At this very moment, in Corpus Christi, Texas there is a collaborative creative endeavor by two local sculptors Oscar Saenz III and Donna Dobberfuhl, and local leader, Larry ‘Running Turtle Salazar, in the conceptualizing, planning and construction of a large sculptural bronze tribute memorializing the second largest indigenous burial ground in Texas, entitled the Ishka Project.
As a filmmaker, what is happening in this coastal area of Texas, are reflected in the various stories I hear from the native people today, whose life, identity, culture, and traditions since the early 1800’s have all been close to becoming extinct, and the renewed desire to re-connecting with them.
In a larger context, after interviewing many native people throughout this state, I am finding that for over four or five generations, the natives that live here are by no means extinct, however their connection to their ancestral traditions and language have practically been severed and ‘white washed’, by the federal government through laws and policies, beginning in the early 1800’s with the Indian Civilization Act of 1819, and the newly formed U.S. Department of the Interior, to kill, eradicate and purge all that was ethnically indigenous in nature, including language, culture and traditions. All of it was done by way of systematic land dispossession, forced school assimilations, and ethnic cleansing.
Today, the local Indigenous people I listen to, few of them speak any of the ancient native tongue, nor have clear memory of their ancestral and tribal traditions, except what’s been transferred to them through anecdotal stories from family members and grand parents, or occasional Pow Wow’s, or social media and mainstream media, or even pop culture.
Further inland, in San Antonio for instance, it’s been long thought that Indians and natives there are extinct and gone, but there is ample evidence that the descendants of Coahuiltecans, Comanches, Apaches and other indigenous peoples continue to live their lives as Mexican-Americans or ‘Tejanos’, many of which have adopted hispanic names and culture, and don’t even self-identify as Native. In fact, according to local archaeologists today, like the late Professor Alston Thoms of Texas A&M University, “Native Americans in San Antonio is a 15,000-year-old history.”
This film, The American Voice, is a means to give voice to people whose ‘American’ experience has been the reality of being native, of being indigenous, of being aboriginal in a land on which their ancestors have been part of for at least 15,000 years, and whose cultures, languages, and traditions have been ruthlessly extinguished as a result of European settlements that followed, mostly from Europe.
What does it mean to be native today? How important is it to reconnect with those forgotten or lost traditions? What does it mean for all indigenous cultures around the world? If tradition, language and culture defines what it means to have a home or a place we call home, what does it mean to be with or without it?
“We’re not Indians and we’re not Native Americans. We’re older than both concepts. We’re the people, we’re the human beings.”John Trudell – Poet & Activist
About the director/producer Hayden de Maisoneuve Yates: “I make films about the human spirit, and focus on the processes of our struggles that eventually lead us to what inspires us as human beings.”
Resources in San Antonio and Corpus Christi, TX: The Tehuan Band of Mission Indians, Apaches Tribes of Texas, United San Antonio Pow Wow Association, Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation, American Indians in Texas, Texas A&M University, Archaeologist Alston Thoms, Larry Running Turtle Salazar, Anthropologist Dr. Fred L. McGhee, South Texas Alliance of Indigenous People, Louisiana Black Apaches, Cougar Bear.
Its been six months since I’ve written anything on this blog about our film, A Force in Nature: Jóhann Eyfells. It was also six months ago when I thought I would lose my house, and be forced to move due to financial challenges and joblessness. I think the last time I was ever faced with the possibility of being without a home was exactly 30 years ago, during the Writers’ Strike in Hollywood, when my total gross yearly income had barely reached $9,000. 2017 was both a very challenging year for me financially as well as rewarding creatively. In fact, if it wasn’t for my special friendship to this exceptional man, Jóhann Eyfells and experiencing the extraordinary life force he has within, I might not be here today writing about it. Of course, I won’t ignore the generosity and support I also received from own family and friends
This confession is not so much out of a self-abasement then it is out of an earnest look at my own humanity, my own frailty and fear of loneliness in the face of aging in this country.
Growing old in the United States is synonymous of becoming more and more invisible, and becoming expendable and nonessential, unlike most other cultures. I’ve always known this about our own American culture, but never felt the affects of it until I began losing my hair and feeling the weight of my awkward, out of shape, aging body on this earth. Its as if at a flick of a switch the world no longer saw me as relevant. On the outside, through social media like Facebook and Instagram, people could perceive me as being happy in life and somewhat successful, being a father of two beautiful children, a new business owner, a homeowner (mortgage owner), a filmmaker having just completed a film, and receiving small accolades for it. However, on the inside I was quickly losing my hold on everyday life, watching myself physically deteriorate, and my sense of self worth was at an all time low. At 56, I was feeling the grip of loneliness and isolation (self-imposed and otherwise) tightening around me, and most importantly I had come to realize a hard truth about myself. I was dying.
I became acquainted with Jóhann Eyfells exactly 13 years ago to the day, 10 years of which I spent documenting and filming his intimate and creative life. I don’t claim to know everything about him, but what I have come to understand is that even at his advanced age he represents everything that I would consider youthful, vibrant and alive. In fact, after being exposed to him, I clearly saw that the concept of ‘youth’ in this country is merely superficial and skin deep, and that young people and old alike would profoundly benefit from experiencing the life force and spirit that constantly emanates from individuals like Jóhann. I am convinced that at 95 he is the poster child for youth, vitality and strength, and anyone who claims otherwise is simply foolish. Men or women his age and younger would usually resign themselves to complacency, and often look to the nostalgia of the past or fantasy of the future just so they don’t have to be reminded of their present state of being almost dead. Jóhann lives in and for the present moment, in which the past and future are merely part of a larger continuum, and death is simply an expression of life itself in its full splendor, giving way to another birth.
