In comparison with the other European and Nordic countries, the Faroese art history is extremely short. It hasn´t lasted more than a hundred years, but despite of this and the limited size of the country and its inhabitants, the quality of Faroese art seems remarkable. The dominant motif in Faroese art has been and to a certain extent it still is the Faroese landscape. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faroe_Islands
Pioneers of Faroese art were Niels Kruse (1871-1951), Kristin í Geil (1877-1935) and Jógvan Waagstein (1879-1949). They were all self-taught painters who painted landscapes that were inspired by the 19.century National Romantic movement in Europe and of course by the all pervading nature in their homeland.
The first Faroese professional painter, Sámal Joensen-Mikines (1906-1979), was the first who seriously ventured to choose painting as an occupation and he has influenced Faroese painting considerably. He began his education at the Accademy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen in 1928 with Aksel Jørgensen and Ejnar Nielsen as his teachers. It was especially the latter, who together with the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch, served as the greatest sources of inspiration for Mikines’ symbolic, expressive, and dramatic portrayals in which death plays a major role. The darkest paintings are dated around 1934, which became a fateful year for Mikines. His native village, that holds his name, Mikines, was struck by grief when large parts of the male population of the village drowned following two boat wrecks. Furthermore this was the year when Mikines’ father died. The artist has himself described it as an artistic experience when his father’s coffin was carried through the village. After the funeral is a monumental painting picturing people in a boat on their way home from a funeral. The composition seems heavy like a pyramid, which can be seen as a symbolic illustration of the unstoppable power of death. William Heinesen, the famous Faroese author was also the first Faroes curator who also wrote about visual art and artists. He said that this painting reminded him of the psalms of Thomas Kingo, danish poet in the baroque period in the 17 centur. And I agree that there is a very religious and a bit opldfashioned feeling in this painting that almost reminds of Spanish art from the baroque period. We see that the flashes of light are consentrated in the sky above and on the hands to the left and right in the painting. This emphasizes the heavy pyramid, but can also be read as signs of love and trust. It´s a dark and gloomy painting, but it holds no protest. Instead we sense a total acceptence of the hard conditions of life, where "the Lord provides and taketh away again."
Following this forceful beginning of Mikines, Faroese art experienced a virtual blossoming after World War II, when several talented and productive artists returned to the Faroe Islands after finishing their studies in Denmark. Among these was the sculptor Janus Kamban (b.1913) – a fiery soul in Faroese art circles by reason of his own art as well as an organizer of exhibitions of Faroese art.
The painter Ruth Smith (1913-1958) belongs to the same generation. She was inspired by the French artist Paul Cézanne as well by her teacher at the Danish Accademy Axel Jørgensen. In her work we see a great interest in colours and impressionistic light effects. From her life work, undoubtedly the portraits, and especially the self-portraits from the 1950s, are the strongest.
These are colouristic masterpieces characterized by a deep insight into the complementary relationship of the colours. But it is not solely the formal quality, which makes an impression. Confronted with these paintings you are reminded of Edvard Munch’s artistic creed that the artist must dissect the soul on the canvas. Ruth Smith has portrayed her own person with examining, critical, almost merciless eyes. She has gone through great pains portraying the eyes and it is not entirely by chance that the eyes are called the mirror of the soul, because looking into these eyes it feels like you are looking directly into the troubled soul of the artist.
The poetic and in every way unique paintings of the artist Steffan Danielsen (1922-1976) from the island of Nólsoy, the small island just outside of Tórshavn. His paintings have a tremendous impact on the beholder, also today, as we sense their quiet and boundless loneliness. I have written a book about this artist and I think he is one of the most interesting Faroese artists with a totally independent style, an outsider artist.
Viewed from the outside, I suppose that the grasp that Faroese art takes on the Faroese landscape might seem to be an innocent and rather old fashioned approach to visual art. This agrees well with the picture of the Faroe Islanders as original nature people of a kind who live within and in harmony with nature. And the typical critical respons of a Faroese exhibition abroad always seems to revolve around Faroese nature as being the basis of existense. Similarly the art critic senses a special honesty and nature feeling in the Faroese works. And perhaps we ourselves have been inclined to accept this romanticized picture, but we don´t need it. Of course, the influence from nature is of vital importance to a small island nation situated in the middle of the ocean. But although nature and the weather have a profound effect on the lives of the people who live here, it´s important to remember, that the Faroese society is a modern Nordic society. And when it comes to technology, we are opereating on the same level as the countries around us. From the beginning untill the present day, Faroese artists from the old masters, Mikines, Ingálvur av Reyni and to contemporary artists like Rannvá Kunoy and Silja Strøm have been acquiring solid educations from foreign schools.
In other countries artists have, for many years, been interested in installations, minimalism and conceptual art, but so far this has not affected Faroese art much. We do not have many “isms” in Faroese art and e.g. the Faroese expressionism is based on reality and not on art theory. Cubism in Faroese art has been mentioned a few times, but Faroese cubism is quite different from the originally intended analytical cubism of Picasso and Braque; in Faroese cubism, the tangible reality never seems to be far away.
Ingálvur av Reyni (1920-2005) has come to exert the greatest influence on contemporary Faroese art. In his work we see that he is not content with simply registering the overwhelming landscape. He fights it, simplifies it, abstracts from it, until only the essence is left; until the spiritual experience of the motif has become an independent work of art.
Zacharias Heinesen (b.1936) is 77 years old and he is still working as one of the most important Faroese artist and one of the creators of the special Faorese "image". He has been devoting himself and his attention to the Faorese landscape through half a century of working with art. His famous compositions with square and triangular houses and mountains in bright lucid colours have inspired many a Faroese artist. The motif that persistently preoccupies his interest is the village by the ocean. The atmosphere in his work appears light and the compositions seem relatively straightforward. The artistic enterprice appears to consist largely of registering the light conditions in nature.
One of the most interesting and innovating Faroese artists at the moment Tóroddur Poulsen (1957) has for instance mainly been working at the Lithographic Workshop, where he has created his intriguing works of art in which writing is combined with pictures. In the work of the younger generation the interest in the Faroese landscape as subject matter seems to decline while the interest in the human mind, existential or philosophical questions or the internal landscapes seems to rise. This development is perhaps a natural result of globalization and the fact that the younger generation of Faroese artists mainly has chosen to reside abroad.
Silja Strøm is part of the youngest generation. Her pictures deal with existential themes of alienation. The paintings and drawings are figurative and you might think that they are narrative and easy to understand, but infact she tells a very open story, we don´t really know where it starts and the chronology as well as the directions, what is upside and downside and vertical and horizontal. Her style is very not Faroese and reminds almost of something from the renaissance. But this is the case with many of the young Faroese artists of today. Faroese art is no longer as homogenous as it was.
As I mentioned in the beginning, Faroese art is no more than a hundred years old. Many different speculations and explanations for the late Faroese start have been advanced such as the hard living conditions in the old days. It´s a fact that visual art posesses no direct utility value and the materials required to make art are costly. Visual art calls for full working capacity. As contrasted with storytelling and singing songs, visual art cannot be properly ececuted at the same time as doing the household chores. But this is only part of an explanation, because adverse circumstances have not prevented other people who were much poorer than the people in the Faroe Islands from developing a visual art expression. One interesting explanation deals with the political situation and the historical absence of a Faroese upper class.