Two artists—an illustrator and a photographer—have chosen to see the glass as half-full. The duo has taken to Instagram to share content that highlights the silliness of these times and infuse some colour into the murkiness of COVID-19.
A bright cartoonist
National treasure, comic artist, FM Belfast frontwoman, and a longtime contributor to the Grapevine, Lóa Hjálmtýsdóttir has been using her characteristic humour and wit to reflect on these dark times purely by coincidence.
Lóa had already challenged herself on January 1st to produce one drawing per day to post on Instagram (@loaboratorium), in an attempt to get more creative direction in her life. Then COVID-19 arrived in Iceland and the tone of her previously lighthearted comic project changed. Still, she can’t help but make light of the situation. Tapping into the global adjustment to a life spent mostly within the confines of our own homes, one of her comics features a woman in workout gear saying, “Welcome to my incredibly interesting TV channel. Now we have the morning gym class, and during lunch, I’ll interview myself about soup.”
“It’s hard to be political and funny; warm and not sappy. I’m always trying to find a balance,” she tells the Grapevine.
Change and growth
Lóa’s illustrations currently feature bright colours and stark contrasts, but they weren’t always like that. “I don’t like marrying one style for the rest of my life,” she says. “The only thing that’s constant is probably the noses.”
She believes that change and growth as an artist are good things. “My favourite thing is if I flip through old work and I find it awful,” she says. “It means that something changed. It would be so weird to look at something you did twenty years ago and still think it’s great. That means you’re stuck in place.”
“If you’re stuck as a middle-aged person [with the personality of] some 16-year-old from the 90’s’, it’s not a good fit,” she laughs, noting that her aesthetic used to skew darker and more cynical.
Lóa last attempted a comic-a-day challenge six years ago, but it petered out after a couple of months. This time, she has her sights set on continuing through to January 2021. “The best thing about doing small assignments is nothing matters,” she says. “Your idea can be shit, but because you did 30 things in a month, if 20 are awful, and 10 are okay or good, then that’s good. I like those odds.”
Light and dark
In contrast to her art’s darker origins, Lóa admits she wonders why her comics are so lighthearted these days. “I’m constantly thinking, ‘what if I accidentally cause a car crash,’ or ‘what if this plane crashes?’ I’m like a disaster machine,” She says, “Maybe it’s lighthearted now because I’m not super miserable.”
In the past, she notably collaborated with Hugleikur Dagsson, the comic author famous for such collections as ‘My Pussy Is Hungry,’ ‘You Are Nothing,’ and ‘I Hate Dolphins.’
“When I was working in his universe, because that’s very dark, I felt like I was speaking someone else’s language, and I liked that a lot.” While she is more comfortable working within her own realm, she enjoys occasionally visiting other people’s universes.
As far as creating in the age of a global pandemic, Lóa admits to enjoying it, in a sense. “I really liked not being able to go out of my house,” she says. “I didn’t have to do anything that I didn’t want to do. I didn’t have to go to meetings, didn’t have to go to unnecessary dinner parties and things that I hate, so I was pretty happy at home.”
To be clear, it’s not that Lóa dislikes other people… she just really likes her pyjamas.
Humans of Reykjavík
Baldur Kristjánsson has taken a more active approach to documenting the pandemic. Since social gathering restrictions were put in place, the photographer has walked the streets of Reykjavík by day, photographing passersby with his phone and challenging them to name one positive thing about the situation.
Baldur is a regular photographer for the Grapevine, and also works with such international titles as The New York Times and Der Spiegel, and clients like Nike. But when a pandemic was declared, many of Baldur’s projects were postponed or cancelled. In an effort to keep his head clear, he decided he would walk five kilometres a day. What he noticed was far fewer people out and about, but those he encountered were particularly friendly. “They were probably doing the same thing I was doing,” he says.
The inspiration for Baldur’s project struck when he saw an old man with his adult daughter and her child spending time together. He thought to himself that this moment might not have happened if not for the current situation. “I went up to them and said, is it okay to take a picture on my phone? I don’t know what I’m gonna do with it, but I wanna ask you one question: can you mention one positive thing about the situation?” He took the picture and carried on. Then he met another person, and another, and he kept meeting people who all had something positive to say. “It kind of surprised me how easy it was for people to mention one positive thing,” he smiles.
Accentuate the positive
To date, Baldur has posted more than 500 images to his CovidPositive series of Instagram stories (@baldurkristjans), and he plans to continue until he no longer feels joy in the act. The one positive thing he says he would take out of this situation is the project itself. He’s been a photographer for 15 years and says this is his favourite thing he’s done.
While the pandemic has inflicted a lot of harm on individuals, businesses, and the global economy at large, Baldur reminds us that it’s important not to zero in on the loss. “You can’t focus on those things,” he says. “You have to be informed, but it doesn’t help you as an individual to get sucked too deep into it. You have to put it into perspective sometimes and make the best out of it.”
“That is,” he concludes, “the only thing we can do.”
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