Sigurður Árni Sigurðsson
When a shadow becomes the subject of a picture, the viewer’s attention is drawn towards the absence of an object but at the same time towards the shadow’s substance. Ultimately, it is the potential of the picture itself that is questioned and its relationship both to what is portrayed and to reality.
Shadow as a natural image of the body has repeatedly stimulated our pictorial reproduction. It is both the ascertainment and the privation of the body, both the index and, as a fleeting and changeable apparition, the negation of the body, dissolving its firm contours and its substance. According to a legend passed down by Pliny, humanity’s first pictorial image portrayed a shadow: the story tells of a young woman from Corinth who invented painting while creating the contours of her lover’s shadow before he left to go to war. The picture was fixed to the wall and, just like photography much later, was an index of reality despite possessing the very absence that constitutes pictures. Sigurður Árni’s pictures of people’s shadows or those of objects live from an indexical reference that is inherent to the painted picture. This is in fact a reference on several levels; firstly, the painting is citing a shadow which itself continues to be the image of a body. Since the Renaissance shadow has been the essential means used in painting to enhance the physicality in a picture; in Sigurður Árni’s pictures, this shadow is released from the body and becomes the actual protagonist, entering into dialogue with the viewer. The mortal imagery of the shadow resonates in Sigurður Árni’s pictures but his core interest is focused upon the picture’s form of being.
This ontological interest that can be discerned in the shadow pictures confronts us even more clearly in works that are structured through geometrical forms, mostly circles and ellipses. These works have their starting point in a series from the 1990s, building on the type of schematic reproduction of nature we are familiar with from architectural models. We are looking down from an elevated vantage point upon model-like landscape architecture, the surrounding area having been formed by the raw base of the picture. The domesticated nature, symbolised by the sign of a tree (which is in fact a circle upon a vertical stick pointing downwards), is a central motif for the organisation of the pictorial space. In later works, the signs are further reduced to purely geometrical forms and groupings. All that remains is the shadow, giving the picture perspective and turning the picture’s surface into an insinuation of pictorial space. At a further development stage, Sigurður Árni leaves holes in his painting, through which the untouched canvas becomes visible. “My ‘perforated’ paintings,” he said in an interview, “centre on an attempt to reach through the paint to the bare canvas beyond it, in effect to create a world in between the oil paint and the canvas.”
Part of an Article published i Icelandic Art Today, Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2009. www.hatjecantz.com