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July 12 - August 16, 2003 at half a dozen rose, Venice

by Andy Brumer

Saints go to the desert, whose “fertile bareness” (Wallace Stevens’ phrase) provides fecund ground for the spirit and a primordial emptiness that only contemplation of the divine can fill. Artists like Georgia O'Keeffe have found their imagination stimulated by the strangeness of desert forms, and are driven by a dynamism that shifts shapes like a kaleidoscope tilted by heat and wind. The stark beauty of Iceland, one can easily imagine, might provide similar opportunities for aesthetic inspiration, cosmic wonder and the ever surprising and resourceful morphologies of creation. Indeed, Icelandic artist Bjarni Sigurbjörnsson delves into a kind of Nordic cosmic soup in his exhibition humbly titled Nothing (“Ekkert” in Icelandic). In so doing, he attempts to embrace the mysterious foundation and rhythm of universals.

Sigurbjörnsson paints with a mixture of oil and water, which he applies to a transparent plexiglas ground. The procedure represents a blend of vintage Abstract Expressionism’s use of flung and dripped skeins of paint, and the environmental, quasi-scientific/conceptual process work of artists like Tom Marioni and Katherine Wagner, whose signature techniques denote the erosions, decays and oxidations of the physical world.

As Sigurbjörnsson’s materials struggle between merger and autonomy, a river-like celluloid of swirling, viscous forms and imagery brews and boils so as to resemble the result of an internally driven natural process rather than the intentional hand of the artist.

In an interview with Jon Proppe in the exhibition’s catalogue, Sigurbjörnsson explains why the paintings are then turned to face the wall when they are exhibited: “. . .the side that I worked on is turned to the wall, and the white wall--a neutral space, nothing--reflects light through the semi-transparent painting. The image appears as shadows reflected from the white wall, reflections of nothing which nonetheless can define it. . .” By turning his murky-hued yet luminous paintings around Sigurbjörnsson deliberately limits our perception of his work to the back of the painting surface that is visible through the plexiglas, together with its cast shadow. The depth of space activated between the painted object and the gallery wall lends a sculptural dimension, even as the limiting view of the shadow denies full visual entry to the work. Think of Plato’s famous cave simile, which the philosopher uses to argue that when you see a table you are experiencing the abstract “idea” of a table. It is the image in your mind that is the true table. Nothing calls attention to what is hidden, not what is absent.

“Unidentified” (detail), 2001, oil
on plexiglas, 205 x 205 cm.

"Unidentified," 2001, oil on
plexiglas 205 x 205 cm

“Unidentified," 2001, oil on
plexiglas 85 x 60 cm

"Unidentified," 2001, oil on
plexiglas 85 x 60 cm.