Le Madonelle

The smile of Madonna greets me every morning when I get out on my balcony with a cup of coffee. The painting in an oval frame is situated on the corner of a house at a small intersection of two streets and is in direct line of my vision. Its colours are darkened with time but the image is still clearly visible, and people do stop in front of it from time to time.


There are many similar themed paintings along the streets and piazzas of Rome – they are called Madonelle (Little Madonnas) in reference to their small size. Some of them are well cared for and others  – are  neglected, but all of them were placed there initially for the protection of passerby.

From all the images of iconography- hers is the most familiar and the most relatable to me. Her life is ordinary and magical at the same time. The stages of it are familiar to many women – a girl, a maiden, a wife, a mother, a woman of a certain age, and are well documented.

The miracles that happened in her life – the visitations of the angels which preceded her becoming the Mother of God and later the Queen of Heaven inspired numerous artists – but they didn’t relief her from suffering. She endured the tragedy of losing her child and that alone forever connects her with the world of people. No wonder that she has been one of the most popular subjects of art for centuries

The major place that Virgin Mary has been occupying  in collective conciseness is often reflected in the color of her clothing – most always she wears blue which  not only symbolizes her connection to Heaven, but  happened  to be the most expensive colour in artists’ palette in the Middle Ages reserved for the most important images.  It was derived from ground lapis lazuli, a precious mineral imported mainly from Afghanistan.

Mary carries many titles – most of them emphasize her Status as the Mother of God and the Queen of Heaven, but some – are more lyrical and closer to earth: Our Lady of Sorrow, Madonna of Humility, Madonna del Latte, Madonna del Roses. And then there is  Stella Maris/Our Lady, the Star of the Sea that has been in use from the 9th century and is shown in images by placing the star in her clothing.  The title underlines her role as a sign of hope and as a guiding light of mankind, but there is certain familiarity in it –  after all each of us one time or another stared at the stars of the evening sky, admiring their mystery and light.

Fragment of Madonna of the Shadows, c.1450 Fra Angelico

 Referring to this title Saint Bernard of Clairvaux wrote in the 12th century :

If the winds of temptation arise, if you are driven upon the rocks of tribulation

Look to the Star, call on Mary:

If you are tossed upon the waves of pride, of ambition, of envy, of rivalry,

Look to the Star, call on Mary.

As I walk the streets of Rome, I mentally greet each of the Madonelle –  silent witnesses of our present and our past.

Greetings Madonna, I see you.





During the past months I have been seeing a lot of art related FB posts where the art images are used for compilations to address the changes in our everyday living brought by CoranoVirus or “recreate some famous paintings” challenges.  This tendency highlights the importance of art especially in  stressful times. Visual images are the ones that anyone can understand and they transcend different backgrounds or languages. I think it is also more engaging than pure texts because they are easier to grasp – by now we are very much used to moving images of news, films, emojis, GIFs, etc.

It made me think of art and how its role in my own life.

For the longest time I thought of  artists as superheroes who have magical ability to transform pedestrian objects  into pure magic. With their touch the words were able to lead me into  adventures or describe precisely what I long for, the paintbrush elevated the ordinary life into dreamy images , the music notes arranged themselves into auidio images of various moods.

It was always something to admire, to learn about, to share that knowledge with others.  I never thought of partaking in its creation.

Early in my childhood I was told that I didn’t have a music bone  in my body and my attempts to draw simple geometrical forms during school classes were pitiful.  I knew I  I had the way with words but I never thought that I could be good enough to devote myself to them as a vocation. That was the theme at that time in my country – if you are not good enough why bother? Why would you try to sing, to draw, to write if you are not planning to make a living out of it. And if you are not good enough to make a living  out of it – why are you wasting your time?

So, I  firmly limited myself to being an admirer.

And then little by little my attitude started to shift. At first, there was a discovery that all the artists are mere humans, talented,yes, even  brilliant at times, but always flawed like the rest of us.

Secondly, I started to notice that in fact I were able to capture a melody with my voice very closely – not always, not even often,  but I could and in such instances I got compliments. This completely shattered the notice of being musically dead. Challenged yes, but not dead.

My writing even in the adopted language were good enough to have some published art reviews, and I grew more confident in this field too,  but the art of drawing remained elusive. I dabbed into it through the years, picking up the basics of ink painting, and re-creating with pencils some of the Japanese designs. I did have to have a picture in front of me at all times- there were not enough skills, but mostly not enough courage, to deviate.

And then we came to Rome, where little by little I started to draw almost every day. What was the trigger? Why now I find myself drawing every day? And more curiously, I  don’t even mind to share my childlike images with people?