Why is there such a chasm between young and old in this country? Are we so distrustful of each other that we cannot tolerate each other or even listen to each other speak? As long as I can remember, this common perception of youth as being synonymous with strength and stamina is the foundation of our modern consumer society. Its no accident that Coca Cola’s long commercial success is thanks to their ability to manipulate their audience emotionally through the magic of film and imagery, whose brand advocates ‘youth’ and ‘vitality’, and has done so for decades, shaping our collective consciousness to ignore and sideline the aging. I am not blaming it all on Coke and other corporate advertisers, since there is something called ‘free will’ and we all have the ability to use it. However, there is something to be said about the manipulative and tantalizing power and soullessness of commercial television and consumerism, which if constantly consumed, eventually erodes at our own ability to be discerning, unaffected and even motivated. I’ve been working in this industry since my mid twenties, so I say this with some authority on the matter. If Coke’s advertising efforts and genius could be refocused on healing our ailing planet and building bridges between generations instead of marginalizing one generation by championing another, I might even consider buying a bottle.
Last week on Christmas Day, my own two children and I went to visit Jóhann at his sculpture ranch near Fredericksburg, Texas, as I had done for the very first time, exactly 13 years ago. My son at the time was only six months old. Now, he is 13 1/2. Walking through this large playground full of massive and imposing sculptures, I found it to be both interesting and very satisfying that my own son and Jóhann were both animated and visibly engaged philosophically over one of his recent sculptural pieces. What I also found to be quite uncanny, was how they both inspired one another, and that their ‘youthfulness’ was glaringly noticeable.
In all of the time I’ve known Jóhann, interviewed him, and experienced his person, I have always come away inspired and rejuvenated. Its not to say that he is immune to low moments as a result of his solitary life, but loneliness and depression has not in the least waned his insatiable curiosity of life and his feverish dedication to the creative process as an artist and visionary.
This time, I came away realizing the one reason why I was initially captivated by this man upon first meeting him, which subsequently led to our lasting friendship, and to dedicating 10 years of my life to making a documentary film about his life as an artist. Not only was he a source of vitality for my own tumultuous and sometimes ‘hopeless’ life, but he represents everything I would associate with youth and vitality, which I have spent most of my adult life trying to reconnect with, such as the innocence and curiosity of a child, the heart and soul of being human, and my own creative life force, among other things.
As a filmmaker, I am happy to say that the film does capture some of the magic I experienced first hand with Jóhann. Upon meeting him or seeing the film, it might inspire others, young and old alike, to understand that youth does not have to be merely skin deep, but rather an expression of joy and life.
This film is now available for public screening. Feel free to contact me if you are interested in hosting such a screening event in your home town theatre, school, museum, or even private space.
phone: (512) 966-9299
Below are the contents of Jóhann Eyfells’ phone “conversation” with Joseph Bravo 3 days ago:
“When he called his first words were, “Joe are you there? I have something important to give you, write this down.” So I immediately began to type on my iPad as he commenced speaking. It is a verbatim transcript of his exact words as they were delivered in a stream of consciousness. When he was done dictating, he abruptly ended the call.
Jóhann’s remarks were not simply a series of enigmatic non-sequiturs, but actually constituted a spontaneously conceived and delivered piece of free verse poetry. His thoughts have been separated into stanzas as well as adding punctuation and italics in order to make them more intelligible and to convey his emphasis as he extemporaneously dictated. But the words themselves occur in the exact order as he spoke them with neither additions nor omissions.
Jóhann Eyfells has been speaking to us in poetry all along and this accounts for why he is sometimes so difficult to follow. But when his thoughts are understood in the context of poetry rather than disjointed prose, they take on a coherence, a clarity and profundity that makes their revelatory context evident and their esoteric meaning attainable.
I am confident that you too will appreciate that Jóhann is as brilliant at poesy as he is at sculpture and that this fact will enable you to recognize a perhaps unanticipated aspect of his unique cosmological genius. Hopefully, this poetic epiphany will bring his oracular rhetoric into unprecedented focus to reveal the music of Eyfells’ spiraling spheres.” (Taken from Joe Bravo’s email to me, dated June 21, 2018)
(Photo by Tracy Costello – May 2018)
Groping in the Dark or An Upside Down World: A Sculpture by Jóhann Eyfells
“It has all the information you need to understand an Eyfells.
Such a piece has never been created in the world before.
It is equivalent to finding a new continent.
We are on the edge of understanding one another.
You are the only person in the world who has even a glimpse of where I am coming from.
Nobody has received a phone call of this significance before as if stealing from God himself.
This phone call is a ‘game changer.’
It puts everything in second place, it takes on the characteristics of first place.
What I’m telling you is five star!
This phone call is incomplete and in a way frantic.
It will settle down and become pure force recipes of absolute exactitude.
A gift of magnificent interiority.
A foundation that has no known causes, pure emergence of unanticipated magnificence.
A new way of imagining the magnificent becoming.
A total unknown force of totally unknown cause and logical beginning.
A cause of magnificent joy because it is a window into an entirely new scientific domain.
It is the understanding of the three titles of my pieces for the Venice Biennale.
Quivericity, the last source of any entirely momentary knowledge.
