In this little video essay, Jóhann explains that “chance” and GOD are interchangeable in concept. (click on image)
Artists: Equal but separate couple’s strength lies in each other
By Laura Stewart Dishman, Orlando Sentinel Art Critic
Published: SUNDAY, April 19, 1987
If Kristin Eyfells had never met Johann, her husband of nearly 40 years, she’d still be living in Iceland, designing and selling women’s clothing. And if Johann had never met Kristin, he might still be an architect, living and working for a large firm on Long Island.
Instead, the Scandinavians, both now in their mid-60s, became artists and moved to Florida. They still go back to Iceland occasionally, but prefer to spend most of their time working in the sprawling studios that command more than half the space in their 6,000-square-foot Oviedo home.
They like to say that the art they create in those studios has little in common except that it is made by a husband and wife. Yet Johann’s bold, organic sculpture and Kristin’s confrontational, geometric paintings are similar in their strong impact. Twenty-seven of their pieces are on exhibit through May 3 at the Osceola Center for the Arts in Kissimmee, inviting comparison.
The oversized faces of well-known figures stare blankly from Kristin’s smoothly painted oils at the Osceola Center. In a piece from her arresting ”Anonymous Ladies” series, a square-jawed woman with bright purple hair is set against an acid-green background. Tiny wrinkles and shadows are transformed into stylized, elongated diamonds enameled in harsh blue, green and purple tones. No one can escape the penetrating gaze of these visages, especially the hard, frozen faces of her perfect women. No emotion is expressed in the works. The dreamlike faces are so cool, so symmetrically presented and so geometrically exact, that they become unforgettable icons.
Johann’s abstract sculptures and works on paper are just as unconcerned with convention, and every bit as forceful. His cast-aluminum-and-bronze ”Receptual Cube” is a deep-red eroded block that looks as if it might be light to lift and touch, despite its obvious solidity and weight. The piece is both delicate and formal, concerned with texture, contour and tone, not with narration or representation.
The Eyfells have shown their works alone, together and in group exhibits in America and Europe since they moved to Orlando in 1969. But they prefer husband-and-wife shows. ”I love showing with Kristin,” Johann said. ”We’re equally dedicated as artists and our standards are equally high. I wouldn’t be as pleased to show with her if she weren’t as serious an artist as I am. But there’s nothing there that relates the works to each other except that they were made by a husband and wife, which is our strength.”
Leaning forward as she sat on a long, black sofa at one end of her studio, Kristin interrupted: ”Yes, that’s right. You go into the show and see two exactly opposite artists who work together.” Any similarities in styles could spring naturally from their shared Icelandic heritage or from the fact that they’re on ”the same wavelength in terms of artistic sincerity and dedication,” Johann said. ”I don’t think we enhance each other’s talents — we really don’t help each other out at all. We simply get peer pressure from each other. ”Ours is not a competitive relationship, but our critical judgment keeps us on our toes,” he continued. ”We know when we look at each other’s work, we have to measure up. Her eyes are honest, penetrating, discriminating — and able to intercept any hint of artificiality in my work.” With that, Kristin shrugged and laughed almost uncomfortably at her husband’s dispassionate yet flattering evaluation.
Unlike many artist couples who work in tandem to create pieces that seamlessly blend two styles and personalities, the Eyfells share a respect for the need for solitude and privacy during the crucial creative process. ”We give each other hints, but very rarely advise,” he continued. ”Our dialogue as artists is taken for granted; we have identical ideas about quality and are both striving for quality, which is anything that taxes every fiber of our beings and is uncompromising. My art is my life.”
When Johann and Kristin met after World War II in Berkeley, Calif., he was studying architecture and she was taking a year’s leave from her clothing businesses in Iceland to travel and study. He was painting on his own, but she had never thought of herself as an artist.
They married in 1949 and by the end of the 1950s were living on Long Island. Johann, still an architect, was beginning to sell the canvases he painted in his spare time. Kristin, intent on becoming a doctor like her father, had gone back to college and was studying psychology. To fill a blank spot on her schedule, she registered for a sculpture class, and ended up, like her husband, an artist.
In 1965, after Johann had finished an advanced degree in painting and design at the University of Florida, the couple returned to Iceland, where he spent four years teaching art at the Icelandic College of Arts and Crafts in Reykjavik. They came back to America in 1969, settling in Orlando so Johann could teach at the newly opened Florida Technological University (now the University of Central Florida). After nearly two decades here, their works do not reflect the Florida experience, the artists agree.
Johann believes that his organic sculpture may be influenced by Iceland’s volcanic formations. Kristin takes her gigantic studies of famous faces from magazines. If anything, she said, her images reveal an interest in psychology and express her feelings about her subjects. She does not know them personally, yet she uses their initials as titles — almost as if they are friends. Somehow they are not just hers, but her.
