From July 8 through July 22nd, it was my great joy to return to Iceland. My sister, husband, and I arrived early in the morning of the 9th and picked up our rental car at SADCars (they always have taken such good care of me!). That afternoon I was to give an artist talk at the Duus Museum in Reykjanesbaer for the closing of my show, "That Which Remains: Views of Rural Iceland".
The work on display reflected the pieces I'd made at Guesthouse 1x6 as well as a body of work I'd created in my home studio starting in January 2017 through March and brought with me when I was an artist in residence at 1x6 in March. It was such an honor to share my work with an audience in Iceland!
The next day happened to be my birthday, so my sister, husband, and I went to Gamla Laugin, the Secret Lagoon in Flúðir following a glorious breakfast at 1x6. It was such a joy to spend time with my dear friends, Andi and Yukiyo, who, because their kindness and hospitality are seemingly endless, brought me the most incredible cake I've ever had the privilege of eating! I hold that day in my heart as one of my very favorite days, with some of my very favorite people.
The next day, we three said bye to Andi and Yukiyo and headed in our separate ways; my sister went to Portugal and my husband and I started our journey north along the west coast of Iceland in the direction of the Westfjords. Along the way to our first destination, we stopped in Reykjavik at Eyðibýli á Íslandi which is the organization that has extensively documented and catalogued the abandoned farmhouses of Iceland and has provided an incredible resource for my research. At my husband's urging, I showed them my work, and was given some fodder for discovery for later in our journey. We also stopped at 12 Tonar for the soundtrack to our journey, which was Moses Hightower's newest release, Fjallaloft.
Our first stop was Esjan, which is the creation of Daniel and Linda, former owners of 1x6. Daniel's master woodworking is on display in each of the unique and artisan apartments at the base of Mount Esja. It is a deeply spiritual place and is absolutely stunning.
The next morning we continued northward(ish), traveling around Snaefellsnes, of course visiting the hauntingly beautiful Dagverdera, and eventually landing in Stykkisholmer for our first night of camping.
The next day, the landscape began to change dramatically as we got into the Westfjords. After the most harrowing road experience of my life (we thought we'd take a shortcut along a road along Rt 60 near Flokalundur which was a big ol' NOPE road once a pea-soup thick fog rolled in), we landed in Patreksfjordur for our second night of camping. The Wesfjords are heart-wrenchingly gorgeous but the roads are not for the faint of heart. At moments you are hugging cliffs on narrow gravel roads that wind up steep mountains. Then, as you pass over a mountain, the landscape opens up into a valley and you feel like you are the only person in the world.
Our initial plan had been to travel up to Isafjordur via Rt 60, which for part of the way was going to be one of those gravel, cliff-hugging roads. After my experience the previous day, and knowing that there was going to be inclement weather, we had to change our plans. Iceland is one of those places where you are always exactly where you are meant to be. What she doesn't want to show you, you won't see. The weather truly does dictate what you'll be able to experience and it's truly humbling. I'm constantly checking vedur.is to get the road conditions, which can change, moment by moment.
The main reason I wanted to go into the Westfjords was to see Samuel Jonsson's Art Farm in Arnarfjörður, which is located on the tip of the fjord in the remote Selárdalur, beyond Bíldudalur. Samuel Jonsson's story is a fascinating one - when the altarpiece he created for the local church was rejected, Samuel built himself a church and several concrete sculptures inspired by those found in Spain and Italy. He never left Iceland, and it's hard to believe that he created his work in solitude. After his death in the 60's, the farm fell into disrepair, but conservation efforts have been able to preserve these treasures. The road to the farm is again, a cliff-hugging, narrow, pot-holed, gravel road, and thankfully the rain held off until we could see the gate to the town of Bildudalur. We hung out at the Sea Monster Museum until the most intense rain had passed and learned about the sea monster sightings in the Westfjords.
Without the urgency to travel up to Isafjordur, we took our time going through the southern Westfjords, stopping off at Tálknafjörður to visit the Villimey skin care products factory (and of left there with a bunch of goodies). We landed in Flokalundur for our last night of camping before we had to start making our way back. Near the campground at Flokalundur, there is a gorgeous natural hot pool, which overlooks a bay. I neglected to photograph it, but it was a wonderful way to unwind.