The source of all quivering that excites us.
The manifestation of endeavors, stillness and darkness.
Silence begets sound, stillness begets motion, darkness begets light.
Begetting is a magnificent gift!
It is not something that drains your energy.
We are on the edge a new opening.
Copernicus and Galileo removed the mystery by only presenting a bigger one.
They created an enigma rather than solutions.
I am creating solutions not enigmas.
We have to grasp at understanding without any particular knowledge.
All of this is only an elucidation of a temporary condition.
“I know I know nothing.”
All knowledge is incomplete.
This it pulls into reality, it is a knowledge of such.
It has a clarity of an absolute revelation.
The simpleness of its own symbolism.
The equivalent of a newborn baby.
It is simply without any question a magnificence, a miracle, only a birth.
The colloquial equivalent of Hayden’s “simply splendid!”
The hierarchy of all epiphanies.
Not for discussion at this moment,
It has to be digested first.
It has to be pulled into a new form of communication,
A new form of informative patterns.
It has an amazing new form of patterns, a double click.
This piece contains it all.
The newness of what I am saying has never been accomplished before,
The closest thing to permutation that is.
The opposite of Norman Mailer’s nonsense, I was jealous of him.
A newborn baby without speculations of any kind.
A remnant of a little bit of unknowable something.
The essence of a form,
The moment of eternity that negates everything that existed,
Pure forward motion without any known obstructions,
A moment of absolute fluidity.
Put what you are hearing in your own vernacular, up to a point.
Put it as if it were something you are reporting rather than regurgitating.
Put it in your own mouth.
It should be active rather than passive information.
You have to use it as your own material for creation,
A new creative energy in your soul.
An accomplishment of an unparalleled nature,
Beyond all relativity.
What is is.
It cannot be measured,
Cannot be judged.
A moment of absolute birth,
An absolute genesis of arbitrary nuances.
It is the essence of the poem on page 25.
Still slow in birth,
It hasn’t transferred itself into a new category.
Still is something rather than yet something else.
Still is the richest connotation ever.
In Icelandic, it is something yet to come.
Always ready for a new figure of speech …. always.
Let’s not contemplate this too much.
Put it out as a burst of unparalleled creativity,
Not a subject for contemplation,
A real material equivalent to spontaneous combustion,
A new combination of elements that create light or fire, but deeper,
A materialization of an immaterial event.
Do you think this is something that has the look of a beginning of something great?
Use it as a spring board,
Not something as a photograph to be reproduced without any new understanding.
It should not need any new understanding or elucidation.
It has its elucidation in its own vocabulary,
The essence of a cell birth,
The birth of a birth that I have been working with for seventy years,
The double click of an absolute certitude.
I do have something durable in my piece, Groping in the Dark.
You have to imagine the groping coming from below,
A strange kind of reversal.
The one observing is below,
The one groping from above.
Six fingers arranged in a triangular configuration,
Two corners single groping,
One corner double groping.
When those all coalesce, we have an absolute genesis of a moment,
Of the innards of infinity,
The moment of the instinct of infinity,
The moment that explains why there is something rather than nothing,
Some nuance of un-satisfaction behind infinity.
It doesn’t enjoy its own solitude.
How much information have you plotted down?
It is like peering into irrational self similarity, like a cross section of my rocks.
If you try to identify every element, you are lost.
It is like a constellation,
The better the telescope, the better you see but the more complex it becomes.
If you have a feeling of self sufficiency, let’s call it a day.
A colloquial version is sufficient, simply splendid!
Not terribly original but absolutely timely.
So if you spend a moment of self sufficiency then we can call it a day.
Self sufficiency is a good termination point.”
Jóhann Eyfells – June 21st, 2018
I don’t know whether to jump up in joy or cry in disbelief or both. In the Icelandic news, Jóhann Eyfells’ sculpture “Íslandsvarðan” has been officially acquired by the city of Reykjavik for a rather substantial sum of money, and is now to remain as a permanent installation on Faxaflói (Faxa Bay), on the northwest side of the capital city.
Why is this so important?
This is a huge victory for Jóhann Eyfells, an Icelandic sculptor, now almost 95, who has spent more than 70 years living in a semi self-imposed exile from his own childhood home and family.
With the expectation of helping with the family business upon his return, Jóhann at 23 was sent away to America by his mother to study Business Administration at U.C. Berkeley, California. Once there, everything changed. He would meet, Kristin, his eternal companion and wife of 56 years, and would eventually, contrary to ‘family expectations’ pursue a childhood passion for the creative process and find expression as a sculptor. For a short period, he would return to Iceland only to find himself misunderstood creatively and eclipsed by a younger generation of artists. America would become his permanent artist residence, both in Orlando, Florida and eventually Fredericksburg, Texas.
It’s a victory for artists all over the world, in which to create, to dedicate yourself entirely to the creative process does not always mean being spurned, tossed aside and forgotten.
It’s a huge victory for Iceland, welcoming one of it’s own, ushering back the clarity and fine instinct that artists like Jóhann possess and who are able to intuitively channel the ‘unknowing’ in their creative processes, and boldly execute in their artistic expressions and bodies of work. No less important is Jóhann’s uncanny ability to find diverse means, expressions and materials to articulate his ideas and vision. Furthermore, his work also embodies everything that is intrinsically Icelandic in nature, such as the ongoing fluidity of the physical forces, destructive and creative, that give form and understanding to the human experience.
