“The paintings were all done on La Réunion, which is an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, just off the coast of Madagascar,” Almar Atlason says, motioning to the series of large, colourful works that dot the walls of Mutt Gallery behind him. He’s in the midst of his newest exhibition, entitled ‘Funeral at the beach’, which will be up at the gallery until May 16th. “It’s about as far away as you can get from here on a European art grant,” he laughs.
Almar Atlason & the fear of colour
“The amazing graphic designer Gréta Þorkelsdóttir taught me about chromophobia—the fear of colour—where everything that is not black, white, grey, or beige is savage art. It’s less refined and worse,” Almar explains. “This exhibit as a whole is just experimenting with colours, taking away all the fanciness. What can you do with simple lines and colour without the malerei, as they say in German? How can you create and portray feelings?”
Laughing, he points to an explosive, bright yellow and orange painting entitled ‘Manneskja með kaffi’ (‘Human With Coffee’), which hangs on the left wall of the gallery. A boxy, prismatic work that, Almar explains, has by far been the most popular of the exhibition so far, it’s an effort that instantly transports the viewer into a hopeful world of blazing sunlight and warmth—potentially representative of the island on which it was painted. On it—as you might have guessed—a chunky figure walks towards you holding a coffee.
“This is a good example of what I’m trying to do with portraying feelings, and probably the only positive emotion in the exhibition,” Almar says. “I have a friend and whenever I see him, I know I’m safe—if only for 15 minutes. So I wanted to capture that feeling of just seeing someone on the street and feeling like you’re at home.”
Along with this focus on feelings, this exhibition also continues Almar’s ongoing obsession with symbols. “I have this extremely weird fascination with symbols, so many letters, words, and obvious symbols work their way into these works. It’s not my doing, it just happens,” he shrugs.
Grinning, he walks towards a painting in the back room of the gallery, ‘Stóll, barn og þrjár manneskjur’ (‘Chair, Baby and Tree Humans’). At the bottom, written in stocky, rumpled handwriting, lie the lyrics of “Everytime” by Britney Spears. For those unfamiliar with the track, it’s considered Britney’s most personal and painful one. In the video, she famously commits suicide due to the pressures of fame. “That is the best song that has ever been written and has been featured in all my exhibitions,” Almar says; his voice jovial in spite of the dark song. “It is the height of beauty.”
An exploration of pain
Because under the surface, like “Everytime”, Almar emphasises, the exhibition deals with pain. In fact, he’s reluctant to dive deep into his works and even asks if we are allowed to discuss certain topics in the Grapevine. He asks this because the one he will openly dissect is ‘Tvær manneskjur og veggfóður’ (‘Two Humans and Wallpaper’), which was inspired by the drawings that children make at police stations when they are describing domestic violence. “The hands are always super big,” Almar says starkly, explaining the skewed proportions of the figure in the work. “And there’s maybe a beautiful sun and a dandelion and then a haphazardly drawn brutally violent scene in the corner.” Looking at the art and you’d never guess it was inspired by something so tragic—it’s a cartoonish work, but it’s this dichotomy that is completely representative of the absurd world Almar creates. One where pain is found in both trivial pop songs and the horrors inside police stations.
Because Almar’s art—even when it’s bright and beautiful—is always underlined by a soft undercurrent of suffering. And these feelings are, he explains, one of the primary factors behind not only this exhibition but also his pilgrimage to La Réunion as a whole.
“If I kill myself every day 1,000 times in my head, why not do it somewhere where it is not cold and horribly expensive? Why not have a party funeral every night?” he asks, referencing the name of the series with both a shrug and a smile. “This has always been one of my fascinations—the beauty in the sadness.”
‘Funeral at the beach’ by Almar Atlason will be open until May 16th, 2021.
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