Monday, September 14, 2009

Icelandic Pop

{Paint, Beer and Cigarettes at the Venice Biennale}

The Venice Biennale has been a major contemporary art festival held in the Sinking City every two years since 1895 (minus a six-year hiatus during WWII). At least thirty different countries each have their own permanent pavilion where an ambassador-artist of sorts sets up camp for a few months and makes, the hope is, some really rad art. Enter: Ragnar Kjartansson, painter, provocateur and prodigious beer-drinker.

Since June, Iceland's Kjartansson (kuh-YART-un-sun), a graduate of the Icelandic Academy of the Arts, has been making one painting of his buddy and fellow countryman Pall Hauker Bjornsson every day. In a rather unflattering little black Speedo. Yesss. Day in, day out, Kjartansson paints a portrait of the long-suffering Bjornsson in the ancient stone studio looking out over a canal. They've both developed a slight paunch from all the beer they've been drinking, but the past few months of painting have hardly been a party. Kjartanssson calls the project "The End."
He told the New York Times last June when he began the project, which he will continue through November, "I just had this image of this guy, smoking, drinking, by the water, looking out at the Prosecco Venetian light. I thought of him as this man without fate, which is all what we're living back home, in a way."

The repetition of each day -get up, smoke, drink, make a painting, go to bed- is a self-inflicted Sisyphean task that mirrors the drudgery of everyday working life in the midst of an apocryphal economy, but I think there's a little dark humor in there, too. These two pale, perpetually-buzzed Icelandic men -beer bottles and cigarette butts overtaking their 14th century studio in the very birthplace of the Italian renaissance and the tradition of oil painting- are creating a monument to artistic ruin. The best part is, in Kjartansson's end of the world scenario the last man standing is wearing a Speedo. That's depressing, but it's also funny.

It very well looked like the end of the world to the people of Iceland last year when they suffered, relative to size, the largest banking collapse in economic history, and Kjartansson seems to echo that grim reality by stripping his Biennale project down to the most basic elements of traditional oil painting: artist, paint, canvas, model. The bare-bones simplicity of the set-up belies the tongue-in-cheek concept of the project. You know what they say about life imitating art.

After several years of abandoning the human figure I've just started painting people again, and these paintings get me excited to stay at it. Kjartansson's paintings are unfussy, unselfconscious; he seems unworried about the entire painting looking "finished," which makes sense, considering he only allowed himself one day to work on each painting. And there was all that drinking and smoking to do. What's important to Kjartansson -his model, a Morandi-inspired glass bottle, a chair, for instance- is energetically rendered. But everything else is merely hinted at to give juuust enough visual information to create a space in which this all takes place. I like that. Off to the studio!

1 comment:

  1. I've just downloaded iStripper, so I can watch the sexiest virtual strippers on my desktop.


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