During the summer in the US I picked up a notebook that had both blank and lined pages, and that when the desire for creative expression kicked out all the hesitation. In the evenings I started to put my gratitude on the lined pages, and across from it – trying to capture my mood or a thought in drawings. At times it was just colouring of the page, sometimes I draw an object of the house, at times I looked up the instructions on how to draw this or that, and sometimes I drew from the photographs taken earlier in the day.

There is no hidden agenda – I am not preparing myself to life of the artist, I am doing it just because of the sheer joy of drawing. It helps me to think, to sort through the day, it calms my mind, it stretches my creativity. The proportions are wrong, and the perspective doesn’t exist but it is not really a point – I feel like I finally answer the urges of the creativity.

There is no hidden agenda – I am not preparing myself to life of the artist, I am doing it just because of the sheer joy of drawing. It helps me to think, to sort through the day, it calms my mind, it stretches my creativity. The proportions are wrong, and the perspective doesn’t exist but it is not really a point – I feel like I finally answer the urges of the creativity.

Practice any art, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.” Kurt Vonnegut




A small but beautifully executed exhibition “Muse” is on display in the D’Aguilar Art Foundation. I wanted to visit that place for a long time but with it is being opened for public on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I haven’t done it before.

As I stepped in the exhibition hall, the smile settled on my lips because paintings, beautiful paintings were greeting me from the walls. Not installations, not collages, not ready-mades but paintings. And, not politically charged ones at that but the ones that let your soul rest in appreciation of beauty. That was the first pleasant surprise.

The second surprise came with realization of the concept of that exhibition. Several paintings of Brent Malone (1941 -2004), who was often called the father of the Bahamian art for his role in the development of visual art in the Bahamas were selected as points of inspiration and reflections for a quintessentially contemporary and much younger artist Allan Pachino Wallace (1979 – present). Two painters who inhibit  very different worlds: the elder one lived in a much slower world  where primary sources of stimulus came from books, movies, travels, and direct contact with art, and the younger one – whose daily life has been saturated with information and images in much higher density and who has been actively using modern social media to display and popularize his art. Interestingly, both artists traveled to Europe for studies, and there is a high possibility that they did see the same works of art, albeit more then fifty years apart.

Let’s take a closer look at “Earth Sea Sky” by Brent Malone that was seemingly inspired by traditions of Gothic art.  He creates his painting it the shape of a triptych. Triptychs were usually found in the churches or cathedrals and served devotional purposes. Following the tradition, Malone uses wood not canvass, keeps the central panel larger than the side ones, paints a continuous background of sea and sky through all three panels, and saturate them with objects that carry the symbolic meanings. But every feature carries an individual print of the artist’s psyche. The arms of a  a young woman that is in the heart of the painting are positioned  in a very modern gesture of openness and acceptance. Instead of traditional halo a mane of black hair decorated with beautiful flowers framed her face.  There is a lizard at the feet  which symbolizes a good fortune in many countries and as I was told is a symbol of fertility or riches in the Bahamian one. There are butterflies and conch shells on the side panels. The image of the butterfly that is born a caterpillar, turns into a cocoon, and later morphs into a winged insect was often seen as a reflection of our spiritual transformation or a sign of new beginning. And of course, butterflies are natural fauna here.

If you look at the lower planes of the painting you may notice  aloe plants that can be  often  in people’s yards here. Similar to butterflies the plant often represents resurrection, due to  its ability to heal itself or come back from the dead.

And, one cannot miss the shells. Those  are often connected with Aphrodite/Venus. According to the myth she was born out of sea foam and carried gently on a shell to Cyprus, one of the main sites devoted to her cult.  She was carried not on any shell but on a conch- shell which “can navigate, and by offering their concave part to the wind, sail across the surface of the sea.” Conch are very popular in the Bahamas: their meat is used in various dishes and their shells as decorations.

Brent Malone
Brent Malone “Earth Sea Sky”

“Earth, Sea, Sky ” can be easily read as a loving homage to  the artist’s homeland.

Using Malone’s triptych as a point of inspiration and keeping a motive of openness that is so pronounced there, Allan Wallace creates an actual portrait paying homage to natural beauty and femininity.

Alan Pachino
Allan Pachino Wallace “Jupiter”

We are all products of numerous influences and this lovely exhibition offers glimpse of that  complex web.


More on Brent Malone – Brent Malone

More on Allan Pachino Wallace – Facebook ; InstagramSalt Portraits

Speaking of Nassau.

Nassau is a very touristy place with a lot of souvenir stores,  market places where the similar souvenirs are sold and of course many many hotels. According to tourismtoday.com there are 53 hotels in Nassau and Paradise Island combined. For a very long time hotels around the world use the works of art to decorate and enhance their atmosphere. Some of them are even double as art galleries, for example the Dolder Hotel in Zurich, Switzerland that  has works of Salvadore Dali, Joan Miro, Henry Moore to name a few.

