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Tolli og landið

„Sjáðu pensildrættina, /hvernig þeir bylgjast um heiminn“
(Einar Már Guðmundsson – Pensildrættir blámans, 1991)

Þorlákur Kristinsson (Tolli) emerged as one of the instigators of the New Painting in the early 1980s. Few movements in art swept along so many adherents in such a short time. As a movement, this period was short-lived, it was an eruption of the emotions, a Dionysian dissidence against many things including over-analysis and excessive rationality in the arts.

The time had come to let the emotions speak. The fact of the matter is that the intellectual faculties do not create. They are incapable of that – but they make fine back-seat drivers. Intellect tells us what is important and what is not. In all creative work the emotions and insight must be in the driver’s seat; intellect is essential , but only to keep watch. Today we are driving in new times but through the same landscape, with the same view but in a different vehicle – and rather faster through an area that has been largely trampled down if not paved over. This area of reality that science has mapped out completely. But the map of the area is not the area itself.




When a new generation of drivers, brimming with emotions, travels through an area that may even be familiar, it kindles inspiration, the imagination, insight and vision in the spirit of Schiller and Goethe. In its day, the vision manifested in Icelandic nature spawned the masterpieces of the country’s first generation of visual artists, who were contemporaries or the heirs of those Germans. They captured subjects or visions that struck chords with them and stirred their souls. Whether people were writing poetry, composing music or painting pictures was irrelevant. They were Romantics. They brought the nation to life, to make it believe in its own existence. Like others before and afterwards, the Romantics of that generation were enchanted, they looked into the light and wanted to carry it. There was beauty, power, clarity, worship of the magnificent. Nature was their theme: the lofty mountain, the nobility of the glacier, the play of the shore, the calm of the lake, the majesty of the waterfall. “I stood out in the moonlight, I stood out in the wood”, Cliffs imposing, high and mighty”, “O burn ye fires”. Yes, “fair are the fields”. By Schiller’s time the point had been reached where landscape was mere distance and people were not in the habit of running up mountains without good reason to do so. The land was only beautiful when the fishing was good and the grass grew well.

“Artists were not supposed to paint what they saw in front of them unless they saw it in their hearts; if this did not happen they should desist from painting altogether”, Caspar-David Friedrich is supposed to have said. The first influential generation of Romantics in the 19th century taught us to read the soul and heart in nature, which of course had been there all the time – had been an inseparable part of the lives of people who really knew nature. They had a huge influence, but certainly not because people had never noticed the soul and heart in nature before. Far from it! The reason was that that urban society was losing this soul through the workings of materialism and rationalism. Science was killing it. The camera, which emerged around this time, had awful consequences. It destroyed both ghosts and angels. And people began to believe that nothing existed unless it could be reflected, measured or captured on film. Such naivety – the consequences were terrible depression.

In its day the New Painting was nothing but Romanticism – it even went under the name neo-Romanticism. Romanticism is not only a literary movement confined to a certain period in the 19th century, any more than Surrealism is confined to André Breton & Co. Romanticism is an element in man that bursts forth at the unlikeliest times. It represents those who venture forth armed with emotions and inspiration. Those who seek to open windows or doors onto new worlds. Especially when reality had become like the reality of Thatcher and Reagan in the early 1980s. The time had come to philosophise with our hands, demand a future and use the imagination. This was the time when Þorlákur Kristinsson, Tolli, was born as an artist. Two main metaphors are used in all aesthetic discourse. One is of the mirror image reflecting its life, nature and society. “Every man sees silver with his own eyes”, the proverb goes, or “Every man admires his own bird”, or simply “Each to his own”. The other metaphor is of the window or door that opens up a vision of an area that was previously hidden. It is there that the imagination dwells – unborn reality. That reality is not reflected until later because it has not been born into the world of measurements, reflections and photographs. It dwells only in the subconscious or the depths of the soul of each individual, waiting to enter that world. It is this vision of inner worlds that is a long way from being charted – Much work lies ahead.

Biography written by Guðmundur Oddur Magnússon professor at The Icelandic Academy of arts.



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