I Followed a Spiral, It Felt Like a Loop

Kristín Morthens

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Behind High Tide, 2018
Oil, charcoal, dry pastel, and acrylic on canvas
84" x 66"

ANGELL GALLERY is pleased to present I Followed a Spiral, It Felt Like a Loop, a solo show of new paintings in the Project Space by Iceland-born and raised, and currently Toronto-based, Kristín Morthens. The exhibition runs from Saturday, Jan. 12 until Feb. 9, 2019, with the opening reception on Jan. 12 from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m.

I must admit to being unable to name an internationally renown Icelandic painter – though Olafur Eliasson and Ragnar Kjartansson do come to mind immediately. According to Kristín Morthens, artists who work in installation, photography and video, like Eliasson and Kjartansson, are more representative of international contemporary art from Iceland. This may be why Morthens, who painted murals while attending art school in Reykjavik, decided to complete her BFA in Toronto (at OCADU). “They don’t teach painting in Iceland,” she explains. “I knew I’d have to go elsewhere to learn about contemporary painting, and I’ve done that here.”

People have told Morthens that her paintings are ‘strange’, but better descriptors are ‘mysterious’ and ‘corporeal’. They feel influenced by mid-20th Century European abstract painting as practiced by artists like Asger Jorn or Karel Appel, who were more interested in process, freeing colour and form, and emphasizing mythical and folkloric qualities, than their American counterparts. Morthens’ paintings also seem to reference the landscape of her homeland, which she didn’t acknowledge until others kept pointing it out. “The light in Iceland is grey,” she says. “And, it’s dominated by dark earthy tones, so when a different colour does appear, it feels high contrast.”

Like the Icelandic landscape, Morthens atmospheric paintings juxtapose areas of neutral misty colour with areas of swirling, deeply saturated and built-up pigment. Morthens pre-plans her paintings digitally, which may contribute to the collage-like delineations and relationships between the forms. The drama of Morthens’ painting lies within the borders between the different materials and shapes, in how the harder edges encroach on the softer fields of colour. There exists a push-and-pull relationship between the sections and shapes, in which the different forms either float or sink within the picture plane. In effect, the forms become vaguely anthropomorphic, like bodies that are cuddling or wrestling with each other. “Often I will start to see very emotional narratives emerging from the forms,” she says.

Like Kjartansson in his multi-channel video works, Morthens paintings are also concerned with performance. For her, the paintings and her choices while making them – determining scale, painterly gestures – all come back to the body, and capturing its relationship to the canvas and its movements in time, in paint. “Making a painting feels like choreographing a dance,” she says. “All my paintings are theatrical in a way, as if I, and the shapes, are performing.”

– Bill Clarke

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Kristín Morthens
Deep Swirl, 2018
Oil, charcoal, dry pastel, and acrylic on canvas
40" x 38"
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Kristín Morthens
True Squeeze, 2018
Oil, charcoal, and acrylic on canvas
20" x 18"
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Kristín Morthens
Backbone, 2018
Oil, charcoal, dry pastel, and acrylic on canvas
20" x 18"