So it is only logical that the newest and grandest of Nassau’s hotels Baha Mar uses the work of the local artists to introduce tourists to the culture of the Bahamas. Its art gallery ” The Current” tirelessly works on popularizing the works of young arts and art in general through exhibitions, classes, residnecy and artists’ talks.o

One of their artists,  Steffon Grant, has his first solo exhibition in the nearby hotel Melia. He named it “By the Way” musing on the fact that his works can be viewed by visitors who simply pass by.

New Start?

Yesterday I cImagehanged the name of the blog to “Let’s talk about art”. A comment awaiting approval prompted me to look at the blog where I haven’t written for more than two years. Originally it was started as a storage place for my art reviews that I did duirng our posting in Iceland. Yesterday I re-read them and realized that those were not bad – there was passion, interest in art there and it did come through the words. Since then we moved to a different country, lived there for two years and then moved again.  Two short months after arrival to our new destination, on the eve of my birthday my mother had a heart attacked and died after a week in a hospital. I haven’t been able to feel quite myself ever since. What kept me moving was an art program that I enrolled in in the local Fine Arts Museum. The theme was Gothic Art – not my favourite, I have to admit. But the more I learnt about its history and little details, the more interesting it became. Studying for the exams  I felt a long lost desire to share my new discoveries, so why not to write. Here is it – my favourite painting of my Gothic Tour..

It is “The Coronation of the Virgin”  from the workshop of Duccio di Buoninsegna. I like the elegance of it and lyrical mood, I like how back in 1310 he managed to show a hint of moment – Mary’s right hand isn’t yet quite on her chest, it is just getting there – but most of all I like the warmth it radiates. It is so easy to imagine this panel in the glow of a church’s candles instead of the museum.

Life in Art

The Kjarvalsstadir branch of the Reykjavík Art Museum is holding a retrospective exhibition of Bragi Ásgeirsson (1931- ), an artist who is often credited with popularization of printmaking in Iceland. During his career, he has explored different styles, manners, materials and techniques. The present exhibition “Visual Symphony” features his work from the early 1950s until present time.
Bragi Ásgeirsson (1931- ) is a person, who through being an artist, an art teacher and an art writer, devoted his life to art. “Visual Symphony” reflects not only on his artwork but also on his role as an art educator, who with endless energy stimulated the interest of students and the public at large in art and its values.
Review by Victoria Cross, photos courtesy of Kjarvalsstadir Museum.

General View of the exhibition.

The exhibition presents around 100 works of Bragi Ásgeirsson; their placement—the works spill out from the halls to a corridor, from corridor to the walls of the cafeteria area—is a testament of his fecund career.

By turning left from the main entrance of the museum, visitors are brought to a little room, covered from top to bottom with newspaper pages of Bragi Ásgeirsson’s articles or articles about him—a very direct way to represent the volume of his writing.

When Ásgeirsson started to write about art or cultural happenings on the international arena in the early 1960s, Icelanders didn’t have much access to such topics. But through his words and eyes the exhibitions of Paris, Germany and Norway came closer to home; the faraway mysterious places like China or Japan became more familiar.

Leafing through the collection of his articles and family albums, you feel as if you are holding history in your hands. Feeling Ásgeirsson’s passion for art makes it even more enticing to see what his paintings are like.


“Ljósbrot” (“Refraction”), 1991; “Hryn,” 1990-2001; “Klidur i Vori” (“Ripple in Spring”), date absent.

 The exhibition of Ásgeirsson’s artwork is divided into four periods: formative years (1947-1954), the years of printmaking and geometric abstractions (1955-1960); assemblage period (1960-1980) and return to painting (1980-present).

Like many Icelandic artist, Ásgeirsson’s started his art education in Iceland (Icelandic College of Art and Crafts) and continued it in Europe, at first in Copenhagen and later in Oslo.

To compliment his studying and get acquainted with different cultures, Ásgeirsson traveled to Rome, Florence and Grenada. He entered the art stage in a very exciting period when the world had just recovered from the devastating war and a sense of collective exhilaration, at what seemed be the dawn of a new era of possibilities, was still in the air.

The works created by Ásgeirsson in his formative years mirror the broad variety of styles existing in the art world at that moment. This is interesting to observe in his treatment of female forms, to which he returned again and again in different manners from realism to cubism. One also cannot help but noticing his keen sense of color and desire to experiment with it.

“Fyrirsæta” (“Model”), 1950.

 During his studies in Norway and Denmark, Ásgeirsson discovered printmaking, an art form that wasn’t widely practiced in Iceland. Upon returning home he became one of the leading experts in this field.

At the same time Ásgeirsson explored the world of abstractions, which flourished in the 1950s. He chose to concentrate on the geometric abstractions. From 1958 to 1960 he studied under the mentorship of a prominent artist of this genre, Jean Jacques Deyrolle (1911-1967), although his earliest geometric abstractions appeared as early as 1955.