In the morning, we made our way slowly, and with many stops for photographs, to Borgarnes, where we were destined to stay at a lovely homestay/coffeeshop/gift/floral shop for the night. Blomasetrid is a truly lovely place. Their waffles, drizzled with whipped cream, jam, and chocolate are quite decadent.
The following day we left for Reykjavik, and enjoyed all of our favorite places in my favorite city: the flea market down by the harbor, which is open during the weekends, Eymundsson bookstore, The Laundromat Cafe (where we drank good beer, coffee, and did our laundry), had a hot dog from Baejarins Beztu Pylsur (a requirement if you are going to be in Reykjavik), and enjoyed soup in a bread bowl for dinner at Svarta Kaffid. We stayed at the affordable and comfortable 101 Guesthouse for my husband's last night in Iceland. He flew out, my sister flew in from Portugal, and I unpacked my life at my second home: Guesthouse 1x6 where I got to spend a wonderful week with my good friends Andi and Yukiyo again.
That second week in Iceland, for me, offered a chance to unwind and create my artwork on the walls of 1x6. I took several of my photos, edited them, and had them made into transparencies by a local printshop in Reykjavik and burned my silkscreens using the sun's rays. One of the evenings that week, my sister and I attended a lovely dinner and cultural learning class at the Tin Can Factory, where we learned about and ate our way through the history of Iceland, and even got the chance to make Icelandic pancakes. It was an absolutely delightful evening to "meet the natives".
My sister left for the US, and I stayed behind to continue my work and to teach a workshop at Bokasafn Reykjanesbaer.
Each time I've taught a workshop, I'm humbled and grateful for the opportunity to meet beautiful people and share myself and my art with them. While we don't speak the same language, art IS the international language. Workshop participants made prints from my silkscreens and then turned their prints into their own unique works of art, which they then took with them.
The day after the workshop, it was time to leave, and I sadly said my byes (for now) to Andi and Yukiyo.
Andi and Yukiyo, I am so grateful for your kindness, patronage, and amazing friendship.
Now that I'm home, I've been listening to Asgeir's "Afterglow" and Moses Hightower's "Fjallaloft" while I make the new work in my studio, reflecting on my time in Iceland, eagerly awaiting the day I can return.
I'm showing my work at Duus Museum in Keflavik right now. The show concludes this Sunday with an artist talk by me at 2pm. Follow the links for the details and, if you're in Iceland this weekend, stop by and say go∂an daginn! Takk!
From March 26th through April 2, I had the great honor, privilege, and delight to return to my friends Andi and Yukiyo at Guesthouse 1x6 to continue the work I'd started in April of last year. This time, I was joined by my friend and colleague, Frumi, who'd never experienced Iceland before, so it was a joy to see some familiar sights (and plenty of new sights) with fresh eyes.
I rented a car from SADCars again; this time it was a Suzuki automatic. I love driving manual shift cars, but given the wind gusts that made their appearance throughout the week, it was a much more sound idea to go with a larger car! Frumi and I started our journey on Sunday by driving around the Reykjanes Peninsula and surveying some of the sights. We wound up at Bryggjan in Grindavik for some of the most amazing lobster bisque soup I have ever eaten.
On Monday, we traveled to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, and much photographing was to be had. I'd been on the search for abandoned farmhouses, and we came upon one in particular that I'd been searching for: Dagverdera. The landscape was so moving, and we watched as the Snæfellsjökull loomed in the distance and got ever larger the closer to the national park we traveled. The weather couldn't have been more perfect. Along the way, we met the wonderfully kind and inspiring Daniel and Linda, who are in the process of opening a guesthouse/spiritual center at the base of the peninsula. Opening in May, their facilities will include apartments in reclaimed buses. Daniel is an incredible woodworker, and was the artist behind much of the design of Guesthouse 1x6. It was a lovely to meet them both!
Keflavik boasts some really great places to eat. We returned rather late in the evening, but were still able to have a meal at Kaffi Duus along with a good glass of Gull beer, which is my favorite thing to drink in Iceland (other than crisp, clean tap water).