It’s a victory for art, that a sculpture like “Íslandsvarðan” is recognized for its intrinsic and aesthetic significance, in a world where ‘value’ in art often seems arbitrary and is dependent on the piece’s commercial and monetary success, a commodity to be traded by only those who can afford to buy it, not to enjoy it for it’s genuine artistic expression and depth. Are we turning a corner in the 21st century, where art and creative expression could be considered a critical part of our own human survival?
Who am I to judge, I am just another human being that finds individuals like Jóhann to be inspirational, who also give me pause to reflect and reason to go on living, joyfully.
Hayden de M. Yates (Co-Producer and Director of A Force in Nature)
A Force in Nature, as of September 2018, will be seen in select theaters and venues throughout North America, Canada and the US.
For more details on future screenings and exhibitions email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org or call (512) 966-9299.
As I begin writing this, I wonder what words will be immortalized on this page. I have an idea, a concept, a direction, a feeling of what I might want to express, however, I am at a loss of how it’s all going to turn out, and what the ramifications are from writing it. That is the mystery of it, which is what inspires me to continue. In fact, I am driven to writing this both by the sheer wonder and fear of it all.
Jóhann Eyfells, is an artist, now in his mid nineties (94), whose life has been absolutely devoted in providing a window through which we can peek at the unknowable aspects of our existence, the mysteries of our universe, of GOD, even of our own complex human nature. It is through that window we might be able to glimpse at all of the possibilities that the “unknowing” can afford us. Jóhann’s Cairn, prominently displayed overlooking Faxa bay in Reykjavik, is exactly that to me personally. It is by peering through the center of it, that we will finally accept this constant we call the ‘unknowable’. It is this opening or awakening to the mystery itself that life is best served and lived, and Jóhann is providing us with this rare opportunity. This window can become a door once we realize that we are a part of, not apart from, this grand mystery, and that we make a decision to step through it’s threshold.
“ART is very perplexing, unknowable, mysterious, yet it is something that cannot be denied” as Jóhann puts it. The astronomer and author, Carl Sagan was once quoted as saying “I don’t want to believe, I want to know”, implying that knowledge is above all, even GOD, and paramount in our understanding of the universe and ourselves. However, Sagan was also quoted in his writings that “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” implying that even the unknowable cannot be ignored.
I would go as far as to say that knowledge or ‘knowing’ kills the mystery, and once mystery is dead, life is dead for all of humanity. In the ‘information age’ we are currently experiencing, we are living in a time when the need of predicting unpredictable outcomes, solving mysteries, explaining the unexplainable, simplifying complexities, defining the undefined has become an absolute obsession. The frenzied fear of ‘not knowing’ is at an all time high for many of US, and our economies, politics, medecines, foods and infrastructures are built on that very notion that fear itself must be avoided at all cost. We are fearful of fear itself, which subsequently breeds more fear.
Genuine art is fearless and must, at all cost, remain so. Jóhann Eyfells is truly fearless as an artist, in that fear itself is never a hindrance to him, but rather becomes a trampoline from which he hurdles himself into the unknowing. To be an honest artist you must have the courage to take on that fear and find inspiration in it. Fear becomes nothing more than the artist’s tool to reveal the strange truth.
As Jóhann puts it so eloquently,
“The moment you stumble onto something simple with ‘dumb luck’, it becomes something ‘strange’. That is God’s gift to US.”
I look forward to the moment which we find excitement of the ‘strange’ and unknowable in our everyday existence so that we can all bathe in it with absolute joy! (Written by Hayden de M. Yates)
Our award winning feature film, A FORCE IN NATURE: Jóhann Eyfells will be released in early Summer of this year, 2018. Book a screening in your city, town, museum, university or house. See trailer here:
Contact us for booking information at (512) 966-9299 or email@example.com.
At the wake of three devastating hurricanes, Harvey, Irma and Maria, on October 25th, A Force in Nature was screened at Orlando’s Cobb Plaza Cinema. We were fortunate and proud that the film was nominated for the Focus on Art category of the competition. We were more overjoyed that our Eyfells’ community was able to make it to the screening.
Steve Lotz, a long time friend and colleague of Jóhann Eyfells’ from the University of Central Florida (formely Florida Technological University) wrote this after seeing the film.
“What an unforgettably wonderful film you two have created. Its filming, editing, and concept are all outstanding. And most important (to me) is what I consider to be is its primary intent … to allow viewers to understand the life, goals, and uniqueness of Jóhann, is beautifully accomplished. It might and hopefully will give Jóhann the wide attention that he deserves and I know he has wanted.
There were many times at the screening during which I felt close to tears. . . . seeing images and relationships of Joie’s (Jóhann’s nickname) background that, during the many decades of our close friendship, I had never seen or knew about. Our only visit to Iceland was in 1965, a few months before our son (now 51 year old) was born in Vienna. We met Joie’s parents and a few of his friends, and saw some of the non-urban parts of Iceland. But not the beautiful stone and water locations you filmed. . . . all of which must help viewers to better understand the nature sources of Johann’s sculpture.
Seeing the size and dominance of his talking head on the huge theater screen. . . his constant smiles as he talks, and the likeness of his elderly skin with the geologic surfaces of the country. You have described the cosmic connections between his art, his body and psyche, and the nature of Iceland by magnificent concept, filming and editing!!!
After seeing the film I had a phone chat with him that was longer than usual. Since we are both almost deaf I’m not sure that we were always understanding what the other was saying. . . but I got these impressions: I was telling him that after your and my meeting and talking to you about the film and the relationship between you two and the contents of the things you have written about him I strongly feel that his debt to you for what you have created is enormous.
