From Iceland — It's Not Easy to Make a Mark

It’s Not Easy to Make a Mark

Published May 8, 2009

It’s Not Easy to Make a Mark

Painting is undoubtedly one of the most challenging media to be working in today, due to its massive baggage of history and competition. After all, it has been declared dead numerous times by noted artists and philosophers. Painting requires skill, innovation and, as in any art form, historical awareness.
    The current show at Gallery Ágúst presents paintings by two young Icelandic artists, Marta Jónsdóttir and Magnús Helgason. Both artists’ paintings rest on the line between abstraction and representation, with a slight naïve sensibility. These two painters are taking on the historical baggage by boldly painting on canvas and utilizing a non-conceptual approach, which feels refreshing and alive.
    Magnús Helgason’s cathartic paintings are explosive and have wondrous space. His work plays with scale by manipulating speeds with drips, brushstrokes and slowed down details. Perhaps this is a technological influence from also working in the field of video art. In “Shitty Weather,” he has painted a barcode on the painting, which opens up a new sense of discovery. Magnús’ paintings smell, or should I say, reek at times, of the testosterone and alcohol of the abstract expressionists. It’s courageous and gutsy to be painting like this today, but it needs to bring something new to the table beyond banal materiality of paint and the palette. In comparison, the German born painter, Charline von Heyl, creates paintings that dance on the line between abstraction and figuration but she carves out her niche by editing her paintings and addressing the question of how to paint, instead of what or even why. Even though Magnús’ paintings are seductive in their immersive scale, colour and gestures, there is a disconnect with the outside world and a lack of a cerebral intentionality.
    Marta Jónsdóttir conjures more representational and iconic elements, yet the paintings are still obscure and full of transparent nuances. There are bizarre anatomical references in her work, where I see organs, sex and science fiction and thankfully nothing hits you in the face. Marta’s work is less about paint than Magnús’s and is more graphic and specific. Her work lies between the organic sculptures of Lynda Benglis, the linearity of Jonah Groeneboer and Mark Grotjahn and the abstract simplistic quality of the post-minimalist, Richard Tuttle. Also working in video, Marta’s paintings, particularly the smaller ones on paper, are almost like an animation of line, shapes and patterns. The rawness and immediacy of the smaller works are stronger than the bigger paintings.
    Both artists incorporate a unique sense of humour and play in their work, which is revealed in Magnús’ titles and Marta’s imagery.
    As the Swiss born artist, Ugo Rondinone, said in an interview with Doug Aitken, “if you want to be good at making art, I think an artist has to go further and know each medium’s own history. You carry a weight on your shoulders when you make art.” I’m uncertain how concerned Magnús and Marta are about this weight and its detrimental force. Even though these two artists can push the boundaries further, Marta’s and Magnús’ paintings are vulnerable and sincere, which makes it a compelling exhibition. I salute Gallery Ágúst for showcasing work by young and emerging artists, especially during these uncertain times.

  • Málverkasýning / Paintings Marta Jónsdóttir & Magnús Helgason
  • Gallerí Ágúst Baldursgata 12, 101 Reykjavík
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