On Tuesday, we travelled to Vik. The weather was tempestuously grey, at times rainy, at times clear and sunny, and absolutely gorgeous. The wind gusts on the black beach of Vik were so strong, I couldn't help but laugh as my breath was taken away from me. On the return trip, we stopped along the way for photographs. I was struck by how many more tourists there were as compared to last year, and especially as compared to two years ago when my husband and I drove the ring road. At Seljalandsfoss, for instance, the parking lot was almost full. We returned late in the evening to have pizza at Fernando's Pizza in Keflavik, home of the Bianca pizza, which consists of multiple cheeses and jam and it is just delightful.
Wednesday took us to Reykjavik and after a day of walking along Laugevegur and in and out of the many tourist shops. Thankfully, there are still some excellent local shops like 12 Tonar, where we stopped so that I could grab a couple cds and discover new indie Icelandic bands. Then we made our way to Hallgrimskirkja, where, upon entering, we were enveloped by organ music. Afterwards, we headed to some of my favorite places in Reykjavik: the Laundromat Cafe and the famous hot dog stand by the Harpa,Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. I can't handle how yummy pylsur are. Of course, because I was in Iceland on business as well as pleasure, we stopped at a local print shop to pick up my transparencies for screen printing, followed by a visit to an Icelandic art supply store, Litir og Fondur so I could pick up a few things for my workshop on Saturday. We ended our day with a little joyride around the rest of the Reykjanes Peninsula, which took us past Seltun. We watched spectacular sunsets, ate again at Kaffi Duus, and ended the night with an incredible show of Northern Lights.
Thursday and Friday were work days for me. For whatever reason, exposing my screens was a bit more challenging in the sunlight and while I settled on an exposure time that worked, it took me a couple of tries. In addition to several works on paper, I also created panels for the doors of the Guesthouse - a triptych: Afternoon, Evening, and Morning.
Saturday brought my workshop at Bokasafn Reykjanesbaer, where members of the Keflavik community were invited to come and make art with me. I brought with me my silkscreens so that people could print from them and create their own unique works of art, incorporating gelli plate printing with caran d'ache drawings. I am grateful to my friends Anna Maria and Anna Margret for their help coordinating and putting the word out about the workshop, and was so happy to share a moment of art-making with those who came out!
Art is both a profoundly therapeutic and deeply vulnerable practice. There are so many beautiful things that come out of an art-making experience, namely, we make connections with others in those creative moments. Art-making affords us time to go within ourselves to find universal truths. When we work side by side, as in a workshop setting, we start conversations with strangers and we see the humanity and light in each person who gathers around the table. Much like gathering for a meal, making art in a group beckons us to start conversations with strangers and leave as friends.
I wished everyday for time to go a little slower. Too quickly, Sunday came and so I had to fly home, leaving pieces of myself behind. Guesthouse 1x6 has new pieces in their collection, as does Duus Museum, which will be showing my work in June to July. So while I say bless bless for now, I look forward to seeing my wonderful friends and that gorgeous, awe-inspiring Icelandic landscape.
My most sincere gratitude to my dear, dear friends Andi and Yukiyo for their continued support and kindness, and without whom this new body of work could not have happened or continued or started...because who knows where the work will take me next?
From April 10 through April 18 I was honored to be in Iceland doing an Artist Residency in Keflavik. My friends, Andi and Yukiyo, the owners of Guesthouse 1x6 ( http://www.1x6.is/ ) invited me to come and stay for a week in order to produce a body of artwork in situ, and leave some art on the walls. This past summer, August 2015, my husband and I stayed at the guesthouse for our last night in Iceland. Andi and Yukiyo are so dedicated to the art of taking care of their patrons - we instantly felt at home and absolutely loved our stay, which capped off a truly amazing adventure in Iceland. I drove the Ring Road, the major road that connects most of the exterior of the island, in an attempt to photograph abandoned farmhouses in the stark, hauntingly beautiful and desolate landscapes. We spent most of our days camping, but treated ourselves to a night at 1x6 for our last night.
Truly, I have never experienced vistas that made me cry from how awe-inspiringly beautiful they were, but, as I crested over gravel mountain passes, my heart opened in ways I can't express, and a head-over-heels love affair with Iceland was born.