“Kyrrd” (“Stillness”), 1960; “Myndbygging” (“Structure of a Picture”), 1960.

 Geometric abstraction is an exceptionally interesting genre because each viewer responds, visceral and reflectively, very differently to the various colors, scales, visual rhythms and moods of different paintings.

If you look at the 1955 painting “Dagur himinsins/Himinleikur,” you notice that three white rectangulars, varied in sizes hold the focus of the composition. Each of the rectangulars hold the yellow-colored shapes, which suggest the source of light.

Ásgeirsson uses stripes of different width to accentuate each rectangular. The different directions of the stripes (horizontal in the lower rectangular and vertical in the upper ones), and their varied width, create a very different effect on the colored shapes inside them. (It is interesting that he uses stripes in this early work because later in the 1960s it became very popular among avant-garde artists to create so-called stripe paintings with Gene Davis being the most prominent example of this genre.)

The use of the diagonal lines creates a sense of movement as well as a placement of the rectangulars slightly off center. The red color elements serve as a divider of the plane of the painting and since the bright color inevitably attracts our attention, we shift our gaze following it, which bring our eyes to the upper level of the painting towards vibrant blue and yellow.

Although it is a non-presentational painting, the arrangement of colors and shapes suggest the sky, the sun and movement. Unexpected details like playful black and white dots here and there create a carefree mood.

Every art work is a mini-ecosystem. If you remove all the stripes from the rectangulars or imagine unmodulated red instead of different shades of it, the balance of the composition will change entirely. Looking at other geometric abstractions in the hall, you will notice that the artist was constantly experimenting with different colors, shapes, proportions, and arrangements, honing and intensifying skills he had already possessed.

“Dagur himinsins/Himinleikur” (“Day of the Sky/Sky Play”) 1955.

 The hall on the left is devoted to the assemblage period of Ásgeirsson’s work, which he approached with same creativity and zest as his geometric abstractions. The work presented in this hall belongs to a different kind of abstract art where “found objects” (shells, stones, pieces of fabric, bones, toys, etc.) are incorporated in the picture plane.

Most of these objects were found on the Selsvör beach, by the artist and his children. Again, the artist effortlessly engages the viewer and coaxes him in coming closer for further inspections. Two portraits, “Madame X,” 1977 and “Frúin ofeimna,” 1978, stand out among other pieces. The focus of the faces are on scarlet lips while other traditional features like nose and eyes, which give character to a face, are missing.

Those portraits can be viewed as an ironic take on commercial beauty as a form without substance. I was drawn to the vivid blue of the “Madame X” dress. It looked as a gorgeous lace from afar. Up close I discovered that it consists of broken toys, springs, zippers, and sea weed. In a spirit of “parting with tradition,” Ásgeirsson did not sign this work in the corner as usual, but put the first letter of his name, “B”, as a medallion on the Madame’s necklace.

“Madame X,” 1978.

After the end of the 1970s, Ásgeirsson returned to experimentations with colors and shapes. In his most recent works he explores the possibility of a singular color, using its different shades, various strokes, and texturing.

“Rautt i raudu” (“Red in Red”) 2006.

“Visual Symphony” is a very well organized exhibition, which creates a wonderful retrospective for those who are familiar with and fond of the work of Bragi Ásgeirsson and a great introduction for those who are not familiar with his art.

Photo portraits of Bragi Ásgeirsson.

The exhibition is on display until November 16.

Tel: (+354) 517-1290
Flókagata, 105 Reykjavík
Open daily 10 am to 5 pm
Free admission

Unfulfilled Promise

 September 29 | Unfulfilled Promise: The Pleinairism Exhibition in I8 Gallery

For its “pleinairism” exhibition, I8, one of the oldest galleries in Reykjavík, gathered together 38 artists from different countries, who work in different media, are of different ages and are at different stages of their professional careers. The title “pleinairism” refers to the technique of working outside under natural light, and the exhibition explores the meanings of this concept in modern times.

What do you envision when the press release for an exhibition has the word “pleinairism” in its title? For those who are familiar with art, the light saturated paintings of Renoir, Monet, or Alfred Sisley will immediately spring to mind.

What do you expect when on top of the ambitious title the gallery promises to show the works of 38 artists, among them such established ones as Hreinn Fridfinnson, Ólafur Elíasson, Ragnar Kjartanssson, Peter Diog, Fransis Alÿs and Tacita Dean to name a few?

Courtesy of the gallery.

My high hopes were shattered as soon as I saw Peter Doig’s work. He is a well-known artist, whose first retrospective exhibition was shown in London this spring. His painting “White Canoe” was sold at auction last year for GBP 6.1 million (USD 11.1 million, EUR 7.7 million), which is quite a record for a living European artist.

