Erla S. Haraldsdóttir - Visual wandering
Erla S. Haraldsdóttir has a background in classical painting and has, for the past years, focused on the figurative. The physicality of paint, handling of colour to create space, light and shadow is highly significant to her. Methodology is central to her practice, and she often explores how memories, emotions and visual perception interact. She has additionally worked with animation, video and photomontage as tools for appropriating and restructuring reality.
Haraldsdóttir studied at the Royal Institute of Fine Art in Stockholm, the San Francisco Arts Institute, and was examined from Konsthögskolan Valand, Göteborg, in 1998. Haraldsdóttir has exhibited in institutions such as Berlinische Galerie (Berlin), the Scandinavia House (New York), Moderna Museet (Stockholm), Kuenstlerhaus Bethanien (Berlin), and is represented at Reykjavík Art Museum as well as the National Public Art Council and Moderna Museet in Sweden. Recent exhibitions include: Moment, Ynglingagtan 1, Moderna Museet, Stockholm (2011-12); (I)ndependent People, Reykjavík Arts Festival (2012); A Place Where We Could Go, Kronika Bytom, Poland (2014). She has held workshops in Fine Art Academies in Scandinavia and the Caribbean, and is currently a guest teacher at Umeå Academy of Fine Arts, Sweden. www.haraldsdottir.com
The Moving/Shifting Forces in the Paintings of Erla S. Haraldsdóttir
Erla S. Haraldsdóttir’s ‘visual wanderings’ are explorations in the field of painting as much as reflections on pictorial methods. More than the figurative elements in her paintings, it is the physical presence of colour that catches the eye at first glance – this thinking in and thinking through colour that manifests itself in well-tempered and simultaneously vigorous highlights. Haraldsdóttir follows her own path while keeping constant eye contact with tradition. The perception of logical contents rather than pathos determines the unfurling of passionate phrases. These images are observed calmly. Spectators are equally reluctant to divert their attention from them as from the historic background or the site-specific attractions inscribed within them.
To round off the composition, the artist emphasises the spatial over the temporal order. Disparate moments are adroitly merged, while the absence of chronology reveals a refreshingly different topographical order. All this is formulated in an unobtrusively poetical and timeless manner.
The series Spoor is invested with a sense of silence that embraces moments of insecurity and expectation alike.[i] It is a motionless physiological present that Haraldsdóttir is aiming for, as she explains: ‘Painting is my statement when I’m silent, painting is by its nature a contemplative medium. I work more from my own states of mind, and I’m not so interested in art as a socio-political medium. Nature and spirituality are important to me. I define the role of painting today as forming a space for the individual soul, giving a “voice” to the spirit in the moment. Meanwhile the individual voice is the communal voice and the regional voice is the universal voice. I hope my paintings are never conclusions and open up a space.’[ii]
The concreteness of Haraldsdóttir’s paintings is always self-evident. But it seems equally self-evident, at second glance, to look at them from a sociological perspective. Spectators are invariably captivated when the artist scores points in the primordial territory of painting: materiality. Haraldsdóttir excels in handling colour and harnessing its power.
At the same time, her paintings are events in the true sense of a ‘processual occurring’, in direct relation to the materiality of occurring. Haraldsdóttir lets the material guide her. The work with colour prompts reactions from her as well as bodily and cognitive movements that drive the development of the painting. At their best, the event character of these paintings triggers similar reactions in viewers – as though the image, when perceived, became a “performance”.
Haraldsdóttir wants to encourage a sensual perception of her paintings. She thinks entirely in colour, in other words, starting from the very materiality of colour.
For Haraldsdóttir, thinking in processes implies that her self-awareness hinges altogether on recognition in the future. In this regard, she works in a gamble, in a life constantly deferred, in an unending tension before completion, in a not-yet-present presence. She fills her artistic hopes with increasingly precise content, all the while considering that the finished work is never finished. Presumably, she cannot conceptually complete it herself since it is only completed when seen as a whole and thought through by the public.
Artistically, Haraldsdóttir does not see herself as someone engaged in a complacent enterprise to showcase the artist’s ego, but rather in a continuing workshop in colour.
She puts great faith in silence – the silence of interiors (The Corridor in Pszszyna Castle, Turf House, 215 West 98th Street, The Gramont) but also the quietude of the soul. The silence of landscapes (The Colored Forest in Maine, Seljarlandsfoss, Snæfellsjökull, framed by a Sun Tunnel). The silence of the sky above her. This allows her paintings to convey a distinct sense of steadfastness. And owing to the absence of coincidence that characterises her pictorial language, we witness how each particle of form reaches its destination, and how this same particle, as an aesthetic impulse, reaches precisely the only effect it can have: that of a mediator.
The comprehensive awareness, the all-encompassing perspective, the tendency to generalisation – this describes in part the pictorial programme that Haraldsdóttir is developing against the zeitgeist and the art market’s logic of profit. Engels’s remark that nature, and hence the nature of painting, has ‘a real history’, is implemented again and again in her paintings. And that which Julius Robert Mayer, in Hölderlin’s lifetime, mused over in Heilbronn – the conservation and transformation of energy – is familiar to her as well; indeed, as an artist sensitive to the shifting forces in her paintings, she has always been aware that nothing is “gratuitous”. Haraldsdóttir’s paintings encompass processual forces, flows of thoughts, streams of images in the making … and undisclosed elements, to which we should react with veneration. All we have to do, therefore, is to absorb the potentials of itinerancy within her ‘visual wanderings’ and implement them in ourselves in order to feel and understand …
[i] The Icelandic word spoor means ‘footprint’ or ‘trace’. In English it denotes ‘the track or scent of an animal’ (Oxford Dictionary). In this project, Haraldsdóttir is so to speak following the track or scent of a post-industrial area in Poland. According to the artist, the project revolves around notions of ‘sign, mark, indication, evidence, clue, tracks, marks, prints, footprints, spoor, remains, remnant, relic’. (Haraldsdóttir, project notes, unpublished manuscript. Email to the author dated 24 February 2014).
[ii] Ibid. Email to the author dated 22 August 2014.