Jón Óskar
Jón Óskar in Galleri Laang,
Malmö 1991

By Halldór Björn Runólfsson

Entering the sumptuous Christina Laang gallery and seeing Jón Óskar’s new works on the walls obviously surprised the public and provoked mixed feelings. When an artist drastically changes course, the first question is always: ‘What happened to the old style?’ Usually, the question is asked in a tone betraying slight disappointment. Changes in art are seldom welcomed.

In Jón Óskar’s case the question was wrongly put, since what has changed is the subject-matter, not the style. As before, the artist uses encoustic and black on unprepared canvas or paper, layering and scratching, or using a variety of other methods to achieve a satisfying result. But the heads and figures that used to dominate, have suddenly disappeared. They have been replaced by an all-over pattern created by the decorative flora that used to fill the background of many of his ‘portraits’. The works now look like wall-paper, sometimes endowed with emblematic insignia. Thus, the first thing to be noted is that the foreground has disappeared from the background.

In classical Renaissance painting, the foreground was used to display scenes from myths and legends, while the background was filled with architectural motifs or landscape. But, with the advent of the great Venetian painters, the foreground began to recede into the background. When the classical tradition culminated and ended in Impressionism, the background had become virtually omnipresent. It seems that with the disappearance of his monumental faces, Jón Óskar has cleared his pictures of all narrative. What is left is an artificially patterned impressionism, filled with the most sensual nuances, a feature not easy to find in his earlier works.

The kingdom of Jón Óskar is definitely younger. It has come after the Deluge, when, as Hegel stated, naïvety is of little help to the artist. The sole answer to the Flood is to depict its continuous and colourless rainfall, and that Jón Óskar does admirably with the help of his deluged and dusky technique of encaustic. As Baudelaire in his Fusées, he experiences the centralization and evaporation of the self, which may account for the sudden melting of his monumental portraits and self-portraits.

The integral, monumental self cannot withstand modern dismantling forces which split our experience and turn the mind into a snapshot camera, ceaselessly trying to recapture the fragments into a net of corresponding signs. Since, by retaining a few images of the fading symbols of meaning, there is a chance that a piece or two of the cake could be withheld as a material of reconstitution. The symbolic allegories that have appeared from beneath the monumental figures in Jón Óskar’s paintings are suggestive of that hope. Like tapestries of correspondences they prefigure the recondensation of the self.

From Correspondentia December 1991.
Text © Halldór Björn Runólfsson

The works now look like wall-paper, sometimes endowed with emblematic insignia.
Jón Óskar has cleared his pictures of all narrative.