Seeing Ingólfur’s (Jóhann’s son) face after all these years, his strong visual presence (that is so much now like Johann’s was when I first met him), his strong social presence, and his appreciation of his father’s accomplishments. . . it all really moved me. And the conversation with “Little Kristin” (Leyla’s niece) who we haven’t seen since she was an undergraduate student at FTU in the 70s-early 80s.
The only part of the viewing that saddened me was that it is the only time it was shown and that was in a Wednesday afternoon when so few people could fit it into busy work schedules. But the attendance wasn’t bad and included many of Joie’s former students and people from the local art community. . . those who I could talk to, loved it.
I feel honored to be a small part of such a magnificent work of art. Thanks.”
Steve Lotz – October 30, 2017
A couple FTU Alumni from Jóhann’s classes watched the film and said this about it.
“He was also one of my teachers at UCF. I brought two friends, one who was also his student and one not. All three of us were greatly affected by his tenacity and view of the world. I was so moved and realized how much I miss his words of wisdom.
I continue to appreciate his observation of the new crack in the rock and his wonder at it. This is the kind of thing he tried to explain the relevancy of when I was a 19 year old sponge of a student. At 51, I understand more about this. The biggest lesson he taught me in life was not to be afraid of criticism and that the success is in the creating and not the sale. When I met him we had class in the Dome just before moving into the new building where he had a nice big area to work his magic. Maybe he’ll remember that. I instantly had the biggest crush on him in my first of three classes. There were so many things in the movie that I never knew about him. He certainly owns his struggle. Through many roadblocks he persevered to his artist destiny.
Bravo to the movie as a whole filming, direction, editing and bringing the pure artist out in him for the audience. I was inspired and melancholy when it ended. I miss those college days of constant learning with out too many of life distractions. Somehow he has maintained this! Thank you for making a fantastic film. Thank you to Johann for his voice in my ear and strength of confidence in my mind. I must get the DVD, when it comes out, and share it with friends. Thank you so much.”
Bethany Taylor Myers – November 2017
“Whenever I view a film I expect to learn something new and Hayden Yates’ film did not disappoint me. A Force in Nature is a study in perseverance, both for the filmmaker and his subject, the 94 year old visionary Icelandic sculptor Jóhann Eyfells. Tracing the life and influences of an artist is a difficult and complex enterprise and it has been undertaken over many years of collaboration conducted with great care and consideration. The sculptor Jóhann Eyfells ceaseless dedication to his creative work and his positive and dynamic personality are the true stars of the film. Jóhann shares some glimpses of his philosophy and a small sampling of seven decades of his incredibly dynamic and diverse artistic output. The film is a thoughtful and sensitive introduction to the artist and leaves the viewer eager to learn more about his art and irrepressible personality. It is very much a beginning into the greater investigation of human creativity, which is itself a Force in Nature.”
Mark Alexander – June 21, 2017
…and recently, from an author, poet and college professor at California State University Long Beach.
“I did get to enjoy your film and I absolutely loved it! You have a gifted eye for the extraordinary in the visual and the spiritual. The photography is luminous. The toggle back and forth between Iceland and Texas is beautifully negotiated. Eyfells is an amazing subject. The end scene with his hand gestures against the sunset is YOUR sculpture: fluid and very lovely. I was also interested in the idea of Receptual Art.”
Patricia Cherin – Poet & Author – Jan. 4, 2018
These sorts of testaments are so paramount to us as filmmakers, since they reflect how we succeeded in maintaining the integrity of Johann’s story as a man and his vision as an artist.
Filmmaker BLOG: https://vitruviuscreations.com/
Our award winning feature film, A FORCE IN NATURE: Jóhann Eyfells will be released in early Summer of 2018. Book a screening in your city, town, museum and university. See trailer here: https://vimeo.com/213382491
Contact us for booking information at (512) 966-9299 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
I thought I would continue a discussion on the merits of art, but this time from the point of view of an art historian, critic and curator. Here is what Joseph Bravo wrote about an important art installation in the city of Reykjavik, Iceland, the Icelandic Cairn, “Íslandsvarðan” created by Jóhann Eyfells.
“During my recent trip to Iceland, I was glad to discover that the significance of Jóhann’s artistic achievements was appreciated by art historians and museum administrators in his homeland. While Johann may have spent a large portion of his creative life in the U.S., he has been and always will be an Icelandic artist. My recent trip to your beautiful country only further convinced me of the inextricable link between Iceland and the aesthetic optic of this extraordinary artist.
The Icelandic landscape, the national character and the cultural context of Eyfell’s artistic practice are all clearly evident in his body of work. While his ideas and aesthetics have been in dialogue with the wider international art canon, the orientation of Jóhann’s inquiry is fundamentally connected to Icelandic indigenous perspectives and the instincts he derives from the landscape. Hayden de M. Yates’ cinematic biopic, “A Force In Nature: Johann Eyfells“, that premiered last week at RIFF, is aptly titled because the artist’s practice has been conceived from its inception to function as a force indistinguishable from nature. For Jóhann, both his existence and artwork are themselves the result of natural phenomena.