So to say I was ecstatic at the invitation would be a huge understatement. I'm grateful that my school supported my mission, and before I knew it, I was boarding my WowAir flight (http://wowair.us/) out of BWI and was on my way!
I rented a car with SADCars (http://sadcars.com/). I had rented a car with them over the summer - they specialize in used, well-loved, but well-maintained vehicles. Travel tip: roads in Iceland are rural! You may find yourself on an empty, gravel, mountain pass road that hugs narrow cliffs leading straight to the ocean. If that's the case, you probably want an old reliable rather than a flashy new vehicle. I have to say, SADCars took very good care of us when we were there in August; we got a flat tire in the East Fjords, and their maintenance guys had us back on the road with new tires in no time.
This time I got a little red Toyata Yaris. Here in the states I drive an automatic, but, thanks to a lovely colleague of mine, I learned how to drive stick just for traveling in Iceland (the cost difference between automatic and manual transmission was enough that in July I forced myself to learn a new skill) Getting back behind the wheel during this trip felt natural and fun.
The goals of this trip were:
Below are some of the photographs I took during my journey around the Reykjanes and Snaefellsnes Peninsula. Honestly, I have about 1,000 more photos on my camera that I haven't really had a chance to look at yet. These were taken on my phone.
One of the days was an "Admin day", wherein I met with Anna Maria and Anna Margret at Bókasafn Reykjanesbæjar. They were my contacts at the library, and were instrumental in organizing and promoting my workshop. A huge thanks to them and I'm glad I have new friends!
I also had my transparencies printed at a shop in town, Merkiprent. They had great service, had my transparencies printed the same day, and it was such a joy to be able to do some business with a local printshop. Below are the images I wound up using in this first batch of screens.
I exposed the screens using natural sunlight, at about 2pm. My exposure light did not work with European voltage.
The exciting challenge was to replicate my entire studio practice, on a micro scale, pared down to the most essential, all the while staying within the size and weight restrictions of WowAir. I was nervous about traveling with paints and inks, both because of cabin pressure, but also because of how tight security seems to be these days while flying. So I did my research. Artists, if you want to travel with your paints, make sure that you bag them in clear plastic bags. Write on the bag in Sharpie, "Artist Pigments suspended in ...." (whatever it's suspended in. In my case it was acrylic). I also tucked the MSDS sheets in to the bags, so if my suitcase got searched (which it did) my friendly TSA agent would have no questions about what I was traveling with.
On Saturday I got to teach the workshop at Bókasafn Reykjanesbæjar. I had my work out for people to view, as well as my business cards and post cards for the show currently up at Pennswood Gallery. Local art enthusiasts were invited to come out for free and print from my screens, making their own creations on fabric and paper. I introduced them to Gelli Plate printmaking, http://www.gelliarts.com/, and we used the easily found volcanic rocks to make textures on the printing plate. People experimented with painting back into the prints and combining images, as well as using Caran D'Ache crayons. It was such an honor to share with these new friends the magic of printmaking!
The week went entirely too quickly, despite my attempts at staying up late and waking up early. I was truly humbled by the kindness of strangers and the warmth and thoughtfulness of new friends. I tried so many new things, namely, traveling completely on my own. I went with an eagerness to learn and a passion for soaking up all I could from this experience, my eyes wide with awe at the beauty of this earth and its people. I ate really. really well. I drove further and more challenging roads than I thought I could. I had amazing conversations with beautiful human beings. Breathing the cool air, I felt healthier, stronger, and more connected to nature than I often do here. I was able to take the time to really BE in the moment, and cherish each one that I got to experience during this residency.
My heart is full and open.
I am so grateful for this opportunity and am especially grateful to Andi and Yukiyo for being such warm and kind hosts. I can't wait to be able to get into the studio to work with the ideas that have been bubbling and churning from this trip. More than anything, I leave a piece of myself in Iceland and have a longing to return.
I'm reminded of the Asgeir Trausti song, "Home":
Home, I'm making my way home
My mind's already there...
Takk fyrir and bless bless until we meet again, Iceland.
You can now get some of my images online in the form of leggings, iphone cases, duvet covers, shower curtains, pillows, and more!
Check it out:
Goings on from the ink-splattered mind of Gillian Pokalo