Alterations/ Altercations

Nadia Esslim
Fri, March 31, 2017 to Mon, May 15, 2017

Bergthor Morthens, one of the most talented contemporary artists in Island, teaches art and philosophy at Tröllaskaga College. “I do not define myself as belonging to a certain style. I only paint, and the subject has been in general figurative so far, created with passion.” Art is part of his daily life, and his works are honest and straightforward, pushing centrifugally the levels of reality. The artists who have influenced him the most are Anselm Kiefer, Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon. He is interested in photography as source of inspiration for painting, and searches for his portraits photos in newspapers, online and on TV. The original figures and contours disintegrate, inciting the viewer to form their own network of relations. He approaches different social topics, especially from the political landscape. He wants to create “an authentic fake derived from existing images,” get involved in the contemporary political transitions and make a difference.

His works are created in a traditional style, with a new narration where the subtle and grotesque interweave, with chiaroscuro, piercing glances, thrill created by the contrast between warm and cold colours. The depth of the looks invites to an exploration of the human psyche. He also approaches the subject of chromophobia. On experimenting, he has also reached a sculptural direction, his paintings becoming 3D at times. The colour flows heavily here and there, leaving thick traces that form a personal map. Some portraits are telluric, with aspect of land burnt by drought where a face is imprinted, a reference to the human essence. His portraits reveal deep thinking on the role that painting has in an era of the Internet and media. They are created based on photos taken from the Internet, which are completed with stains, thus losing their symbolic power and giving a sense of discomfort. The stains contaminate the portrait and destroy the image. The non-idealized face is exposed by the painting and, at the same time, hidden under the smears of colour that cover some areas. The fleeting moment when the artist “throws” paint on the portrait becomes permanent through painting. By covering the mouth partially, the individual is deprived of the right to express their opinion in a world where political life heads in an extremist manner towards right. The stains disfigure the face in a destructive gesture, annihilating the authority of the people depicted and their right to speak.

Bergthor Morthens reflects on the difference between photography and painting. The image manipulated in the process of applying the colours as in a pictorial Photoshop, being intensified by the pigment. The moment caught in the photo finds a new context in the process of painting. The original images become almost unrecognizable, and the result is a different narration. In this image-saturated world, the artist searches for ways in which these images acquire meaning and power.