The Icelandic Visual Arts Council presents the Icelandic Art Prize 2020, providing support to outstanding visual artists as well as encouraging new artistic creation. The winner was announced on February 20 by the minister of education and culture, Lilja Alfreðsdóttir. 

Guðjón Ketilsson (b. 1956) was named the Artist of the Year for his exhibition Teikn in Reykjanes Art Museum.

Artist Guðjón Ketilsson with Auður Edda and Claire Paugam.

The exhibition comprised eight works which were connected by a systematic presentation in the exhibition space, all of which revolved around symbols, their significance and “reading” in the widest sense.

At one end of the hall, Guðjón had drawn or written in a new font, created by himself, the beginning of Genesis, one of the lynchpins of western culture. At the same time, the title refers to the work of the artist who had formed the story in figurative innovation. At the other end hung framed the yield of 19 months of labour, the transcript of all the Passion Hymns, each one transformed into a drawing on a piece of paper, mirroring Genesis, as similar technique was used to construct and deconstruct these historical texts. The long wall of the hall held a series of reliefs from cut wooden branches, dyed in blue ink and lined up to form unnamed poems and texts. This painstaking “nature font” referenced reading and a poetic perception of the world, which the audience filled in, each visitor “reading” them in their own way. Secondly, as seen in the catalogue, Guðjón had got poet Sjón to look at some of these “poems” and translate them to Icelandic.

LIBRARY,  2018-2019, furniture and books, 115 x 110 x 42 cm. Courtesy of the artist. 

On the floor stood clean-cut sculptures which the artist had formed and polished out of old furniture; cupboards and chests of drawers, transforming them into receptacles for books and stacks of books which had been shorn of their distinctive features but in the new, combined form they echoed architecture as well as referencing the repository of joint memories and symbols which books are.

SKÖPUNARSAGA/ GENESIS, 2019, wall drawing, 500 x 245 cm. Courtesy of the artist. 

Guðjón has held numerous solo exhibitions and participated in group exhibitions around the world. His work can be found in all major museums in Iceland. He has worked in equal measure at drawings and three-dimensional work, as was evident in this exhibition; his artworks are in general amazingly intricate and contain musings on the existence of man. Many of Guðjón’s works are based on various clues, symbols and quotes which the viewer senses and understands and this was poignantly visible in Teikn.

PASSIUSALMAR- HYMNS OF THE PASSION, 2016-2018,  ink on paper, 17 x 24 cm., 50 sheets. Courtesy of the artist. 

The exhibition contained different themes and ideas which have been prominent in Guðjón’s works in recent years, presented in new artworks in a uniquely effective fashion. It was a logical continuation of the artist’s work but also a powerful execution and addition to it, leading the way into new and exciting worlds of meaning. The jury considers Guðjón Ketilsson well deserving of this award.

Nominations – Artist of the year 2020:

Anna Guðjónsdóttir for Pars Pro Toto in Reykjavík Art Museum.
Guðjón Ketilsson for Teikn in Reykjanes Art Museum.
Hildigunnur Birgisdóttir for Universal Sugar in ASÍ Art Museum.
Ragnar Kjartansson for Figures in Landscape in Gallery i8.

Icelandic Art Prize’s Motivational Award

Claire Paugam (b. 1991) was the winner of the 2020 Icelandic Art Prize’s Motivational Award for an ambitious and powerful contribution to art this year. Claire is a French artist who has lived in Iceland for years. She graduated from Beaux-Art de Nantes Métropole in 2014, finished her Master’s degree from Iceland University of the Arts in 2016, and has since then been very active on the art scene in Iceland and in France.

Pouring Inside, mixed media installation, 2019. Presented at Flæði Art Space, Off Venue – Sequences Art Festival, Reykjavik

Claire usually deals with art and other diverse projects in the field of exhibition management, stage design, music videos, poems and text works. This includes the solo exhibition Pouring Inside in Flæði which was an off-venue event of the art festival Sequences IX, and Versatile Uprising, an interactive installation in Wind and Weather Window Gallery with Raphaël Alexandre. She has also participated in many group exhibitions and other projects, including participation and management of the final exhibition of Listastofan, WE RUINED EVERYTHING; the opening exhibition of the Museum of Perceptive Art (previously Ekkisens) and a collaboration with Raphaël Alexandre in the factory in Djúpavík, as well as projects in France.

In her work, Claire often deals with ideas and speculations on the senses and perception of nature through the use of various media. In her series Attempting the Embrace (2015-), we see a repeated attempt to combine body and nature, where the texture of raw flesh is reflected in rocks and stones, where the body becomes one with the landscape. Claire describes the search for the bodily in nature as a figurative parallel by the definition of Michel Foucault who described it as “tension which never relaxes between two ridges on either side of a deep valley,” creating “a glorious struggle between alikeness.” Her work has a clear poetic vision of the reality, where she imbues inanimate objects with life to strengthen or extend our senses. This repeated attempt for a hug eliminates the boundaries between tangible surroundings and intangible perception, opening a route to previously unknown dimensions of the universe. In her latest works, Claire continues to encourage viewers to mind their body, surroundings and the universe. She is preoccupied with the cycle and movement of geological physicality and likeness to the nature of bodily functions, as well as reflexes and societal norms.

Claire’s work has a strong personal aesthetic and the jury considers her artistic vision clear and interesting, she is a generous and powerful artist.

Nominations for the Motivational Award:

Claire Paugam
Emma Heiðarsdóttir
Sigurður Ámundason

The jury of the Icelandic Art Prize 2020:

Helgi Þorgils Friðjónsson, formaður
Anna Júlía Friðbjörnsdóttir
Einar Falur Ingólfsson
Kristín Dagmar Jóhannesdóttir