This gave me reason to expect some high quality art. Doig’s work is represented by four pieces in a series called “Swimming Heads.” Considering his credentials, the quality of the work presented is, to put it mildly, puzzling. A few half-hearted childlike strokes on an otherwise bare surface was not what I expected.

“Swimming Heads,” 2008 by Peter Doig.

A look around the exhibition shows that most of the artists offered pieces that are very different from their typical styles. Ólafur Elíasson, who usually works with installations and large-scale immersive environments, is represented by an unusually modest series of drawings—“Tilted Light and Grey Disks.”

Tacita Dean, who has worked with different media but is best known for her 16mm films, presents snippets of text from her notes of 1986/1987. Ragnar Kjartansson, who has been chosen to represent Iceland at the Venice Biennale in 2009, takes a similar approach, offering his open Moleskine notebooks to viewers.

The idea had a much more interesting angle when it was posted on YouTube as part of the Detour exhibition. There you were able to see the pages turn and the sketches come alive before your eyes, but at this exhibition Kjartansson’s notebooks are simply notebooks, lacking depth and vitality.

“Sketchbooks,” 2001- 2006 by Ragnar Kjartansson.

The brochure that accompanies the exhibition states, “The exhibition ‘pleinairism’ is, with some exception, a selection of work on paper by artists, most of whom are rarely associated with plein air activity.”

It was indeed truly interesting to observe the flights of fancy of the participating artists. There are watercolors drizzled by rain, drawings on the bark of a birch tree, cutouts from a magazine arranged in an erotically charged collage, a paint trail left by the corpse of a bird on a bright yellow napkin, insects glued to paper, texts both handwritten and typed, paintings, photos and sketches.

General view of the exhibition; photo: copyright Valdís Thor. 

My personal favorite in this regard is a patina* painting by Karen Sander. In the words of the author, “The primed image carriers are taken, without prior manipulation, to a selected location and remain exposed there for a period of time to be determined. This process of absorption can continue infinitely or be interrupted at some point. Duration, the name of the location […] determine the painting and provide its title.”** You can judge by the title, which is “1 hour rain,” what had been done with the canvas this time.

“1 hour rain”, 2007 by Karin Sander.

But if most of the aforementioned techniques are amusing there is one piece of ready made that left me wondering about its author and the reasons why it would be included in the exhibition, aside from the fact that the artist, Elín Hansdóttir, is represented by the gallery.

It is a receipt from a store in Berlin. It strikes me as a galling attempt to convince the public that anything at all can be called art as long as an artist insists that it is so. On the bright side, there should not be any arguments about the cost of this work of “art.” It is stated plainly on the receipt itself.

“Receipt,” 2008 by Elín Hansdóttir.

There are some traditional offerings like ink drawings by Oliver Lutz, two small sun-lit paintings by Fransis Alÿs, a watercolour of Johanna Fauerso and photographs by Jeremy Deller and Michael Snow. They provide a lively contrast to the more perplexing pieces and keep the viewer engaged.

“Lapin,” 2008 by Michael Snow.

You cannot speak about the “pleinairism” exhibition without mentioning the contribution of Hreinn Fridfinnsson, a classic of Icelandic conceptual art. His photographs “Studies for Drawing a Tiger” were especially interesting to me. Two photo images are shown side by side—the author as a child and again as an adult caught in the act of drawing.

To me these images symbolize the promise of the exhibition to explore the connection between past and present, artists of different generations, form and substance. Technically the exhibition fulfills this promise—there are artists of different generations present; some pieces on display are more then ten years old while some are brand new; each artist was offered cart blanche to explore the topic—but the results sadly stress quantity over quality.

“Studies for Drawing a Tiger,” 1971 by Hreinn Fridfinnsson.

All in all, “pleinairism” is an interesting exhibition in the sense that it is obviously inviting viewers to an open discussion on what is considered to be art in modern times, on where to draw the line that prevents art from becoming a self parody.

If the goal of the exhibition, on the other hand, was to introduce some new artists to Iceland, some of the choices of works are questionable at best. Considering the fact that it is held in one of most respected galleries in Reykjavík, this exhibition was disappointing to me; I expected higher standards from I8.

The “pleinairism” exhibition is on display until October 26.

Gallerí I8
Klapparstígur 33
101 Reykjavík
Tel (+ 354) 551 3666; (+354) 690 5706
Open Tuesday to Friday, 11 pm – 5 pm
1pm – 5 pm Saturday and by appointment

* Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines “patina” as: a) an usually green film formed naturally on copper and bronze by long exposure or artificially (as by acids) and often valued aesthetically for its color, b) a surface appearance of something grown beautiful especially with age or use.