Because so much of their energy and emotions are invested in their work, the Eyfells rarely discuss their art — or the art of others. They have trouble understanding how or why people talk about something that can be expressed only by doing. Art, to them, is not an object but an action, Johann said, looking at Kristin as she nodded in vigorous agreement. ”It’s always amazing to me that people try to tell me about their art. Students sometimes try to talk about what they’re doing. And I always stop them.” Sometimes, though, Johann will communicate, without speaking, with Kristin when he feels a particular painting is just right. He’ll leave her a note on the breakfast table:
”It’s finished now,” Johann Eyfells will tell his wife.
Kristin Eyfells Filled Canvases With Colorful, Radiant Portraits
July 22, 2002|By Jon Steinman, Sentinel Staff Writer
With her oils and pastels, Kristin Eyfells had that uncanny way of turning a blank canvas into an explosion of personality. A native of western Iceland who came to Central Florida by way of San Francisco, Eyfells became one of Central Florida’s artistic lights.
Shows of her works dazzled art lovers in Orlando, Tampa and Northern California. Eyfells, 84, died Saturday. She had suffered a stroke in 1999, and according to her husband, Johann Eyfells, “It had been downhill ever since.”
Her artistic legacy, however, endures — and not just in her Oviedo home, where countless canvases brimming with her talent are on display. Fascinated by the face and its potential to convey character and meaning, Kristin Eyfells’ faces radiated. While many of her faces were those of the famous and important, not all were. In 1994, a monumental visage by Eyfells dominated The Warehouse Gallery’s “Women at Work” show. In a 1994 review of her work, an Orlando Sentinel correspondent wrote that, “Kristin creates in each of her works an individualized compromise between the abstract and the organic.”
Realistic and playful might be another way to describe her paintings, which captured her subjects with a photographer’s clarity even as she danced around the natural order of things. Colors exploded unexpectedly, and in surprising places: country crooner George Jones’ chin, photographer Ansel Adams’ eyelids. The Eyfells, husband and wife, sculptor and painter, even staged shows together. They lived and breathed art through 53 years of marriage.
“We met in Berkeley, where I was a student,” said Johann Eyfells, 79, a retired University of Central Florida art professor who helped create UCF’s art department. “She was a student in fashion-design school. We married, and after we decided to move to Florida to complete our studies. The weather was the main factor. I am a sculptor, and I enjoy working in the outdoors.”
Kristin Eyfells earned a degree in psychology from the University of Florida before the couple relocated to the Orlando area. And, according to her husband, it transformed her work. “She really concentrated on faces,” he said. “I’m sure she was interested in capturing the character, the invisible energy of the subject.”
Kristin Eyfells produced much of her work out of the couple’s home. And while he was the teacher in the family, she also made time to teach as well at the Maitland Art Center, Johann Eyfells said.
The couple had no children, and their relatives all remain in Iceland, Johann Eyfells said. Baldwin-Fairchild Funeral Home, Goldenrod Chapel, is handling arrangements.
The Artist’s `Collapsions’ Receive Local Exposure
At the opening of Johann Eyfells’ current exhibition, one of his former students, now a scientist, presented him with a piece of slate. The rock contained the fossilized imprint of a prehistoric sea creature. “See, it’s one of nature’s `collapsions,”’ the student said, laughing, as if nature had required millions of years to accomplish the enigmatic art form – the “collapsion” – that has become Eyfells’ signature invention.
The gallery at the University of Central Florida has installed a dozen or so of Eyfells’ collapsions in honor of his retirement last year from the university’s art department. A companion selection of framed collapsions on paper and cloth is on view at the Warehouse Gallery in Orlando. And for several months now, downtown office workers have been strolling past a setting of three Eyfells sculptures at Orlando City Hall. All this local attention comes after a run of quite astounding international success. In 1992, Eyfells received a solo exhibition at the national museum of his native Iceland and the next year was featured in the Iceland pavilion at the Venice Biennale.
Eyfells’ sculpture has attracted attention at other international exhibitions in Milan and in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, and this fall, his work was exhibited alongside such renowned artists as Louis Bourgeoise in the lobby of the United Nations building in New York City. Artists, like prophets, are seldom honored in their own country, so Eyfells’ current local exposure is our best chance to approach the work that has earned such respect in the international art world.
It’s not easy because, like so many contemporary artists, Eyfells didn’t just create art when he started. He has invented his own medium, his own form of art, even his own words – “collapsion,” “receptualism,” “truthicity” – for his form of art.
Typically, Eyfells takes a blank material, such as paper, folded cloth or rubber, and presses it for months between treated metal plates or gigantic molds. For the collapsions, he paints the bottom metal plate with a wet slurry or soup, then sandwiches paper or cloth between it and a top “stamp” plate of varying metal alloys.
Under prolonged pressure, the paper or cloth “meat” of this sandwich is shaped, stained and etched by the chemical reaction of slurry and metal. The resulting works are partly image. They bear the circular stamp of the plate, of course – and, within that, the image of a cross or a spiral is often clearly intelligible. But they are also partly sculpture. The cloth collapsions can be unfolded to float eerily in the gallery space, and even the framed paper works are pressed and corroded into a three-dimensional form.
