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Áslaug Friðjónsdóttir

Áslaug Friðjónsdóttir is a visual artist, based in Reykjavik, Iceland. Her work is firmly rooted in construction work and architecture, as well as evoking images of urban landscapes regarding material, colour, form, which highlight the artist´s perceptive eye for her surroundings. In recent years, she has been part of a wide selection of creative projects in fields such as fashion and design in Iceland. Áslaug has participated in numerous collective exhibitions in Iceland and internationally and has had several solo exhibitions. These days, she is preparing her upcoming exhibition in Gallery Port in Reykjavik.

Áslaug, please tell us a bit about yourself, what brought you to start making art?

I´ve always been drawn towards art, looking at it, being around it and making it. I was always drawing or painting as a kid so it really came to me early that I wanted to become an artist.

Sometimes it can be difficult to find the right words to explain art. Could you tell us more about your style, what ideas or methods you put into your work?

My work is abstract and when I´m making art I feel like I´m communicating with the world in a language that I´m inventing and learning at the same time. My visual vocabulary grows with time and the more I work I gain more and more understanding of what I´m doing. I´m drawn to materials that are mundane and could be used in construction; concrete, stones, grout and linoleum. When I make paintings they have sculptural elements in them and my sculptures often have two-dimensional features.

You studied and lived for a while in New York and Seattle. What is it like to be an artist in America compared to in Iceland?

I did my graduate studies in School of Visual Arts in NYC and lived there for three years. A few months after graduation my older daughter was born, when she was a few months old we moved to Seattle and lived there for three years. During this time I didn´t have much time to work on my art and It wasn´t until I moved back to Iceland that I gave myself the time to work on art again and then opportunities to exhibit came to me one after another.

I know you have a strong connection to South Europe, in particular Greece and Italy, tell us a bit about that? How has that affected your work as an artist?

My grandmother is half Greek and half Italian. She now lives in Paris where she grew up but as a young woman she moved to Iceland and raised a family there. My grandmother and I always talk together in Icelandic but she talks with my mother in French and used to talk to my great-grandmother both French and Italian. I remember being very young and listening to my family talk together in languages that I didn´t understand. It was like listening to music and you pay attention to the rhythm and pattern; I would understand some parts, some words I recognized, and I noticed other words or phrases being used more often than others. When you don´t understand what is being said you have to read into everything else; the tone, the gestures, the silences and try to read between the lines. Part of my art practice is based on this feeling, of not understanding.

My work is abstract and I often use the same shapes again and again in different works as well as the same elements or materials again and again, almost the same way you would use letters of the alphabet or words. Pictographic scripts like hieroglyphs are something I think of as well as alphabets of different origins than my own. Looking at these different systems (alphabets) and not understanding them but still appreciate the form of each letter as well as the whole system which they belong to is what I find interesting. The materials I work with also refer to historic eras of art and culture in central Europe. When I use linoleum, it´s a material that´s part of my everyday here in Iceland, I see it in school buildings, hospitals, offices and apartment buildings. It´s a material made to mimic various colored marble and natural stone. When I use it within my work I feel like I´m combining the two worlds; my own mundane reality and at the same time hinting toward the great marble and historic stone buildings of Europe. It´s a nod toward a classical era when the material of the sculptor was marble and stone but for me, a young contemporary artist working in Iceland it´s linoleum, grout and rocks I find on the ground.

Are there any artists that have had a special influence on your own work?

I´m a huge fan of Carol Bove. I remember walking into her exhibition at David Zwirner in New York a few years ago and all I could think was I don´t need to sleep or eat ever again, I can just live here and look at these works forever. Alicja Kwade also inspires me, as well as Andreas Eriksson, Gedi Sibony, Landon Metz and all of them have influenced my work at different times. However, Isamu Nuguchi is an endless source of inspiration.

Let´s turn the talk towards your crowd. How do you communicate with your audience?

I use Instagram to post images of my artwork. I seldom talk directly to the audience but I use Instagram story to show behind the scenes, what I´m doing in the studio or when I´m installing an exhibition. Every now and then I also post photos or videos that show family life and life outside of the studio. I don´t really make a strict separation between art and life and I think people appreciate that and are able to create a more personal connection between the audience and the artist.

"When you don´t understand what is being said you have to read into everything else; the tone, the gestures, the silences and try to read between the lines. Part of my art practice is based on this feeling, of not understanding."

Congratulations on your recent exhibition at Norr11 in Reykjavik. Can you tell us about the exhibition in a few words?

The exhibition title translates as Stone-Writing and refers to the alphabetical thoughts and connections to writings and different systems of communicating messages. I´m exhibiting 12 paintings (I could also call them reliefs). They are made of grout that I spread over a plate, I then make a drawing, cutting into the grout with a knife. I then fasten stones and/or linoleum cut-outs in it and when the grout has dried I paint and draw on the surface. The 13th painting is a 150×100 cm aquarelle painting of various shapes orderly spread over the paper.

There is a clear reference to architecture in your work. Do you have any specific dream exhibition space?

One day I would love to exhibit my work in a beautiful old palace somewhere in Europe.

By any measure it is safe to say that this year has been turmulus, what are your plans for 2021?

2020 was a strange year for me, I was coming out of maternity leave and it took me some time to find a new balance between work and family. In December , last year, the exhibition Stone-Writing opened in Norr11 and in 2021 I have two exhibitions planned that I´m very excited about.

See more of Áslaug´s work on her website and Instagram.

WORDS Ingunn Eyþórsdóttir
PHOTOS Áslaug Friðjónsdóttir