Getting to know Snorri

Snorri Sturluson stands just outside my window. I catch glimpses of him from the corner of my eye as I move around the apartment.  He is still, but it's as if he just stopped for a moment, a book under his arm, his thoughts elsewhere.

Statue of Snorri

Statue of Snorri

The weather continues to amaze - mostly sunny, not hot, not too windy, perfect for walking.  My time here in Reykholt has been divided between my desk at the library, my ersatz studio (bedroom desk) and exploring the region and immediate surroundings. It has been a very rich and productive residency here at the Snorrastofa so far, with just over a week to go. (I spent the month of June at Listhus Residency in North Iceland - click here for my previous blog post.)

Though I came to the Snorrastofa with a great enthusiasm for old books, history and all things Icelandic, I really didn't expect to become so thoroughly enamored with this man Snorri and his writings. But that's what happened. Word by word, bit by bit, I am making my way through the Gylfaginning section of Snorri's Edda.  I have been using Anthony Faulkes' painstakingly researched, compiled and transcribed version, an absolute tour de force of scholarship and research.  I'm reading his translation of Snorri's Egil's saga.  And finally, to give context to all this information, I'm reading a wonderful new book about Snorri by Nancy Marie Brown called "Song of the Vikings." See links below.

I love getting to know this person from the past whose writing preserved, shaped and informed a wonderful aspect of our, humanity's, cultural heritage. My creative self thrives in this immersion into language and history. I let the words wash over me. They bring me to a deeper understanding of Iceland and its history, and that perspective influences the way I perceive the Icelandic landscape. Thank you Snorri.  And thank you historians and scholars who created resources that allow me to peek into this rich past.  

The contemporary writer Nancy Marie Brown's recently published book "Song of the Vikings - Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths" has been an invaluable guide through this experience. I am excited that I'll have a chance to meet her later this week when she will bring a group of visitors to the Snorrastofa on a tour of the region's Saga history.  Here is the website for the company that hosts her tours, and here is a link to her book.

If your curiosity about Snorri's Edda is piqued, there are several English translations available in print and online.  But for the full geek-out experience, it's in Anthony Faulkes' four volume masterpiece, first reissued in 1988 by the Viking Society for Northern Research, that you must see. This is not a translation but a fine-grained transcription that takes into account all the relevant original manuscripts.  In lieu of translation he provides exhaustive materials for understanding and interpreting Snorri's words - glossary, explanatory notes, textual notes, general notes, glossary of names, appendix and bibliography. The four volumes cover all the sections of Snorri's Edda - Prologue and Gylfaginning, Skáldskaparmál, and Háttatal. Dig in! (I am not sure if these books are still in print, but the Viking Society for Northern Research has made all four available online for free as PDF's. - Here is a link to the Gylfaginning volume.) 

Here are some new drawings from my days at Snorrastofa.  

Snorri in his pool, with glacier, acrylic, graphite, 19 x 13   Broken mountain with glacier, collage, 13 x 19  Age of axes, age of swords, acrylic, graphite 19 x 13

Horses grazing in the shadow of Ýmir.  Acrylic, graphite 13 x 19

Horses grazing in the shadow of Ýmir.  Acrylic, graphite 13 x 19

Wilderness - a mirror of Self

Time is present in Iceland. It is in the silence, which contains all of time within itself. Time is transmitted through the Earth, made visible in the accretions and erosions, the tearings and torrents that shape the landscape. Walking along ancient footpaths, deep trodden by Vikings, I experience time flowing through me. These are some of the thoughts and ideas I explore in a series of large drawings made during my 2015 residency in Iceland.  

Jökulhlaup  25" x 38"  Graphite on paper   A Jökulhlaup is a destructive torrent of ice-melt, caused by a sub-glacial volcanic eruption.

Jökulhlaup  25" x 38"  Graphite on paper   A Jökulhlaup is a destructive torrent of ice-melt, caused by a sub-glacial volcanic eruption.

I gaze out into the wilderness of Iceland. My eye traces lines, marks the horizon, establishes scale and distance. I see where the mountain intersects with sea and sky. The lines extend down into the Earth like a cast shadow, and up into the sky like the angle of the sun. They meet in a stable point around which the universe whirls. Landscape mirrors the silence and the space that surrounds me. I follow this line of thought, and go deeper still, to the universe that lies both within and without.

Wilderness is the part of nature that is hidden and terrifying. Every being shares this awe of nature, knowing that it will bring us all to our knees in the end. Icelanders know it, because living at the Northernmost edge of the habitable world brings with it a certain humility.  In the wilderness HIC SVNT LEONES, trolls, outlaws...our very shadows. If landscape can function as a mirror of self, for me it does, then wilderness stands for the parts of myself that are unknown to me. 

