June’s World-an art show

sunrise

I attended June Valgardson’s art show this morning while it was still being set up. It was nice to see her three daughters helping get the show ready. They and their sister, Debbie, who died some years ago when quite young, are the subjects of a number of the paintings and collages in the show.

The show is a mix from years of production: oils, a piece of fabric art and a number of collages. The subjects divide into local nature, family, flowers and scenes from June’s travels. The Icelandic background of the family (June’s husband, Zeke, was half Icelandic and June is one hundred percent Icelandic) is obvious. Even the cake that is for the attendees has a Viking on it. Various Viking images appear in the art. As well, there are landscapes from Iceland.

To me, the most interesting of the paintings are those in which the vision of the artist is not limited by convention. The most successful of the paintings is “Summer at Willow Creek.” The family has an acreage on historic Willow Creek and it is obvious that the creek fills their lives for Zeke was an ardent bird watcher, knowing the names of all the types of birds he attracted onto the property. As well, he was a wood carver. I have a loon he carved and it has a proud place in my house. Otters and beaver, a mob of Canada geese live in and around the creek. The view toward Lake Winnipeg is awe inspiring and has inspired many of June’s paintings.

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On a card fitted into one corner of “Summer on Willow Creek”, June has written, “This painting was done at an especially busy time. It was the first winter we moved out to the farm. We had a workshop and I was going to the Gimli Art Club every afternoon and evening. One morning I got up and painted this from my window before going to class. On an old tree, year around, hangs a dipper for the farmer to drink from an old artesian well.”

In “Sunrise” (the painting at the top of the page)the colours are bold, the strokes determined and both the medium and the method join together to make a strong statement about the power of the sunrise at Willow Creek. There is no attempt to prettify it, to subdue nature like the European painters did in the early years in Canada. There’s nothing bucolic about these paintings, no nature that has been tamed and made unthreatening.

Carving the future

Jón Adólf Steinólfsson was born in Reykjavik. He has studied wood carving in Icelandic, Germany and England.

Jón follows an old tradition for he often works with driftwood. Driftwood from Siberia is caught in ice and gradually brought by the ocean currents to Iceland. Wood also comes from other parts of the world, ending up on Iceland´s beaches. Some historians have claimed that without driftwood, Iceland would not have been habitable.

Driftwood was so precious that a host of laws regarding its ownership were passed and enforced. Traditionally, driftwood was used for building nbut also for fuel, to make boats, furniture and to create charcoal. Imported wood was so expensive that it was only available to the foreign traders and to the wealthiest Icelanders.

Given this history, it´s not surprising that Jón carves driftwood.

In his show at the INL 94th convention, there are a number of pieces which reveal both his techniques and his interests.

Many of his works , if you look at his website, www.jonadolf.com, are well done carvings and include things like picture frames or masks. However, he steps away from that role with pieces like Lif (Life), done in lime wood and birch. Here, he becomes the sculptor and, interestingly, for me, at least, I see in this piece influences of Iceland’s religious past.

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Not only is a child being born from wood but given the texture of the wood on which it sits, it appears to be being born from a chaotic environment and even hell.

The other piece that caught my eye was Leit að Takka (Looking for any key). The face in the wood made me think immediately of the carvings of the West Coast aboriginal art. Often this West Coast art is obvious, representative of totems and myth but sometimes It goes beyond that and keeps within itself some mystery below the surface of the wood. Leit að Takka is like that. Or like, perhaps, like an iceberg where the tip only reveals a small part of what lies beneath the surface. Here, where the obvious is not invoked, mystery brings the viewers eye and mind back to look time and again.

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