Eyfell’s “Íslandsvarðan”, a sculpture currently on display in Reykjavik is of particular significance because it represents one of the most ambitious achievements in his bronze “Cairn” series. This series, perhaps as much if not more than any other in his deep oeuvre, bears the most literal testimony to the relationship between the artist’s aesthetic and the history of covalence between Icelanders and their physical environment. Jóhann Eyfell’s work has functioned on so many levels and touched on so many issues of art theory as to represent a heroic intellectual achievement spanning the scope of 20th century aesthetic priorities. In this important piece, he addresses conceptual issues of physics and metaphysics. The artist investigates organic form and environmentalism, chaos and hyper-complexity, superfluidity and spontaneity, the distinction between instinct and intuition, truth to materials and their iconographic implications, abstract expressionism vs. simulacrum as well as cosmopolitanism and indigenous cultural context. The artist’s expansive curiosity has allowed him to use his artistic practice as a mechanism of cosmological intellectual inquiry touching on an infinite number of theoretical facets. In “Íslandsvarðan”, he has achieved a masterwork of intellectual and aesthetic speculation. Eyfells has accomplished this without being derivative and while creating some of the most ground breaking sculptures in the history of Icelandic art in particular. His artwork is technically and conceptually innovative by any standard hence his intellectual contributions are of international significance to the wider global art canon.
The current site of “Íslandsvarðan” is in many ways ideal as it faces out over the Faxafói Bay and symbolically connects Reykjavik with Mt. Esja. The aperture at the sculpture’s center ensures that the vista of Esja is never obscured and makes for a respectful compliment to the awe inspiring landscape. Its position along both pedestrian and automotive thoroughfares as well as its visibility from the sea affords optimum appreciation of the sculpture by local residents and visitors alike. Its proximity to other important sculptures allows it to convey gravity in keeping with the curatorial context of public artworks in the vicinity and is essential in the creation of a consistent and poetic narrative along the shoreline. Even its placement on the rubble stone base lends elegance to its appropriate presentation. Those responsible for its original installation are to be commended on their foresight and good judgment in how this was technically managed.
It is my sincerest hope that “Íslandsvarðan” by Johann Eyfells becomes a permanent fixture in the civic landscape of Reykjavik. The citizens of the city and the nation of Iceland are indeed fortunate to have such an important artwork. It stands as yet another reason for well-deserved Icelandic cultural pride. Jóhann Eyfells is an Icelandic national treasure and one for which the rest of the world owes a debt of gratitude to Iceland for spawning and inspiring him to create such edifying artistic achievements.” (Written by Joseph Bravo)
On October 1, 2017, our film was screened for the very first time in Europe at RIFF 2017 (Reykjavik International Film Festival) at the Háskólabió in the city of Reykjavik, Iceland.(https://riff.is/)
I was wonderful how well we were received by the family and friends who are connected with Jóhann Eyfells’ life and work. The film’s screening was a huge success!
It all began 2 days before, when I arrived into the city from the airport, immediately conducting an interview with RÚV, the Icelandic TV Network interviewing me and my friend Joe Bravo about our film. (http://www.ruv.is/sarpurinn/klippa/a-force-in-nature). It was a follow up interview prior to the screening, and after a preliminary story that came out earlier this year (http://www.ruv.is/frett/tokumenn-fylgdu-johanni-eyfells-i-naerri-aratug)
Then it was followed by an exclusive invitation by the German Consulate to an evening reception dedicated to Werner Herzog, which I attended with reserved delight.
My friend Joe Bravo, art critic and curator, and I met the man himself in the flesh and beating heart as well as his lovely wife and accomplished photographer, Lena Herzog (https://www.lenaherzog.com/). It turned out to be an amazing and delightful evening sharing insights.
The following day we were also invited to a special luncheon organized by RIFF to celebrate Werner and his incredible work and 60+ films. It so happens that both Werner and Lena sat with us at a small table, and we were able to connect more deeply over fish and chips and local beer.
Afterwards Werner conducted a Master Class at the University showing clips from one of his numerous films, Into the Abyss (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Into_the_Abyss_(film)), which was shortly followed by a full screening of his widely acclaimed film Grizzly Man (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grizzly_Man).
That same evening I attended a formal goodbye dinner for Werner and Lena because they had to leave the following day, and once again I was at their table sitting with some of the most talented directors from the festival from around the globe, including Iran, Iceland, Sweden and Denmark, all the while thinking to myself that I have gone to “Film Heaven”. WOW! What a way to start a festival. (Written by Hayden de M. Yates)
More to come…
See our Facebook Page for more details on future screenings: https://www.facebook.com/groups/128411080555698/
Here is an article in Icelandic that came out during the festival: http://www.ruv.is/frett/karlmennska-birnir-og-sjalfsihugun-a-riff
Here is a review about our film, our first formal one: http://www.thisisniceland.com/film-review-force-nature-johann-eyfells/
From York Underwood – Niceland – Oct. 1, 2017
Jóhann Eyfells is a sculptor born in Reykjavík, but has spent most of his working life in the United States. He works with huge, heavy pieces of stone, steel and wood. His theory of art is called receptualism and Johann is mostly concerned with the interaction of gravity, time and space. He has worked consistently and steadily for over six decades. His inspiration comes from his wife Kristrín Halldórsdóttir, a former model and dress designer at the time of their marriage, who was also a popular and respected sculptor and painter. She died in 2002.
