One of my Aqarelle pantings
Aqarelle, art

Bringing kitsch to the transavantgarde

Þetta er grein sem Jón B. K. Ransu.skrifaði í Sænskt Tímarit: Aqvarellen. Sem er sérhæft í að fjalla um akvarellu tæknina í myndlist, ég treysti mér ekki til að þýða hana yfir á ástkæra ylhýra.

This is an article written by Jón B. K. Ransu in Swedish Art magazine: Akvarellen. Which is specialized in the aquarelle technique in art.

Greinin í heild fyrir neðan myndirnar.

The full article below the pictures.

Daði Guðbjörnsson

Bringing kitsch to the transavantgarde

In his groundbreaking essay, Avant-Garde and Kitch, the American art critic, Clement Greenberg, contemplated on progressive thinking of art versus ornamental images at the same time he toyed with the idea that radical ideas and methods in art will eventually become mainstream and then even kitsch. It has been the experience of many artists that took a rebellious approach to art and placed themselves against the mainstream, against acknowledged values, that their own art later becomes the acknowledged values and themselves become what they rebelled against.

A Monet painting, for example, was radical and somewhat shocking in its time. But it became acknowledged, as impressionism became mainstream, and today we may even see a reproduction of a Monet covering a box of candy in a French tourist gift shop. As if to say that this once radical image is now delicious and sweet. 

Daði Guðbjörnsson is an Icelandic artist who was in the forefront of radical painting in Iceland during the early 1980’s when he hit the art scene with a turbulent style of painting, thus placing himself opposite restricted conceptual values that had become dominant in Iceland. 

Daði studied in The Mixed media department at the School of Arts and Craft in Reykjavík in the late 1970´s. There was no art academy in Iceland, at the time, so Icelanders would study three years at The School of Arts and Craft and then go abroad for further academic studies. Daði went to Amsterdam to study at The State Academy (Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunst). Influenced by artists such as Anselm Kiefer and Reiner Fetting, he adapted his pictorial language to the rough free styles of Neo Expressionism, or transavantgarde, and breaking the rules of painting in a way that punk rock broke the rules of music, he became a regular “bad boy” of painting.

We could therefor say that Daði was part of an international art movement because Neo Expressionism was like a tsunami in art, where painters all around the world would submerge their paintings in energy of colors and strokes, often resulting in a very similar outcome. What I find interesting about Daði´s work, in context to the punkish roughness of Neo Expressionism, is the fact that he would add ornamental elements into his blunt and seemingly thoughtless brushstrokes. He actually took sweetness to the roughness, or, better yet, he brought kitsch to the transavantgarde.

Daði´s interest in ornament is derived from his fascination of Roman border patterns. Those wavy spiral like patterns chiseled in stone or carved in wood to decorate ledges, eaves and walls of buildings and monuments. These patterns are visible in many of his early works, peeking out of a clashing force of colors or laying on top of them like a drawing adding depth to a flat field of paint. At that time, the material did not matter so much, everything was allowed and even mixed together, oil, prints, collage, gouache and any kind of watercolor. Daði did a lot of gouache paintings, for the material is fast drying for a fast working artist. As his art developed and he gradually aged out of the punk mentality his work became more condensed and orientated in baroque.  The quality of each material became more relevant. His oil paintings have the smooth physical quality of oil, his prints the flat quality of printmaking and his watercolors the fluid transparent quality of water. 

The sweetness, that Daði only touched on in his early works, seems to find its home in the watercolors. They feel effortless, relaxed and his adventurous imagery is quite joyful, like a picture in a fairy tale. And like fairy tales they even depict a sort of archetypes, where certain images, like a brush, a single red shoe, a valentine heart, a loaf of bread, a light bulb, a smiling sun, a large whale and a spiral, are recurring over and over, and as such, become symbols for a painters practice. The painter´s archetypes, so to speak. The brush, according to Daði, is the magic wand that the painter waves in front of a blank surface and transforms it into a work of art. The brush is an extension of the artists thoughts and feelings. Therefor he often paints the handle of the brush like fingers, as a reminder of the bodily extension. A high healed red shoe, often centered in Daði´s paintings, relates to the muse, the goddess and her beauty, that inspires the artist. A red valentine heart is the romance of spirit and passion that the artist needs for his art. A loaf of bread is the nourishment and the fecundity needed for creativity. A light bulb symbolizes idea and intelligence, but we can also see it as objectification of light that is the basis of perceiving color. The happy smiling sun is the innocent joy of life and creation. A whale is usually associated with compassion and solitude, but for Daði the whale is also the awe of magnificence in creativity, the sublime in esthetics. Finally, the spiral form, that appears in almost all of his works, may well be ornamental, but spiritually it represents the cycle of birth and death, a soul journeying symbol of connectivity with the divine. 

Needless to say, in later years Daði has added spiritual symbolism into his art that is relevant within the painters archetypes. The sweet and ornamental has also grown in his work, though he has never really disengaged himself from the original “bad boy” of painting. The sweet and ornamental is simply more visible than the blunt and rough and we are still faced with the dialectics of kitsch and transavantgarde in his work. 

Jón B. K. Ransu

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