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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Einar Hákonarson

Around the Golden Calf, 2005, Einar Hakonarson
I believe it was a wise old man named Albert Einstein who said, "You never fail until you stop trying." Einstein stopped trying in 1955. About the same time a ten-year-old boy in Reykjavík, Iceland, may have picked up on that inspiring motto and continues to live by it today. His name is Einar Hakonarson. Born in 1945 (about eight months before I was) he grew up in Reykjavik to become one of Iceland's best known painters. He was a figural expressionist who began his training under his father, who was an amateur artist, encouraged by his two uncles, who were also art lovers. At the age of fifteen, he began his formal art studies at the National Art School of Iceland. After four years, Einar went abroad to Gothenburg Sweden and to study at Valand School of Fine Arts where he received influence from new modes of art and was fascinated by figurative painting. While studying in Sweden, Einar won the Nordic countries art prize following an exhibition in the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Einar Hákonarson
In returned to Iceland after his education, Einar held his first solo exhibition in Bogasalur Reykjavík in 1968. His show distinguished itself from the Icelandic art scene then cur-rent in that Einar's paintings were pop, figurative and ex-pressionistic. This exhibition brought the figure back into the Icelandic painting, which had been dominated by the abstract art for years. The hu-man figure and its envir-onment has been a visible thread throughout the artist's forty year career. Einar claims that he gets more by feeling nature, than by trying to paint a specific part of it. Einar's work displays several different areas of focus. For example he often delves into city life and the modern family unit. He has done a series about Icelandic sagas, the Holocaust and Communism, among others. Religious themes are common in Einar’s art and he frequently makes pictures from the Bible.

A Ferd, 1966, Einar Hakonarson
(Unsure as to the title.)
Few artists can claim to have started their teaching careers at the age of twenty-one. Despite his youth, Einar began teaching at the National Art School of Iceland in 1966. He was so young he found it helpful to grow a beard, since he was younger than most of his students. He's kept it ever since. Einar founded an art school in 1970 with a colleague, Ingiberg Magnusson. A few years later, still only thirty-three, Einar was appointed director of The National Art school of Iceland in 1978. In the years that followed, he added printmaking and sculpture to the school's course offerings while revitalized the Department of Ceramics.

Your Turn, Einar Hakonarson
During the 1990s, many painters in Iceland (much like the Stuckists in London) became discontent with the museum offerings in their country. They felt that the painting was being largely omitted in the Icelandic art world as directors of the national galleries shifted their focus mainly to conceptual art . Painting was even declared dead by some art critics and historians. Einar decried the fact that Icelandic painters had not had a significant public place to show their work in some twenty years. Einar, who had once been the artistic counselor of the City Museum (Kjarvalstadir), became the primary spokesman for Icelandic painting and its right to be prominently featured in the public museums.

Job, Einar Hákonarson
Taking matters into his own hands, in 1997 Einar Hákonarson built the first privately-owned cultural center in Iceland. The Art Center (Listaskalinn in Hveragerdi) was a nearly 11,000 square-foot multi-cultural center, with the main focus being on the fine arts (painting), which Einar felt was left out in the public art centers. The Art Center produced over twenty exhibitions of paintings and sculptures, together with numerous concerts, theater performances, poetry and book readings. Some of the exhibitions had the highest attendance in Iceland’s fine art history. Einar relished the fact that finally there was a place for painters and other artists who did not fit into the governmental art venues, run by establishment directors.

The Einar Hakonarson Art Center, Reykjavík, Iceland, 1997-99
But the pioneering drive could not cope with the politics or Iceland's banking system at the time. The Art Center went under after only two years. It couldn't have happened at a worse time. Iceland’s biggest art collector Sonja Sorillo wanted the Art Center to house approximately one-hundred of her collected art works, including works of Picasso, Matisse, Bacon, De Kooning and Pollock. The bank foreclosure caused that to fall through. The Art Center was sold at auction to The West Nordic Fund. The Sorillo Collection was broken up and sold abroad after her death. The Art Center was later sold to The Arnesinga Art Museum which had previously declined any collaboration with Hakonarson.

Hold on Tight, Einar Hákonarson
The loss of Einar's Art Center was not just a loss for Iceland, but a personal loss for the artist. He lost his home and all of his possessions. However, in the spirit of Albert Einstein, he stood up after being knocked down and started The Painters House in 2002, a non-profit exhibition place with fellow painter Haukur Dor. Einar opened an unusual exhibition in the so-called “Cultural night” in Reykjavík 2005. He put up over 6,000 square feet of tents and showed ninety paintings in the city centers park in an effort to demonstrate the exclusion of painting in the public museums. Einar called the show “In the Grass Root.” What followed next was astounding. Some three-thousand art lovers (one percent of the country’s population) attended the exhibition in one day, showing their support for Einar and Icelandic painting. As a result of this show, Icelandic painters found new enthusiasm among themselves and the public. They formed a grass roots group to push for more democracy in the public art world. Their historic struggle began with one man who tried, failed miserably, and then demonstrated the moral strength to try again.

Goodbye, 2011, Einar Hakonarson


Note: Seldom have I had a more difficult time ascertaining reliable titles for an artist's work as with that of Einar Hakonarson. Therefore, take these with a grain of salt as to their accuracy...make that a whole salt shaker.


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