Faroese art history

Oil on canvas, Olivur Vid Neyst
Oil on canvas, Amariel Nordoy

Oil on masonite, Frimod Joensen

Pastel, Jógvan Waagstein
Indian ink on paper, Ingalvur av Reyni

Landscape and nature form the basis for an understanding of Faroese art. In line with the rising national consciousness in the mid-19th century, landscape painting took on an important symbolic meaning as a specific artistic expression in the Faroese people's search for a national identity. The same development can be seen in other Nordic countries – which right now is demonstrated by the exhibition 'Mirror of nature. Nordic landscape painting 1840-1910' at the Danish National Gallery in Copenhagen.

The growing interest in landscape and nature has its roots in folk culture. Landscape painting becomes the mirror through which people's sense of belonging and dependency on nature is illustrated, and becomes an important factor in the creation of a national identity. The high mountains, the sea, the green hillsides, the light, the fjords, the changing weather, the wind and the rain showers – all these characterise Faroese landscape painting. The human being also finds a place in the art, but is often depicted in relation to dependency on and struggle with nature.

What is so special and unique for Faroese art history is the Faroese artists' insistence on and unerring focus on landscape painting throughout the whole of the 20th century. Landscape and nature is the dominant motif and theme in Faroese art. The landscape becomes the motif through which the problems in modern art are expressed and attempted to be addressed in a constant exploration and experiment with various modes of expression: colour, light, flatness, space, composition, brush strokes, etc.

Jógvan Waagstein (1879-1949) was a pioneer within Faroese pictorial art and landscape painting. During the beginning of the 20th century he painted, as no one before him, epic panoramas of the Faroese landscape with its characteristic features. The inspiration comes from the paintings of the Danish Golden Age, but the colours and light remind of the impressionist style. He was still an amateur, but with Waagstein, the Faroese people saw their landscape portrayed for the first time in the pictorial arts.

The Faroe Islands' first real professional artist is called Samuel Joensen-Mikines (1906-1979). He was undoubtedly the Faroes' most significant and famous artist and is known as 'the father of Faroese painting'. He pioneered expressionist landscape painting that has drawn so many followers and in many ways has become the essence of modern Faroese art.

In the 1930s he painted, via the landscape and human figures, suffering, pain and death. He produced large, monumental compositions kept in dark, gloomy colours. In the 1940s he painted his first famous whaling paintings, a recurrent theme and motif. With these paintings come strong colours, movement, drama and dynamism in his art. The expressionistic style, his choice of colours and portrayal of human suffering and death have come to characterise Joensen-Mikines' work.

Frimod Joensen (1915-1997) stands somewhat alone in Faroese art. His universe is also the Faroese landscape, villages and everyday life. But it is also so much more. He paints what he sees and dreams and longs for. And he transposes this as directly as possible to the canvas, or often on a masonite panel he has to hand. People first began to value his spontaneous naivistic colourful style during the 1970s.

Ingalvur av Reyni (1920-2005) is probably the artist that together with Joensen-Mikines has set the greatest mark on post-war expressive landscape painting.

'On the Faroe Islands, he touches upon another nature, and in a rather overwhelming way. The elements encapsulate him like a space which is always there, day and night, summer and winter, an existential space with its own demands and conditions, relentless and indispensable at the same time. The climate of the North Atlantic, the windy weather, the scarce winter light, the sparse vegetation, the low wooden houses that cluster at the foot of cliffs, facing out to sea: these are ever-present in the field of vision. And in the pictorial field, they are translated, reduced and strengthened as pure pictorial elements, with his own sure-handed rhythm, which tilts to one side, just like the Faroese mountains, and a palette that leans strongly towards the grey-scale. Here in the volcanic basalt no coloured flowers grow.' (Peter Hornung on Ingalvur av Reyni)

Post-war generation of Faroese artists
The post-war generation of Faroese artists still largely work with the landscape as principal motif. However, they all have their individual style and expression. They paint familiar motifs, but experiment with light and colour, form, movement, composition and brush strokes. They exploit the full spectrum of the formal possibilities painting has to offer. They work with the unified whole and detail. Sometimes the subject matter almost disappears in the pure abstraction of the colours and forms, but rarely completely. A reminiscence of the landscape always remains. Not as a true-to-life reproduction, but as a landscape experience which is communicated via a variety of temperaments. Belonging to this school are Kári Svensson, Amariel Nordoy, Øssur Mohr, Olivur vid Neyst, Eydun av Reyni, Jógvan Ásbjørn Skaale, etc.

A new generation of Faroese artists
An entirely new generation of Faroese artists is emerging. A generation which, with its diversity of artistic expression and openness, is more difficult to describe in terms of a unifying characteristic than the preceding generation. Some still use nature as the point of departure in their work, whereas others relate to the landscape tradition with an ironic distance. Some go even further back and work with the original folk arts and crafts simple mode of expression – the woodcarving in wooden churches, knitting patterns and the original handicraft traditions, such as boatbuilding and its various elements. Some do not work with landscape or tradition at all, but with the expression of the mass media, contemporary philosophy, gender and politics. Painting also no longer holds the hegemonic status it had earlier. Modes of expression are diverse.

One of the young artists Lauritz.com has represented at the theme auction is Vigdis Petersen (b. 1966). She works with many different materials within pictorial art, sculpture and design. She works with the entirely simple and clear expression of basic geometric forms. The simple form, space and relationships between shapes in space, the structure of the material, and light and shade comprise the most important ingredients in her work, which, according to the artist herself, has clear reference to nature despite the abstract language of form. Another young artist included in the auction is Tummas Jákup Thomsen (b. 1962). He also works with painting, installations and sculptures, and with the Faroese landscape, but definitely not in a traditional way. On the contrary, he breaks it down by inserting surrealistic foreign elements, often with an ironic distance – a strange and inscrutable universe that at the same time draws the onlooker in while pushing them away.

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