** The quote from Karen Sander was taken from a press release of her 2005 “Gebrauchsbilder” exhibition at Galerie Nordenhake, Berlin, Germany



Journey to Abstraction

Journey to Abstraction: “The Shape of a Line” at the Reykjavík Art Museum – Ásmundarsafn

Review and photos by Victoria Cross.

Ásmundarsafn is one of the most delightful museums in Reykjavik. Its collection isn’t trendy or edgy by modern standards, but the building itself, the sculpture garden around it and the pieces exhibited inside create a peaceful oasis in an otherwise ordinary neighborhood.

This branch of the Reykjavík Art Museum is devoted to the work of Ásmundur Sveinsson (1893 -1982), one of the most prominent Icelandic sculptors.

The building, located on Sigtún, is hard to miss. Its white dome, framed by two pyramid-like wings and the crescent-shaped gallery at the back command the viewer’s attention. Its outlines are especially striking against the blue sky.

Sveinsson, who worked and lived here, designed the building, inspired by Greek and Egyptian architecture. After his death, both the building and his collection of sculptures were donated to the City of Reykjavík.

View of the Museum.


The current exhibition of Sveinsson’s work, “The Shape of a Line,” concentrates on a period of his life during which he focused almost exclusively on abstract art. The earliest piece presented was made in 1947 and the latest in 1965.

If you consider in what year the house was built you will see that its construction dates back to the same period as Sveinsson’s exploration of abstraction.

The sculptor started the construction of the house in 1942 and its expansion continued into the beginning of the 1960s. Therefore, the building becomes not just a space for holding Sveinsson’s art work, but can itself be considered a part of the exhibition.

Interestingly, one statue doesn’t fit into this time frame. It is “The Water Bearer,” from 1937. For me it has come to represent the transition between Sveinsson’s figurative work and abstraction. One can clearly see the human shape, but all proportions are askew, the weight of the buckets strains the shoulders and pulls the arms toward the ground, creating an almost animal-like silhouette.

The heavy figure rooted in the ground presents a humble but powerful image. It isn’t surprising that when the sculpture was ready for installation, it caused controversy. The public viewed both the mundane matter and style as far too avant-garde. 

“Water Bearer,” 1937-1938. 


After the mid-1940s, when Sveinsson started to explore abstraction in his work, his art developed into two different styles. His carved pieces preserved some figurative features, but his iron and steel rod compositions evolved into pure abstraction.

The exhibition presents these two manners of abstraction side by side, angular and rounded shapes contrasting with each other, often in the space of one sculpture. 


View at the exhibition hall.

My personal favorite is the “The Last Sea Voyage,” which is a perfect image of the upward movement of the waves carrying a ship. It has escaped one wave, yet a bigger one is gaining force and threatens to sink it.

“The Last Sea Voyage,” 1960.

Light is especially important for accentuating the form and modeling of sculptures. Sveinsson viewed the sculptor’s art as “taking material, forming it, and allowing the light to play with it.”

The airy space of the Ásmundarsafn museum—created by the sculptor with his own creations in mind—is perfect for showing off the exhibit. There is an organic connection between the light streaming from above, the pristine white walls, the placement of the windows and the ever-changing shadows. 

Second floor: “The Face of the Sun,” 1961; “The Flash of Life,” 1950.


When observing Sveinsson’s work, one cannot help but wonder how a person born and raised on a remote farm (Kollstadir in west Iceland) in the late 19th century became interested in art.

Sveinsson couldn’t have seen many examples of Icelandic art; at the rise of the 20th century there were only three people in the country who chose art as their professional path—two painters, Thórarinn B. Thorláksson (1867-1924) and Ásgrímur Jónsson (1876-1950), and sculptor Einar Jónsson (1874-1954).

In fact, the first art exhibition ever held in Iceland was in 1900. Perhaps it was the magic world of Icelandic folklore that kindled Sveinsson’s imagination, a tapestry sewn by his mother or the craftsmanship of his father, who was a carpenter.

Whatever the reason, in 1915 Sveinsson left his home and launched his journey into art. He first learnt woodcarving and then studied sculpture. This journey brought him to Reykjavík, then Denmark, Sweden and later France.

Sveinsson was taught by and became acquainted with the work of great sculptors, such as Carl Milles, Aristide Maillol, and Charles Despiau. Each of them had a great influence on the young artist and helped him in the search for his own style.

One of the earliest works of Sveinsson “The Kiss” is situated in the sculpture garden. He created it in 1924 when he was 29. Its subject, material and simple composition bring to mind the statues of antiquity.


“The Kiss”, 1924, fragment.


From that time on Sveinsson began a gradual movement toward abandoning the representational form. In the course of 20 years, human and animal figures start to disappear from his work, making room for abstract forms.

