In such busy, connected times as ours, it’s hard to imagine life in such a remote place as Iceland in the mid-twentieth century, at the time of Karólína Lárusdóttir's childhood. A sparsely populated island nation, situated in a far-flung corner of the freezing North Atlantic, Iceland was seldom visited by tourists as it is today. Many of the roads and infrastructure had only just been built by occupying allied troops during WWII, replacing the dirt roads that had served people before.
For the aspiring artist Karólína, her childhood would become the source of inspiration for her etchings and paintings. Her maternal grandfather - a former circus strongman - founded Reykjavik’s first Grand hotel, the Hotel Borg. It was here that she spent many afternoons after school and was witness to an adult world filled with eccentric characters, dinner parties and tea-dances.
Karólína Lárusdóttir’s work is a window into this lost world, a world before television, when social gatherings were the sole entertainment and a focus of daily life. There is a touch of the surreal in her imagery; angels float mid-air or seem to jostle their wings; strange figures in suits or uniforms lurk ominously. These encounters are presented as part of everyday life, as if conversing with an angel is a frequent occurrence.
Much of the work displayed in ‘Wondrous Happenings’ are etchings so you’d be forgiven for thinking that Karólína Lárusdóttir worked solely in print-making. However, her luminous oils and watercolours are another major part of her work. Although rarely seen out of private collections in recent years, they are visionary, unique and deftly painted. Her watercolours, an especially challenging and unforgiving medium, are painstakingly rendered with delicate colour built up in layers. Karólína steadily developed her painting from the early nineteen eighties, producing a distinctive body of paintings as she grew in confidence as an artist. She became a member of the Royal Watercolour Society in 1986 and the New English Art Club in 1991.
Karólína came to printmaking later in her career, attending introductory courses in lithography and etching. It was clear to her colleagues and tutors that Karólína had a rare gift and a clear vision. With the support and encouragement of Harry Eccleston (a master-printmaker and Karólína’s tutor) and latterly with the expertise of Linda Richardson at her printmaking and editioning studio, for the next two decades Karólína was able to develop the editions of prints for which she became so well-known. Using the ‘a la poupee’ technique, where the artist applies colour directly to the etching plate, Karólína’s etchings glow with an intensity of colour and freshness of line.
Like so many women artists throughout history, Karólína juggled family life and career progression, with some years passing when she made very little work at all, but her determination and quiet resolve saw her commit to her art, thus to become widely respected, recognised and highly sought-after.
Born in Reykjavik, in 1944, Karólína Lárusdóttir studied art at the Ruskin School of Art in Oxford, graduating in 1967. She remained living in the UK until recently when she returned to Iceland. Her work has been exhibited in Europe, the US and South Africa, and has made numerous appearances at the Royal Academy Summer exhibition. Paintings and etchings are also in several notable collections, including that of The Ashmolean Museum, The British Museum and in the private collection of HRH Queen Elizabeth II, Thjodarbokhladan, Reykjavik (National Library of Iceland) Listasafn ASI Museum, Reykjavik, and Nordisk Aquarell, (Watercolour Museum) in Sweden.
As well has her Royal Water Colour society and New English Art Club memberships, she became a fully elected member of the Royal Society of Painter Printmakers in 1981. She was also the recipient of prizes such as the The Dicks and Greenbury Prize in 1989; the 4th Triennale Mondiale D'Estampes Petit Format in France. In 1990, Karolina received a special award at the Premio Biella Internazionale per L'Incisione in Italy. She was named Graphic artist of the Year 2005, Islensk Grafik; and was awarded the Aberystwyth University School of Art Collection Prize 2012. Her biography was published in Iceland in 2013.
However, perhaps most importantly of all is the deep admiration she has drawn from collectors and art enthusiasts alike. Karólína’s work is a delight, each image sparking much discussion and wonder amongst ourselves and our visitors.
Very sadly during this exhibition’s planning, Karólína died in Iceland on 7th February 2019, following a stroke. We at the gallery are deeply saddened at her passing, particularly as gallery director Sarah Wiseman has worked with Karólína almost since opening the gallery in 1998. Her work is held in particular esteem and warm affection with so many of our clients and all of us here at Sarah Wiseman Gallery. We hope that whether you’re familiar with her work or not, there will be something new and exciting to discover in this exhibition, and that it will serve as a fitting tribute to this remarkable artist’s life and work.
(A note on the catalogue: Quotes by Karólína Lárusdóttir taken from the book Karólína Lárusdóttir by Adalsteinn Ingolfsson, published in 2013. Photographs also from the book.)
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