And that’s not all, Eyfells acknowledges, since the collapsion process is akin to “the family of printmaking and even photography.” These works are not so much “mixed” media as they are a hybrid medium all their own. “It’s an amazing kind of remote control,” Eyfells said in an interview, “a force field that both complies with what I want to happen and always comes up with surprises.” Gravity and corrosion do the work of the artist’s hand; they do his will.
The titles indicate the elemental quality of these mysterious works: “Ghost Encounters,” “Difference as Essence,” “Coordinates Undetermined.”
The most challenging of all Eyfells’ works are probably the gigantic rubber collapsions, of which UCF is presenting three, the largest more than 16-feet square. This one, titled “Exemplars,” contains the imprint of shapes resembling tree stumps, arranged in two irregular concentric circulars. Wood chips cover the work’s surface in the negative space between these images. Here Eyfells has used the modern material of rubber to mimic the petrifaction of wood, a collapsion that nature accomplishes over eons. The scale of the works is no homage to the virtuoso achievement of the artist, although these works are incredibly laborious to create – and all of it by hand, no bulldozers allowed. Rather, they pay tribute to the vast scale of the natural world, which finally humbles anything that human artists can fit inside an art gallery.
It makes sense that the noted critic Donald Kuspit, writing in 1992, would associate Eyfells’ sculpture with “Robert Smithson’s earth art as a kind of rebellion against the modernist idea of sculpture as construction.” But, ironically enough, mammoth earth works like Smithson’s “Spiral Jetty” and James Turrell’s Rhoden Crater project rely on civilization – they do use bulldozers. As Kuspit noted, “Eyfells takes sculpture back to its prehistory in nature, obviating the civilized idea of it as the engineering of space.” At the same time, Eyfells’ methods – especially the painting of the bottom plate with slurry – shares much with the abstract expressionism current during his youth. “I’m like Jackson Pollock,” the artist says with a laugh, “except I paint from below.”
Eyfells’ process is also rooted in his geographic and geological origins, as UCF gallery director Kevin Haran remarks in his brochure commentary. Iceland is a place where Earth’s seething core is near the surface, bursting through in hot springs and scraped bare by glaciers. It has no deep cushion of alluvial soil like the Mesopotamian flood plains, no 30-foot layer of buffalo dung like North America’s prairies. In Iceland, human civilization holds on by its fingernails. So it makes sense that this Icelandic artist – acclaimed as one of Iceland’s greatest living artists – should have retraced the history of art back to before the cave paintings and those first stone-chipped figurines. Eyfells’ difficult and mysterious art hearkens back to the first art that humans recognized, those fossils and formations left by the cosmic hand of nature.
Philip E. Bishop is professor of humanities at Valencia Community College.
Jóhann, braving one of the worst rain downpours this city has ever experienced, came by to see me in Austin from Fredericksburg (1.5 hours away) to urgently talk to me about something. As we sat down over a warm cup of tea, he asked whether I was prepared to hear what he holds staunchly as his own conclusions about life, for which he felt he was repeatedly criticized and reproached throughout his life as an artist by many of his contemporaries. He showed me a “Critique” of Nietzsche that he left for me to decipher.
Before I continue, I want to clarify some things that some of us may presume of this man. I know Jóhann to be a true intellect “par excellence”, in that his conclusions and understandings of life are not from the perspective of an impetuous egotist or self centered and thoughtless artist, but from his keen observations of life’s processes, that began very early in his own life. The innocence and constant curiosity he had as a child, is still to this day very much evident. For instance, as a seven year old boy he would keenly observe the spiral-like motions of swirling eddies on the edge of a fast moving Icelandic river, which would eventually lead him decades later to creating his giant monumental spirals.
Jóhann explores the mind to its deepest depths, the same way mankind today explores the vast expanse and mystery of the universe. I challenge anyone to explain to me the experiential difference.
After reading and deciphering two pages from this Nietzsche “Critique”, the following seems to be what drives Jóhann’s life and art:
“Life goes beyond the limits that knowledge fixes for it, but thought goes beyond the limits that life fixes for it. Thought ceases to be a ratio, while life ceases to be a reaction. This is the essence of ART.”
I think visionary artists like Jóhann will doubt themselves at times and wonder if they are the genuine thing, the true spokesperson of the beyond, the channel for brilliance and God-like revelations. Whist an artist is alive, his banal physicality stands before his extraordinary genius, but once departed from the physical world, the artist’s genius is then revealed for all to see and feel. Recognizing that brilliance, as observers, we often forget that such individuals were actually human.
Ingólfur Eyfells, son of the artist Jóhann Eyfells, takes us on an in depth tour of the old Icelandic farm of his childhood, recollecting an event in which a horse saved his life. This is one of the stories that brings life and texture to A Force in Nature, a biopic of Jóhann Eyfells, an Icelandic sculptor working in the remote Hill Country of Texas.