Þór Vigfússon og Þóroddur Bjarnason – Conversation for i8 exhibition, October 2005
Þór and I are sitting in the cafeteria at the Sculptors´ Association in Reykjavík, where Þór had a studio for several years before moving to the village Djúpavogur (in the far east of Iceland) with his wife. “If you feel like quitting as an artist, you should move to a place like Djúpavogur, which is not a stimulating environment for an artist, although it is a cosy place to live. I found that I had to bring the work with me from the capital or I´d spend up to a month doing nothing. I couldn´t get ideas for new works up there in the eastland. There, I sometimes sit around for weeks on end without feeling any need to create new works of art ”
Are you hoping to get a break from your art?
“Some people enroll in courses at school in order to get a break from whatever they´re doing, but visual arts never allow you a single day off. You can put at stop to the work itself, but you never get a break from thinking about visual arts. Once I was in Oslo designing theatre sets and at the time, I thought I could just focus on that work, which is so much more comfortable. But when I wasn’t actually working on the sets, I was browsing the art books and magazines in the bookstores and hanging around the museums. Everything I did in my spare time was related to visual art. Then I thought to myself: this is the life I am stuck with. Doing theatre sets is just work, but visual arts are life itself and I can´t seperate myself from it.
But why is it that I keep having to justify to myself that I´m an artist? I think it's because I had such an ordinary upbringing. Still, the fact remains that society wants artists like me to exist – therefore, I can´t shy away from the challenge.”
Þór enrolled in the College for Arts and Crafts (as it was called back then) at at the relatively young age of 17. “So you can see there never has been any other way of life for me … I´m not used to talking about my work at any length. They didn´t go in for that at school and you didn´t really attend lectures that much, except for a few hours of art history with Björn Th. When I went on to graduate studies in The Netherlands, I naturally assumed they did things the same way and never attended any classes there, either.”
You never attended classes?!
“No, I didn´t even know where the buildings were located.”
What were you doing?
“Oh, this and that. I did a lot of art works. At this point, I was already doing similar things to the work I do today. Overlapping patches of colour, in pastels. I always find it interesting to use methods similar to the old ones.”
Have you never worked figuratively?
“Oh, sure. I did a little bit of that at first. The most figurative work I did were some images of krona coins which I scratched over. Then came Purrkur Pilnikk (a punk rock band, ed.), everybody was drunk most of the time and said, it doesn´t matter what you can do, the important thing is what you do. Then I changed direction and began working with the new painting. There are still many people who know me from back then, i.e. the work I did then. I exhibited at Kjarvalsstadir (A Reykjavik Art Museum exhibition hall) and filled the west hall with garbage, among those a huge drawing of an elephant on photographic paper and some figures in plaster. There followed a rather long time where nothing much happened, but then I returned to the kind of work I´m doing now. That felt very good.”
Can you imagine repeating a phase like that?
“No, I don´t think so.”
What inspired you to change your style?
“It was mainly the atmosphere of the time. There was also something fascinating about rebelling against rigid rules and methods, about making a mess and fooling around with paper cuts.”
The exhibition at i8 features works made of pre-coloured plastic – Formica. The plastic is glued on MDF and every work consists of several units which can be assembled in various ways. Þór was assisted by the carpenting company Beyki and the professinal ability of the carpenters was severely tested, as one of the works turned out to be well beyound any standardized dimensions. Þór points out to me the stacks of work waiting to be hung.
“If Edda at Gallery had called me two hours earlier than she did, I probably would have declined her exhibition offer. But by the time she called, these works had already popped into my head and I could say yes. I´ve had the opportunity to show my work for Edda for a long time, since I have been her client for some time – but it´s probably a matter of self-confidence. Actually, I really prefer just working to exhibiting. Bit by bit, I´m turning into one of the artists I used to openly detest, the ones who just pottered around in the studio and didn´t care about anything besides the works themselves.”
On the table before us is a draft of the upcoming exhibition. Þór has made a detailed model of the exhibition space, complete with miniature versions of the works and a minute person who is viewing them. He´s still pondering whether or not to include the smaller works or to feature only the large works.
As previously mentioned, Þór uses pre-coloured material, which is in excellent accord with his habitual methods. He never mixes his own colours. The colours in this exhibitions have been picked from a palette – from a selection of the Formica colours available. “I often find it interesting to have to limit myself to a colour selection determined by the producers, that´s sometimes more exciting than having a wider choice. It would be nice if I could sit quietly and play around with a white canvas, like a painter does, I would love to posess that ability, but unfortunately I have never been able to get in touch with that. I greatly appreciate good craftsmanship, but not nessecarily in the arts, it can impress me even more in other fields.
Þór tells me that he sometimes wonders what it is about creating images that he finds the most satisfying. Is it the work process itself or the resulting art work? Many seem to feel that the creative process is the more important of the two.
Do the colours in your work have any particular significance? How do you choose your colours?
“I use colours to separate one area from another. I have grown quite indifferent about the colour I choose at any given time, or what it signifies. This has, however, become difficult because of fashion trends. It´s hard to pick a colour and ignore the fashionable colours. The line between art and design is also very thin in these works. But in all honesty, just between you and me – it took me fifteen minutes to pick the colours for these works,” Þór says with a sardonic grin.
It seems art doesn´t always have to be complicated, nor time-consuming.
Translation: Halla Sverrisdóttir