Arnar Ásgeirsson and I meet in his studio to talk about his new book of illustrations. On a table is something else he poured his soul into, carvings on giant bars of soap. I can see he has a distinct style—angular, intricate, and ancient-looking. There is also a level of absurdity to it. Carving a complex design into something as impermanent and fragile as a bar of soap has a very dadaist feel. This style is magnified in his book, wherein he explores the absurdity of how nature plays with our feelings.
“I’ve always been a chronic drawer,” Arnar says, explaining he would draw so much in school, his teachers would take all of his paper away, so he would draw on the table. “This project started like that,” he says. “The first one I drew from this series were these two entangled snakes,” he says, showing me a print that reminds me of Ouroboros. He says he remembers trying to draw how he felt when he drew the snakes. It was such a success that he kept doing it.
Capturing a mood
Every time Arnar would begin drawing, he would try to capture a mood or emotion. “But when you’re drawing so much, you’re also taking from something you see that day,” he smiles and shows me a print of another pair of snakes, tangled up together in what looks like a Celtic knot. “I remember I saw something similar to this on an Irish pub. So I tried to memorise it and draw it the way I remembered it.”
Indeed, the artists draw inspiration from many things he encounters in his daily life: Signs on pubs, tattoos in the pool, nature, animals. Arnar would take these influences and his mood that day and combine them on paper. Then he put the drawings in an order that fit a curve of emotions, starting low, going high, then back down low again.
Anyone who has spent a winter in Iceland knows that there are days of low energy and mood, where even leaving the house can feel like a chore. There is a word for this feeling in Icelandic: “lægð,” which literally means “slump.” It’s a mood that affects thousands of people throughout the country. “A lot of people ask me if I’m depressed when I show them this,” he says, laughing. “Which, I’m not.” Arnar has played with this seasonal emotion in his book by drawing ancient-looking snakes, birds, flies, and crabs in a style that is almost Lovecraftian, and juxtaposing them with chopsticks, cigarettes and smiley faces.
In this way, the prints are often dark and scary, but they also have a humorous undertone. One is a snake tangled up in itself with the caption “but chill out.” Another print is someone trying to hold onto a runaway noodle with chopsticks. Another is an ancient magic symbol with a smiley face on it. “I probably drew it wrong, which is fine,” he says with a smile.
Moving along the curve
The images also relate to one another in some ways. Some will look similar, or have the same caption. Arnar says it’s another way the book follows a curve. “You hit one point here and on the way back you hit the same point in the curve. It repeats itself. Sometimes you’re on your way up, and sometimes you’re on your way down, but you always hit the same point.”
Transmutants and Emotional Curves is available for purchase at Reykjavík Art Museum, Gallerí Port on Laugavegur, and Books in the Back on Freyjugata.
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