By the age of 50 the sculptor almost solely concentrated on abstract art. The “Shape of a Line” exhibition is a great opportunity to see the results of his journey to abstraction.

The “Shape of a Line” exhibition is on display until August 31.

Tel: (+354) 517-1290
Sigtúni, 105 Reykjavík
Ásmundarsafn is open daily
May-Sept. 10am-4pm
October-April 1pm-4pm
Free admission

Scent and Sensibility

(This article was published in Iceland Review online)

SMART is the name of the solo exhibition of the young Icelandic artist Andrea Maack. SMART is a multilayered word: amusing; clever; witty; fashionable; bright – each of these words can be used to describe this exhibition, as well as the gallery that has chosen to present it.

Review by Victoria Cross.


“SMART”/ Ágúst, photo: copyright Victoria Cross.

Ágúst is a young gallery that will be celebrating its first anniversary this summer. Its owner, Sigrún Sandra Ólafsdóttir, views her mission as to create a place for showcasing works of contemporary artists, but also a place where people can turn to if they have questions about art or need advice on buying pieces of art. During the past ten months, the gallery has had five exhibitions of Icelandic and foreign artists.

Ólafsdóttir was interested in art from her early years, but never thought that she could make a career out of it. When she discovered the world of art fairs in Italy, she realized how her love for art could be turned into a business and as the result the gallery was born.

Managing the gallery is an ongoing learning process and Ólafsdóttir continues to learn from veterans of this field as well as by studying art theory in the University of Iceland. In choosing the artists she follows the advice of one of her mentors: “You have to do your research but you also have to follow your gut instincts.” This time her hunch has brought to the viewers the exhibition of Andrea Maack.


“SMART” drawing by Andrea Maack, photo: copyright Victoria Cross.

Maack works with various media and is in a constant search for interesting ideas and refreshing ways of implementing them. She toys with perceptions of beauty, appearance, or self-improvement, and throws into the mix her interest in fashion and design. Her new exhibition is a very unusual offering, which engages all the senses of its visitors; you can view it, touch it, smell it, try it on, hear the interesting story behind it, and even take a piece of it with you.

Maack presents her own perfume made in collaboration with the French company APF – Arômes et Parfumes and Happyscents from Grasse, France. The name of the perfume, SMART, gave the name to the exhibition. The perfume is made in a limited edition, with each set having four pieces. Each bottle is hand-decorated and comes in a custom-made box.


“SMART” perfume; photo: copyright Bjarni Einarsson.

Nearby is a drawing cut into 252 individual pieces, each signed and numbered, to be used as testers for the perfume. The design of the drawing is similar to the inscriptions on the perfume bottles, and renders the artist’s image of the scent. By presenting her work this way, Maack creates an ever-changing exhibition – as people come and take one of the testers, the whole pattern of the drawing is slightly shifted.


“Artist in action,” photo: copyright Anna Ellen Douglas.

It is a provocative idea to present perfume in an art gallery. Puritans of art can easily dismiss it as simply a commercial project. But, if art in its pure form is artistic self-expression, what can reveal a personality better than perfume?

Scents surround us everywhere. They have the power to evoke images, create emotions and awaken memories. They are easy to identify, but difficult to define and even harder to capture. You have to admire the creativity of a person who decides to tackle such a complex task. Coco Chanel famously said that “a woman who doesn’t wear perfume has no future.” Interestingly, Maack meant for her perfume to capture visions of the future rather than memories of the past.

The perfume business has been on the rise in recent years. Long gone are the days when it was considered a luxury. In search of individuality or exclusivity, people turn toward smaller, lesser known perfume houses and Maack’s creation fits the bill – it is a limited edition and can easily become a collectable item.


“SMART” bottom by Andrea Maack, photo: copyright Victoria Cross.

Maack graduated from the Icelandic Academy of Art in 2005, and has exhibited her work in the Living Art Museum, Kling & Bang and the Sudsudvestur Gallery. The “SMART” exhibition is Maack’s second collection devoted to the human desire of constant improvement – be it with the routine of physical exercises, mental activities, or by donning fashionable clothes and accessories. Her “Work out Art” collection included marble-like weights, accompanied by a pencil drawing of the brain as a mental muscle. So, here we have a theme of wearable, useable art – a sensible approach in our fast-paced world.

It is hard to say if Maack will continue her perfume adventure or something new will capture her attention, but it will be interesting to see her next project.

The exhibition is on display until June 28.

Gallerí Ágúst
Baldursgata 12
101 Reykjavík
Tel (+ 354) 578 2100; (+354) 869 2013
Open Wednesday to Saturday between 12 pm and 5 pm and by appointment.

