Arranged on stark white walls, Davíð Örn Halldórsson’s newest exhibition “Ókei, Au pair” at Hverfisgallerí is a blur of poisonous, neon colours that wind themselves into symbols, splashes and dizzying designs. On the surface, you could say that the collection is a retrospective of his two and a half years living in Stuttgart, Germany. “I tried to gather most of the paintings that I made in that period, almost like a museum show: ‘The Stuttgart Years,’” the artist says, laughing. “But if I say ‘The Stuttgart Years’ it sounds like 20, right? But it’s only two.” He smiles.
But upon first viewing, it’s obvious that Davíð’s paintings do tell a story of the past, not only of Stuttgart but of the labyrinthine way each painting is made. Each detail of each piece — and there are many, many details — viscerally carries you to the physical action that forged it. “That’s an invisible theme of the show,” he nods. “[Being in a] certain time and certain place.”
This is particularly evident in a piece called ‘Balaclava.’ Davíð points to a small smudge in it. “They are layered. There is a whole painting that I sanded away to get these small elements that I built the new painting on, so it’s like three paintings in one,” he explains. In truth, ‘Balaclava’ is a hypnotising experience, covered in a series of nearly – alike purple and green symbols, brightly coloured geometrics, primitive spirals and sickly -sweet contradictions. It feels more like 50 paintings in one, to be honest. That said, with every stroke and speck, you can deftly imagine Davíð making each one of those fifty over those two and a half years.
Another example of Davíð’s material storytelling comes in the form of a large painting on the first wall of the exhibition entitled ‘Waffen und Gerat.’ “This is from the walls of my studio. I took down the wallpaper and put it on wooden paints and covered it with a new kind of epoxy,” he says nonchalantly.
But, he emphasises, he never had any intention while painting this work to ever cut it off the wall and put it in a gallery. In fact, it was never even intended to be a “work.” “[This wallpaper was] where I’d test cans or clean brushes,” he says. “That’s why I decided to take it down. It was sortof to emphasise that I’m bringing all of the paintings from this time and place back to Iceland.”
A horrible/awesome au pair
But, as the title of the exhibition indicates, where does the au pair come in? To whom are we saying “ok” to? Davíð smiles somewhat cheekily when asked about the origins of the peculiar name.
“Every piece has a title but they aren’t really that important. They are important to me though,” he says. “[Titles] are out of necessity so that makes them kind of nonsensical. But they fit — same with the titles of the show.”
“I’ve never heard someone describe an au pair as ‘ok.’ They are either horrible or awesome,” he continues. “I’m sort of demanding that you find the paintings good or bad, not just ok. And that’s why I did ‘Ókei,’ because there are so many reflections on how you can say it.” He smiles, looking down. “ I just thought it was a bit funny to walk into an [exhibition] and just say ‘ok’ in whatever tone.”
For Davíð, it seems he desires his viewers to garner their full impression of his works simply through the visual impact of the works themselves — no title or description to clue them in. “What I’m putting forward is one thousand ideas and one million actions,” he concludes. “I’m sort of letting people into my visual thought process. Everything is on display but some things are a little more hidden, some are a little more important. One thousand ideas and…” he pauses, trailing off. “Well, one thousand ideas and a few more actions.”
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