Volcanos intersecting underground 25" x 38"  acrylic and graphite on polypropylene

Volcanos intersecting underground 25" x 38"  acrylic and graphite on polypropylene

At the beginning of the 21st century, consciously or unconsciously, we collectively mourn the irretrievable loss of wilderness on our planet.  And not only that; we mourn mass extinctions, loss of habitat, loss of bio-diversity and the effects of global warming.  We need wilderness, both actual and metaphorical, in order to know our frailty and face our mortality.  I believe that this knowledge brings an important sense of perspective to our daily lives.  It informs the choices we make in the day to day - how we spend our time, what we consume, and what we wish to leave behind.

Time hangs in the air, like a ball reaching the top of an arc, and the present disappears into the past. Melancholy billows up out of the silence as we acknowledge the ephemerality of this moment, this life. 

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Side note: I will be exhibiting drawings made during my October 2015 residency in Iceland, as well as woodcuts, at Cerulean Arts Gallery, March 2-26, 2016.  I hope you'll join me and co-exhibitor Roger Chavez for the Opening Reception on March 4, and our Artists' Talk on March 13.  Click through for details.

 

Yfir kaldan eydisand...

Across the cold wasteland...

This short poem has been circling in my imagination.  It's an old familiar rhyme for many Icelanders, written in the mid-nineteenth century by Kristján Jónsson Fjallaskald (1842 - ­1869). Some of the attraction is the sound of this beautiful language, the inherent veil of incomprehension, and my willingness to be absorbed by sound and mystery.  I have a sense of what the words mean, but I love also what is left untranslated, and what shimmers at the edges of comprehension.  Here it is in Icelandic and my own rough translation.

Yfir kaldan eyðisand einn um nótt ég sveima. Nú er horfið Norðurland, nú á ég hvergi heima.

Across the cold wasteland (of sand) one night I flew (glided). Now the Northland is gone (lost to me), now I have no home.

Woodcut, 12 x 9.  The reflective area on the bottom is printed with graphite ink.

Woodcut, 12 x 9.  The reflective area on the bottom is printed with graphite ink.

Here in Iceland, working in the studio I sometimes feel utterly lost as I leave behind the comfort of the familiar.  I am OK with that. The theme I am contemplating is eternal, universal, and gets to the heart of the human condition: we all walk alone into the darkness eventually. I'm comforted by this voice from the past, a solitary soul striking out into the unknown.  

Woodcut, 9 x 12

Woodcut, 9 x 12

Drawing, 25" x 19", graphite and acrylic

Drawing, 25" x 19", graphite and acrylic

Here is a link to a YouTube video of the poem set to music, sung in haunting harmony.  Enjoy!




September in Reykjavik…

As the Ravens return to Iceland, it's the end of September and I find myself on the verge of transition.  My month at SIM is over, and tomorrow I head North to Akureyri. Before I leave this spot, here are a few pictures from my month at SIM Reykjavik.

Notes. 

Notes. 

Window selfie.

Window selfie.

Lava and moss in the Gálgahraun lava field near Reykjavik.

Lava and moss in the Gálgahraun lava field near Reykjavik.

Detail of a painting by Kjarval.

Detail of a painting by Kjarval.

View from my window.  I am talking to you.

View from my window.  I am talking to you.

Ancient rock wall, a sheep enclosure in Þingvellir.

Ancient rock wall, a sheep enclosure in Þingvellir.

Lava, moss

Lava, moss

I am talking to you. Woodcut, 10" x 13"

I am talking to you. Woodcut, 10" x 13"

View from my studio at SIM.

View from my studio at SIM.

The fantastic September SIM cohort: Tim (thanks for the photo!) Genevieve, Alec (in front) Eva, Sophie, me, Lydia, Elia, Camilla.  Missing from the photo are Jonathan and Natalia.  For more info about our doings, look on the SIM Facebook page "Simresidency."

The fantastic September SIM cohort: Tim (thanks for the photo!) Genevieve, Alec (in front) Eva, Sophie, me, Lydia, Elia, Camilla.  Missing from the photo are Jonathan and Natalia.  For more info about our doings, look on the SIM Facebook page "Simresidency."

Silence in Iceland

In Iceland, silence is much more than just a space between sounds. Silence is time moving backwards and forwards.  Silence rises up from the earth, the atmosphere is charged with it. Silence in Iceland is a dizzying aural experience. 

In Iceland, I feel both connection and loss as I stand in the silence, witness to the passage of time. 

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