Letter from Iceland Blog
Occasional reports from the far north...
18th November...We're staying at Lake Ellidavatn for a few days. The little wooden two room house was built by Bjorn's grandfather eighty years ago and was the first of many little summerhouses which popped up around the lake on the edge of Reykjavik. Sadly, they're almost all abandoned now, as the local council repossessed the land for development during the building boom before the Crash (called the Kreppa here..things tend to be referred to as "before the Crash" and "after the Crash"). Ours was one of the few with the correct paperwork to prove ownership and so survived. There is more than an acre of land planted with trees around the house screening us from the villas which have mushroomed behind us. In the space of around eight years, what was once blueberry covered moor has been transformed into a suburb of Reykjavik. Still, the wee house stands only about three metres from the water's edge, and from the window I can watch whooper swans, long tailed ducks, mergansers and great northern divers, which make their strange calls in the night and perform weird and wonderful mating rituals in the early summer. ...not much action on the lake now though, as it's frozen solid and covered in a layer of snow. The eerie sounds of the divers have been replaced by the equally eerie sound of the ice groaning as it expands. There's the occasional crack as loud as a gunshot as the pressure becomes too much. This can be alarming if it happens when you're sitting in the outside toilet enjoying the serenity of frozen lake and snowy mountains...more of the outdoor shower another time...
Well, it's been a while, and as this is officially the first day of summer in Iceland (24th April...seems a bit early to me!), It seemed like time I updated things. Christmas came and went with an eventful trip to Cornwall. Our stays at the little house by the lake have been few and far between. Partly because the amount of snow and ice which lasted for months made access tricky even with our Suzuki 4x4 on raised wheels, and also because I've been working on bigger pieces for an exhibition in Reykjavik in June. I'm working on the theme of the hidden places in Reykjavik. I'm always struck by the rural touches which still exist in the heart of the city. The little wood and corrugated iron houses with gardens nestled in amongst shopping streets and old huts where fishermen kept their boats and stored gear.
The exhibition is at Ofeigur Bjornsson Gallery, 5 Skolavordustigur, Reykjavik from Sat. 7th June till 2nd July. If you're in Reykjavik during that time, please look in and say hello...I'll be there most days for three hours, though the gallery is open from 9.30 till 5 daily.
May 25th....GSA fire....it's a sort of relief to know that most of the dear old Mac has seemed to survive the terrible fire of a couple of days ago. I was checking out the news on the BBC website as usual here in Reykjavik, when I saw the first reports of flames issuing from the building.
It brought back so many memories of the dozens of times we as students were turfed out onto Renfrew Street for fire practise in the middle of life drawing with the model hastily wrapping a gown around herself, never seriously thinking what a fire in the building would really mean.
The effects are of course horrific. The loss of the precious gem which is the library is heartbreaking. I felt increasingly sick seeing flames and black smoke licking the roof . It's so easy to imagine when you know the building, how the narrow stone staircases would have become chimneys carrying the fire upwards and flames racing along the narrow Hen Run where I shared a studio with my post graduate colleagues in my final year. As all ex students of GSA, and particularly fine art students, know. the Mackintosh building is more than just a building. It has a personality and character like no other place I know. My learning at art school came not really from the tutors, but from the community of fellow art students who shared that time with me, and from the building itself which provided a safe and nurturing and inspiring place to be. In my dreams, I often find myself still climbing the stone stairways and searching the basement for a technician to help with some project. To see the Mac ravaged by fire was just like seeing a dear friend attacked and injured. Thankfully it seems repair will be possible and hopefully many more generations of artists will make it their home for their student years.
Best wishes to all past and present GSA students.
It's been a while....here we are well into 2015 already. In fact, I'm beginning to pack up paintings to send to Scotland as my two year sabbatical in Iceland is almost over. I shall be returning to Balnakeil in mid April and will be showing new work from both Iceland and Sutherland.
I'm very much looking forward to being back in the gallery. My time away has shown how much I value the direct relationship I have with my customers. I made the move to Iceland for two years feeling the need for a break after running the gallery in Balnakeil for almost thirty years, but it's been interesting to find that the opportunity I've had to work without distraction to produce paintings for last summers' exhibition in Reykjavik gave me less satisfaction than the face to face contact I enjoy with visitors to the gallery in Balnakeil.
I have discovered that for me , meeting and getting to know (however fleetingly), the people who enjoy my work ( whether they choose to buy or not), is an important part of my artistic process.
I look forward to meeting both regular and new visitors to Balnakeil in April.