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Iceland is Hot!


By Michael Yeaman

Michael with Sveinsson's large work "Trollwoman" 1948Don’t be fooled by the freezing winter weather and its propensity to lead the world in financial crashes, Iceland is hot property when it comes to culture. Whether its mid-Atlantic rift-walled Thingvellir valley serving as the dramatic backdrop for sex and blood in the Game of Thrones or its rightful position as the literary home of the Vikings for its 10th century Sagas of the Icelanders, Iceland is a land of artists.

This is certainly true when you consider the island’s sculptural history. From the “Sun Voyager” of Jón Gunnar Árnason to the modern bronze work of Gerður Helgadóttir, Iceland has produced cutting edge art, especially in the 20th century. One artist with a strong history of stone sculpting is the Ásmundur Sveinsson (1893-1982). During a recent trip to Iceland, I had a chance to mispronounce every proper name in the country and to visit the Ásmundarsafn Museum in Reykjavik. The Ásmundarsafn was formally opened in 1983 and is dedicated to the works of Sveinsson, one of the pioneers of Icelandic sculpture. His works are often strikingly modern explosions of action and passion inspired by Iceland’s dramatic landscape and literature. Many of his early pieces are simplified biomorphic forms with his later work becoming increasingly abstract. Sveinnsson studied in Paris in the 1920’s where he worked under classicist Charles Despiau (1874- 1946). However much of his work reflects the revolutionary changes of Picasso and Lipschitz, with whom he must have shared more than a few drinks.

The Asmundarsafn Museum Building (Wikipedia)The Museum is housed in a unique building, once the artist’s home and studio, and which he donated to Reykjavik City along with a large collection of his work. It is surrounded by an elegant sculpture garden, boasting around 30 sculptures by Ásmundur.

The building was in most part designed by the artist himself in the years 1942-59. He built a curved building behind the main house that was conceived both a studio and exhibition space. The form concepts of the house are inspired by the Mediterranean, the round houses of the Arab world and Egypt’s pyramids.  Inside you will find many of his original works and elements of his studio preserved in a similar manner as the Centre Georges Pompidou has preserved the original studio of Brancusi.

Sveinsson's Studio at the Asmundarsafn MuseumThis combination of modern sculpture and architecture makes the Ásmundarsafn Museum in Reykjavik a special place for sculptors to find true inspiration for their own work. It is a must see stop if you ever get to Iceland. 

Art and Sculpture

Thoughts on how drawing can help us sculpt. Taken from my notes on a 2008 lecture by Bob Leverich with some input from others.
By Bill Weissinger

For those born without the innate gift to draw well, acquiring an artist’s skill seems undoable. “Not so,” said Bob Leverich in the summer of 2008 in a lecture at Camp Brotherhood. “It just takes a lot of practice.” Seven and a half years after the lecture itself, I typed up my notes from Bob’s lecture. Here they are, with some thoughts of my own.

Should you care how to draw? Although clients may want to see sketches of a proposed commission, the most important reason to learn how to draw (as Alexandra Morosco emphasized to me when she saw my second sculpture in 2003) is to learn how to see.

Learning how to draw. There is no one “secret,” other than a lot of practice, preferably with a live model. But there are a few insights that are important. Here is one, not from Bob, but from Visual Thinking, by Rudolf Arnheim: for the survival of our species, it was “of the greatest practical importance that things should be seen as constant and that change should be attributed to them only when they themselves do the changing.” In other words, the instinctive rejection of proportion as presented to us by our eyes is a survival skill. That made me feel better: I’m not so much a bad drawer as a good survivor. “Un-seeing” that rejection – one of the requirements for drawing well – takes a lot of training.

How does one do that? Bob recommended one solution:

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Scheduling Your Drawing Time

Scheduling Your Drawing Time
By Bill Weissinger

Scheduling time to draw is important. As an example, I’ve set out below my personal log of a recent drawing project – generalized for your benefit – for which I’d scheduled one hour.

  1. What if terrorists are attacking at this very moment? One must keep up with what is happening in the world. Spend 20 minutes reviewing the news on the web.
  2. To draw well, being relaxed is important. Go down to the kitchen for a glass of wine. A snack might be nice too. Better, if you have a sweetie, a massage is a good way to get relaxed. Perhaps your sweetie has other ideas on how to relax you. If your sweetie moved fast, you now have twenty minutes left.
  3. It is important that your drawing instruments be ready. Sharpen each with care.
  4. Stare blankly at the paper for 5 minutes, because you know that the second your pencil leaves a mark on the paper you are going to begin defiling the beauty of whatever you are trying to draw.
  5. Finally, begin. But wait: weren’t you supposed to check in with your friend about getting together? Damn, he wasn’t home.
  6. Your drawing looks like a surprised ghost of a deformed old man. Know what would help? More wine.
  7. Finish the drawing two weeks later, under the press of the due date for an impending article.
  8. Realize that delays are merely avoidance behavior. Next time, set a drawing schedule for one hour, and use it all for drawing.