Splash of Color

The article was published in Iceland Review on line
A splash of colors will greet visitors on the second floor of the Seltjarnarnes Library when the work of artist Aleksandra Babik goes on display May 15. Deep orange, ultramarine blue, luxurious red and shimmering silver form a wonderful palette, and one cannot help but feel uplifted by the artist’s visible love for color. 

Reykjavík is generally filled with ultramodern, edgy art, which routinely shows up in every big or small gallery. Conceptual sculptures, collages, video installations, and photographs are in abundance here. On the other hand, a traditional oil painting is hard to come by, which is why Aleksandra Babik’s exhibition is such a delight. 

Review and photos by Victoria Cross.

Aleksandra Babik was born in Skopje, the capital of Macedonia. She grew up in an artistic family and began to draw early in her childhood. Her grandfather—an artist—was her first art teacher, introducing her to the world of colors and form.

Babik decided to major in economics, but didn’t abandon her passion for art. She studied in a private art school in Macedonia and supplemented this with private lessons from a major artist there. In January, 1999 she won the first prize in a group exhibition of “Young and Talented Artists.”

Babik and her husband came to live in Iceland in 1999, and became Icelandic citizens in 2006. She was accepted to the Icelandic Art Academy (Art College at that time), but due to family reasons decided to finish her Master’s degree in economics first.

For the past nine years, holding a full-time job, rearing children and studying, Babik continued to paint, experimenting with different styles and techniques. Now she is ready to show her work to general public. 

Despite this exhibition being Babik’s first in Iceland, some of her works have already been sold to private collectors in the USA, Sweden, Macedonia, and Iceland.

For her professional debut the artist selected samples of different genres, all of them are in her favorite medium—oil on canvas.

The first painting that caught my eye was a small still life “Mediterranean Dinner.” Its composition isn’t complicated—a pumpkin, a fish, and three figs positioned around a squash on a table top; the plane of the picture is flattened, but such arrangement helps the viewer to focus on the color relationship between those simple objects. 

The red of the tabletop, dashed-off highlights on the pumpkin, flecks of bright green, jewel tones of the fish scales, and deep purple of the figs are balanced perfectly together. Up close, the swirls of paint appear random, yet are revealed to be precisely placed once you step back. The lavish texture deepens the colors and the overall effect strongly recalls the works of old masters.



“Mediterranean dinner,” 2008

The artist’s love for color is most evident in her abstract “Fish series.” To her, the world of the sea is “the source of all the colors” and she uses stylized, heavily outlined, mostly similar fish forms to accentuate her color exploration.

Babik’s rich treatment of the paint—layered, distressed, scumbled, scratched—adds an ancient feel to the canvases. One might easily imagine them somewhere on the crumbled wall of a Mediterranean villa. Placing one of the fish images inside the frame and highlighting it in a white glow, the artist achieves the effect of a “painting within a painting,” thus focusing a viewer’s attention on the inner part of the fish form.

“Fish series,” 2007

The “Dancing Swan” doesn’t immediately reveal its connection with the fish series. But it shares the same deep-blue background, and its general outline echoes the outline of the fish forms. The placement of a little fish—designed more as a stamp, rather than an image—in the lower right corner ties it all together.

“Dancing Swan,” 2008

It is always interesting for me to hear how an artist works. Through experimentation Babik learned that priming her canvasses in black helps her to see and lay on colors. It gives her a better feel for their development, and also allows using the border of a black canvas as a natural frame for the paintings. She uses her own work as inspiration at times. “Sea World,” here reworked in oil, was originally created in pastel when she was 17. This painting is the vivid example of her amazing attention to detail and precise brush control.

 Insert “Sea world,” 2007

Nobody can live in Iceland without being affected by its beautiful nature and Babik pays tribute to it with a series of landscapes. She combines different textures, smooth strokes for depicting the sky and the grainy texture of lava in the grassy area at the bottom. The artist isn’t satisfied just capturing the image; she strives to create a sense of drama. In this case, an overcast sky, fumes from a volcano, contrast with tranquility of green grass to create a dramatic effect—a sense of impending storm.

 “Landmannalaugar,” 2007

Babik’s talent as a colorist is clearly seen in “Snaefell.” She manages to take incandescent reds, oranges and yellows, and contrast/balance them so effectively and naturally against blackish purple and cerulean blue that this seemingly unearthly palette creates a breathtakingly magical landscape.

 “Snaefell,” 2007

Pure love for color and the ability to celebrate it is a rare gift. Kandinsky wrote that “color directly influences the soul.” He compared colors to the keyboard and the artist to the hand that plays, “touching one key or another purposively, to cause vibration of the soul.” It seems like we have a masterful pianist present.

The exhibition is on display from May 15 to May 31.

Bókasafn Seltjarnarness
Eidistorgi 11, 2. floor
Tel: (+354) 5959170
Open Monday – Friday 10 am – 7 pm
Saturday 11 am – 2 pm
Free admission