A MYSTICAL IMPRESSION
Laufey was born in Reykjavík, Iceland 1968 and has been painting since 1994. Her black paintings are made in an extreme physical manner. In the process, she obsessively piles thick paint on to the already thinly painted canvas in a very spontaneous way, sometimes heavy or light, fast or slow, smooth or harsh. Although being impulsive in her painting method the result always some sort of unpredictable ornament pattern of thick paint on a smooth surface. Laufey uses black that is the sum of all colours to paint the unseen energy of the unknown and capture the vast spirit of being that runs through us all. She paints an impression of a world beyond our senses.
Article written about Laufey by Jón Proppé writer and curator: The Transforming Energies of Black: The Art of Laufey Johansen
Looking at Laufey Johansen's large black canvases, one immediately senses that, for her, painting is a serious business. There are no compromises here, no concession to the audience's expectations, no images or symbols, nothing – at first glance – to interpret or understand. These works seem to posit an ending of some sort, a final state of painting where all illusions are gone and there remains only the intractable colorless object, but this, too, is an illusion of sorts and when we get over the initial shock we begin to appreciate the nuances of the surface. Instead of a plain, flat surface, Johansen teases the black paint into a swirling mass of curlicues and patterns which come into focus as we move closer. A closer look also reveals that the black paint is far from color-neutral: In its highlights and shadows there are hints and shades of all colors, flashing in a kind of perceptual game of hide-and-seek, as much a product of one's own eye as of the paintings. Johansen sometimes enhances this experience by using colored lighting and in later works she primes the canvas with bright, clear colors – indigo or red, for example – and paints her black patterns on top so some of the background can be seen through them. Both methods serve to strengthen our perception of color and light on the surface.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s several of the modernist painters associated with the New York school produced series of monochrome black paintings: Frank Stella, Ad Reinhardt, Mark Rothko and Robert Rauschenberg. This was not done in collaboration and, indeed, the artists had very different aims in producing these paintings though all of them were responding in some way to what they saw as an impasse or at least a radical shift in the development of modern painting. For Ad Reinhardt, these paintings were a kind of end-point, the ultimate paring down of signification and visual content until nothing is left; for Rothko, conversely, the black surface was to reflect the viewers' own spiritual being – much, perhaps, as Zen monks might meditate on emptiness. In either case, the black paintings signal a new role for the painted canvas. It is no longer a carrier of meanings, signs or representations – no longer a medium to communicate a visual scene, a mood or a form. Instead, such paintings challenge the viewer to define his or her own relationship to the art, to find (or fail to find) his own way to experience and understand what is happening.
For Johansen, this is the crux of the exercise. Despite the lack of color and the self-denial it involves for the artist, she intends her canvases to have an effect. Given the right situation she even intends them to transform us and open us up to new kinds of energy and understanding. She sees herself a conduit for positive cosmic energies and her paintings as a way to transmit this energy on to the viewer: Her art should be felt as much as appreciated, it should change you. Johansen is on an urgent mission to energize us and help us avoid the negative tendencies of our fragmented world, to help us break out of the lethargy and cynical hopelessness that – unless turned around – will surely lead to our downfall.
Though Johansen's mission has metaphysical connotations there is something very specifically Icelandic about them, reflecting the energy and clarity of the Icelandic landscapes with its black volcanic sands and wide, treeless vistas. There is an impermanence about the landscape in Iceland, a constant shifting and trembling that raises our awareness of how temporary and fragile our world really is. The
combined powers of volcanoes, earthquakes and the ever-eroding Arctic climate are constantly breaking down the land, reshaping and creating it anew. Johansen's paintings communicate these energies in a unique and original way – even while her approach is not without historical parallels. The key to appreciating them is in either case to open oneself up to the energy they communicate.
Jón Proppé, art writer and curator
2016 Icelandic Art Center
2010 Muggur - SÍM
2009 Icelandic Art Center, group grant for “Whimsical impetus “Art book, Art Museum Akureyri
2009 Culture nomination from Gardabaer, Iceland
2008 Egill Skallagrímsson fund for Liverpool Biennial, Icelandic Embassy London, UK
2008 Grant from Icelandic Embassy London for solo exhibition Design Centre Knightsbridge, London, UK
2008 City Council of Kopavogur / Art 11 art company, Kopavogur, Iceland
2007 City Council of Kopavogur / Art 11 art company, Kopavogur, Iceland