LIST Icelandic Art News

Go to the Front Page



. . . . .

About Us

Back Issues
Issue #7, #6, #5,
#4, #3, #2, #1

We will send you an e-mail about each bimonthly issue ... and nothing else.

. . . . .


Recent news include a new festive of time-based art in Iceland and several exhibtions by Icelandic artists abroad.

New Grants from the Center for Icelandic Art
In the middle of March CIA.IS announced grants to nine artists out of 65 applications.

Center for Icelandic Art in New Exhibition Project
Homesick is a project with three other partners in Turkey (Platform Garanti Contemporary Art Center), Israel (Center for Contemporary Art Tel Aviv) and Switzerland (venue to be decided).

Peace Column to Rise near Reykjavik
Yoko Ono Brings Peace to Videy
Yoko Ono's work is to be a tower, 10 to 12 metres high, made of transparent material and lit from within ...


Sigrun Sandra Olafsdottir
Dandruff Space and Shroud: An Icelandic project space in Brooklyn, N.Y.
In an apartment on Driggs Avenue, a small project space is home to the idea of two Icelandic siblings

Jon Proppe
Nam June Paik Shocks Icelandic Audience ... in 1965
In May 1965, at the conclusion of a European concert tour, Nam-June Paik and Charlotte Moorman came to Reykjavik for a Fluxus performance the likes of which Iceland had never seen.


Jon Proppe
Jon Oskar Hafsteinsson Crosses the Delaware
Already one of Iceland's best known painters, Jon Oskar took a new turn in his latest exhibition in Iceland.



Jon Proppe

Jon Oskar Hafsteinsson Crosses the Delaware

Jón Óskar was born in 1954 and studied art in Reykjavik and in New York. From the beginning, Jón Óskar's art set him apart, even on Iceland's sometimes chaotically diverse art scene. His paintings, always confidently executed, managed to balance a high modern sensibility with something quintessentially contemporary, quite edgy without tying into trends. His portraits and formal studies used only a narrow spectrum of colour but they were remarkably complete though often rough, they had poise. The male figures exuded calm and confidence like Hellenic statues in a tie and a dress shirt. The composition was often borrowed from the cinema and the figures were framed in a tight-shot. They were cool and slightly futuristic. They seemed to me at the time to signal an intelligent alternative to the callow yuppie mentality that was taking hold in the eighties, the profit-obsessed wolves that cavorted in the dress of hedonistic lambs. With Reagan and Thatcher at large there was a keen need for inspiring art.

The portraits earned Jón Óskar immediate recognition but he chose to develop different aspects of the work, the formal studies fuelled by his fascination with patterns, repeated figures and distributed composition. At the same time, he worked as a designer on newspapers, magazines and other print projects where his style was unmistakable as was his clear and dynamic use of type. He also cultivated a documentary style with photographs in the exhibition and book project Friends and Lovers in 1994 and the scanner portraits shown and published in 1996. His extensive work with computers in design and game development led to the Counter Strike installations in the Mynd exhibition, Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter, Oslo, and Reykjavik Art Museum 2000 and 2001. These strands or lines of thought were largely kept separate. Though there were frequent spillovers, Jón Óskar pursued each discipline on its own terms, quietly analysing even the computer games for their expressive capabilities and aesthetic contributions.

In last year's exhibition in 101 Gallery in Reykjavik, entitled "Delaware", Jón Óskar pulled together the several strands of the last two decades of his career. Much in the exhibition was also a sort of reworking of his original attraction to art, his upbringing in Iceland and the years he spent studying in New York at just the time of the city's resurgence in the early 1980s when new money was fuelling a rebirth of the New York art scene. Jón Óskar uses the encaustic method in his painting, applying hot pigment in beeswax to the canvas as he did already in the early portraits. As before, the paintings were rather dark and the range of colours small with dark or black brushwork on top of a brownish background. The black drawings resemble jottings on a worksheet, a jumble of images, text and inscrutable shapes. The general approach is familiar, echoing various developments among the painters of New York as well as Jón Óskar's own varied pursuits. It is an eclectic mix, as though the painting had to be translated into several languages to leave no doubt of its meaning.

The drawings in the exhibition, too, have a complicated provenance, including references to drawings in the children's books that we in Iceland inherited in late translations from earlier generations of Danes and Mid-Europeans. Their nineteenth-century outlook was accepted almost at face value in post-war Iceland where boys could play cowboys and Indians in the morning and be Saga heroes after lunch. They also instilled in us a Germanic ambivalence towards forests, even though there were none to be found in Iceland, and the trees branching in Jón Óskar's drawings evoke the frisson of a youthful encounter with sylvan mysticism.

As Jón Óskar's art matures it becomes ever clearer what thinking has gone into it. Indeed, looking back, "thoughtful" seems a very apt word for characterising his output from the beginning. The influences come clearly to the surface, the artistic precursors as well as the various images, words and symbols that imprint themselves on our memory and resurface in odd contexts to inform our thinking. The Delaware connection explores only one of the exhibition's many layers. Each strand of Jón Óskar's career and every layer in these new works it at once an exploration of precedents and a personal gesture, even the Pollock-like splashes of bright colour that hover, as it were, above the surface of the paintings and balance their crabbed jottings with over-all cheer. The Delaware exhibition showed all of Jón Óskar's strengths and clearly represents a new synthesis. It is an advance in thinking, not just style, and as with Jón Óskar's work in the 1980s, it seems both apt and inspiring, cool, thoughtful and thought-provoking.


LIST Icelandic Art News. Page last updated 9 April 2006. Texts and images copyright © by the authors. For inquiries and contact information see about us.




Jon Oskar's Website:

"... every layer in these new works it at once an exploration of precedents and a personal gesture."


The intense, layered canvases of Jon Oskar's Delaware exhibition mark a new turn in his painting.






The paintings in the Delaware exhibtion were dark and layered.


Jón Óskar's drawings evoke the frisson of a youthful encounter with sylvan mysticism.


This cookie jar in the shape of a rhinoceros was the most enigmatic work in the exhibition but Jon Oskar has recently been to China where he worked in porcelain so it is probably only the first of many new pieces.