I am open to carving different materials. It’s the whole carving thing that interests me. It doesn’t have to be stone.”
Bringing order to chaos
In his more recent work, Matthías has moved on to an Icelandic hard rock—similar to granite—that he sources from Icelandic quarries. “To begin with, I would just find the stones around the city, by the sea or maybe from building sites,” he says. “For the past year, I have preferred to get the hard kind of stone and organise exactly what I am going to make. But recently I have been using the softer kind of stone that I find lying about, because I am much quicker at working with it.”
Matthías has a notably free-flowing style to his work. “Sometimes I might plan what I am going to do, I might sketch and get some ideas that way,” he explains. “I might just draw some pictures in my book and I try to memorise them instead of having them before my eyes while I am carving. I try to recreate those drawings, or sometimes I get new ideas while carving.”
“When you break the stone down it is kind of chaotic,” he continues. “It doesn’t have an even surface, and you may see something in that.” It is a process that clearly excites Matthías and drives his creativity.
A feline persuasion
A common theme in Matthías’ sculptural work has been cats. The reason, however, is surprising. “Cats have features that can be hard to memorise,” he explains. “For one year I just made cats—expressions of the cats I like. It’s a unique challenge actually. I might do a few cat sculptures and then do something else in-between.”
Matthías explained that there are no rules to what he does, aside from wearing a mask to avoid breathing in the stone dust. “The most difficult part of doing this is to just start doing it,” he explains, stressing that the process requires patience. “While you may not see results right away, if you are persistent with it then the piece will eventually come through.”
Sculptures: the next generation
As he showed off some of his latest work, Matthías explained that he takes inspiration from the tales of Icelandic folklore and a lot of indirect inspiration from the Icelandic Eddas, which he has read many times. Interestingly, many of the figures in his sculptures, while animalistic in nature, have been given anthropomorphised features.
With Matthías’ hand-carved creations becoming increasingly popular and growing—as rapidly as can be expected—in number, it’s certain that his chapter of sculpture in Reykjavík will be one that stands out.
Check out Matthías’ work online by clicking here and in real life at the Ásmundarsalur museum.
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