A Force In Nature: Jóhann Eyfells is the first time I’ve seen a documentary attempt so many discussions, touch on several ideas, only to reveal what it had already shown in the first few minutes. One man, waking up every day, and moving rocks–and steel and wood and any other material he decided to use. Jóhann questions his own identity, laments the loss of his wife, reveals his hopes to contribute to the world and worries about his legacy. The effect is misdirection. We hope, worry, question and lament, as an audience, right alongside the subject of the film, but the real hero of the film is Jóhann’s hands.
You watch a ninety-year-old man move, chain, bolt and hoist huge pieces of concrete and rusty steel. Even with his slight frame, and obvious age, you see strength and courage in his actions, but more acutely, in his hands, the instruments of his trade. His life is filled with the stories we all share. The difference between you and him–in most of us–is purpose. He finds meaning and purpose in the work and process of his art–even if his art requires him to wake up every morning and move a big fucking rock.
The Myth Of Sisyphus has been adapted before. We’ve seen Bill Murray live the lesson of sisyphus in Groundhog Day–living the same day over and over again–discovering what makes life worth living. We’ve also seen it literally in The Simpsons, a chained Homer dragging a rock up a hill (Remove the Stone Of Shame! Attach the Stone Of Triumph!). In our culture, the myth of sisyphus has been boiled down to parable, to reference, and distilled further to the triteness of a bumper sticker: It’s the journey, not the destination, that matters…dude. It’s only when you watch this film that you see a life that mimics art, where myth becomes lived reality.
I don’t know if the film will launch Jóhann into the international fame and recognition his friends, family and, well, himself, thinks he deserves. You will, however, leave the film…moved. It’s a portrait of a man with purpose and it challenges you to hold yourself up to a similar standard. It’s hard to bury your head in your hands when you imagine the daily beaten his 94-year-old hands take everyday.
My guess is the film will inspire you to do one of two things:
1. You’ll want to know more about and see more of Jóhann’s Art.
2. You’ll want to do your work more seriously and passionately.
With any luck, it’ll be both.
“I can’t imagine a more successful combination of two unlikely existences.”–Jóhann Eyfells
By York Underwood – Niceland – October 1, 2017
Some of the Icelandic views during our filming of A Force in Nature.
“We shall never surrender”. Those were the words that Winston Churchill pronounced at the wake of the Nazi Invasion of France in 1940. In 2017, there is another invasion that has been going on for many years, perhaps decades, and that is the mediocrity of art and of the apparent corruption that seems to have permeated the Art world, where art is considered to be nothing more than a commodity and a means to exclude and even extinguish out of existence many meaningful and important artists of our time. Art can be equated to mean anything that requires a certain level of creative planning, execution and outcome. The outcome of that narrative begins the moment the art piece, like a sculpture, is shown to a receptive audience. However, what determines whether the art is successful and important is not necessarily through exhibition, peer or public scrutiny, or how complex and successful the narrative is, but rather is sometimes judged and priced arbitrarily by an elite group of art buyers, collectors and critics.
The question is how do we know if the art is good, and how can we determine that for ourselves? Some say that “art is subjective, and not all art is for all people.” Whether someone likes it or not, art should have a number of criterias that can determine whether the art is important and meaningful to someone(s). Here is something I found that might guide us a little.
“How to Judge Art: Five Qualities you can Critique whether you’re an Artist or not.”
“The characteristics I found were beauty, skill, inherent meaning, uniqueness, and fulfilled intent. I’ll explain each of these throughout the article.
I’m convinced that anyone can use their own fundamental knowledge to compare artwork based on these five inherent properties. Even if other people have a different opinion than you do about a particular work of art, this article should help you explain how you came to your conclusion.
All right, so on the basis that all art is not created equal, let’s get to the nitty-gritty and break down these five characteristics of art.
Beauty in Art
Beauty is, and always will be, in the “eye of the beholder.” Your decision about the beauty or lack of beauty in a particular work of art is instinctive and natural. In fact, you probably won’t even have to make that decision, you’ll just either be captivated by a piece of art or you won’t.
People within the same social context often agree on what is beautiful, so you’ll probably find others close by who will like the same things as you do. Some aspects of art that are generally appealing to people are:
1. Repeating shapes, patterns, and symmetry.
2. Colors, especially colors that complement or enhance each other.
3. Textures, both visual and physical (like thick, impasto paint).
4. Crops and compositions that focus the eye and keep the viewers’ attention.
5. Movement or flow to guide viewers through the art.
6. Correct or appealing proportions of figures and objects.
7. Presentation and framing.
You won’t need to take a checklist into the galleries for this since your eye will naturally be drawn to the art you prefer. Like I mentioned before, this is the easy one. All you have to do is answer the question, “Do I like this?” Of course, if you decide to ask why you like it, then the list above might come in handy.
Skill and technique
Technical skill is the most comparable and measurable aspect of art. As you look at a painting (or any other work of art) you probably will be able to determine how skillfully it was created simply by comparison with other works.
First, compare the works to other art you’ve seen in that medium before – if it is a painting, for example, decide whether this artist is more talented than others you’ve seen. It might be difficult if you’re just starting out, and in that case, don’t let it worry you. It will only take a short amount of time for you to see the differences between a skillful painting and one that’s poorly done.
Second, look at all the artwork on display by the artist. You might find that some are more impressive than others, or appear better made, and you’ll certainly have an idea of one or two that are the best out of the entire group.
Third, look at each work of art itself. Are they individually consistent? Are there places that you can see odd markings compared to another area within the same piece? Sometimes art may look rushed or strange, but if it is created in a similar fashion throughout the entire piece then the effect is most likely intentional. If not, then that work may not be as good as some others that are more internally cohesive.
