Jón Óskar
The Poet of the City

By Halldór Björn Runólfsson

These paintings are bound to impress and depress in equal proportions: impress, because they are executed in such powerful and explicit way; depress, because their aspect doesn’t incite joy. These are paintings that deal with modernity; the world we live in, whether we like it or not.

Describing a world burdened with pessimistic outlook is a sheer toil. In spite of its future possibilities, the artist must avoid all optimistic Weltansicht in order to eschew banality. If he choses to represent his melancholic Weltschmerz, he is, conversely, in danger of being considered insipid. So, armed with his technique he sets out to do the impossible; render all these interdictions without ever depicting them.

Jón Óskar started off by eliminating colour; the thing considered essential to the art of painting. Instead he introduced non-colour; neither black nor white, but something in between, akin to the hues of a dreary newspaper. By using encaustic he also reduced his technical possibilities, and so, emphasized the effort to the detriment of a flowing and flexible virtuosity. All easy gains he would either remove by scraping or cancel with a new layer of vax and paint.

As an artist of culture, Jón Óskar is a poet of the city. Like a modern Baudelaire, he is a flaneur who observes his fellow-men, his semblables, strolling somber and empty-eyed along the streets amid huge architectural constructions, ornated with reified motifs from the past. Dusk is the chosen hour; hence, the crepuscular colouring and glimmering scratches; a vain attempt to freeze the last rays of the setting sun. It is the faint representation of twilight; the between day and night; the ideal and the spleen; the dream and the drear; love and spite. It recalls the hour when the city; ‘this charming and ever rejuvenated hell’, transforms its modern buildings into illuminated basalt caves with gigantic arcades and gleaming pillars, reminding us of our ‘anterior life’; thus, arousing with its empty promises our longing for a real and authentic present.

From catalogue Jón Óskar Summer 1989.

Text © Halldór Björn Runólfsson

Images © Jón Óskar

Describing a world burdened with pessimistic outlook is a sheer toil.