Judging the level of skill in a work of art is probably the most difficult thing I’m suggesting to do in this article. Over time and with more exposure to art you will eventually come to a greater understanding of different mediums. Plus, if you’re lucky enough to be an artist yourself you’ll probably find out that you instinctively have a better grasp of other mediums already.
Art is powerful, not just for its beauty or the talent needed for its creation, but because it can cause emotion, make political statements, or challenge preconceived ideas. Of course not all works of art are intended to be so thought-provoking. A still life of oranges and apples, for example, usually won’t have a deeper meaning. If it does, I think the artist deserves more credit than for a traditional still life.
Here are five levels of meaning in art, which I’ve listed in order of increasing importance.
1. Purely representational art – Made simply for visual appeal, with no deeper intent.
2. Art that references other art – It “tips its hat” to some other work, possibly providing a fresh perspective or continuing a conversation that another artist began.
3. Art that tells a story, or evokes a specific emotion – This is art that begins to affect you. It might cause you to understand, empathize or feel what’s being depicted.
4. Art that makes a statement – Here the artist is clearly speaking through the work, actively promoting a cause or perhaps bringing attention to an issue that’s important to him or her.
5. Art that is an allegory or metaphor – This is art that contains more than one meaning, and possibly several. It use symbolic imagery or deal with more intangible human issues, and yet the artwork should still work as a visually appealing creation.
Look for these when you look at art. Finding meaning or emotion in art opens up a whole new realm of enjoyment, and will deepen your appreciation of artists who incorporate it into their work.
This is the aspect of art which relates to not only what the artist is depicting but also how the artist is depicting it.
Good art either explores new subjects, or old subjects in a way that hasn’t been done before. When you look at art, ask yourself what (if anything) is different in the work from all the other art you’ve seen. Sometimes it will jump out at you, sometimes it won’t. If you do notice something different, decide for yourself whether that unique quality distracts from or enhances the piece.
There’s a happy medium, I believe, in finding art that stands out from the crowd but doesn’t use gimmicks or cause distractions.
What is the artist trying to say? I hear this question a lot, and for the most part there’s a simple way to find out. If you’re at a gallery, read the artist statement. Many artists just want to accurately portray a subject, or to express an emotion. The important thing is for the artist to be in control of the art. If the intent is one thing, the art shouldn’t say something else. The artist statement should deepen and strengthen the viewers’ understanding of the art.
I’d suggest that when you go to a solo show, briefly scan all of the works being displayed so you can get an idea of the artist’s style and note any constant themes, emotions, or ideas.
Then go through each piece of art again, but more slowly, to really study them. Take your time and determine what you think of each one according to the five characteristics mentioned in this article. After that, check out the artist’s statement.
Compare the artist’s intent with what you had previously understood the intent to be, and then armed with that knowledge (trust me, sometimes it’ll blow your mind) make one last round of the gallery to see how your opinions have changed.
If you experienced the artist’s intent before reading the statement, excellent. If you only got it after reading the artist’s statement, that’s OK too, just not quite as good.
This method keeps the art from being overshadowed immediately by what the artist is saying about his or her work. It lets the art speak for itself, yet the artist still gets a chance to clarify what is meant in case you miss the point on your own.
Of course, if you can’t even understand what the artist is saying in the artist statement, then just try to enjoy the art for its visual impact and don’t worry about it. The intent probably wasn’t very clear for that artist either.
To sum it all up:
Good art should appeal to you. It will be skillfully made, most likely by an artist who has created other works in a similar fashion.
The best art has meaning beyond just an image; perhaps it will bring you to tears, make you laugh, or remind you of something you’d almost forgotten. It also stands out in a crowd, and dares to be different.
Most importantly (in my opinion) good art is understandable, although it may make you think in ways you never expected to.
I hope you found this article helpful; I know that in writing it I’ve solidified some of my own views about art. Feel free to send me your own comments or feedback as well.”
*All images in this post are details from still life paintings by Cezanne.”
In the end, art is nothing more than a commodity, and its value is arbitrary, unless someone(s) is willing to break the mold and take the risk and forfeit actual money for the piece, due to its inherent value to the collector, not the value determined by those market forces. People who have the means to buy art are less likely to forfeit money on art that is not deemed “marketable” in the Art World. If the work is not deemed valuable by market demand, than the art is “un valued.” By the way, not all marketable art is good art, and it seems that the world has ignored that fact for many decades now.
Jóhann Eyfells, at 94, is without a doubt one of the most diverse and important artist of the 20th and 21st centuries. However, the recognition he has sought has been as elusive as the collectors for his work. Why? Very simple he doesn’t play the game that most recognized artists have, and he is to many collectors, buyers and critics untamed and enigmatic. His body of work challenges the viewer by its impressive forms, diversity, physical size & weight, and its inherent deeper meanings. He is one of the most true and honest artist that this world could ever hope to produce today, whose creative process is deep, precise, and multidimensional. He brings to this world an opportunity to not only peer into the unknowing universe that resides around us, but also within our own consciousness. He needs our attention, because this world desperately needs him to help us out of our mediocrity and growing lassitude.
(Photos by Hayden de M. Yates)
Jóhann Eyfells will never surrender because what keeps him alive is not whether he will be accepted, appreciated or if his work will sell, but because he embodies the spirit of an artist, continuously searching for the opportunity to express what words can’t possibly express about ourselves and the universe we belong to. (Written by Hayden de M. Yates)