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I recently spoke to the artist, and as usual, I come away inspired. He called to say that he had some hopeful news coming from Iceland that some individuals are taking a keen interest in his work. He seemed optimistic that more and more people are beginning to understand his vision, “almost to a tee.” Personally speaking, in the 8+ years I’ve known Jóhann, I’ve seldom thought of him as being anything other than optimistic.
As always, he asked how I was faring, and how both my children were. He was especially interested in knowing how my own pursuit of a Master’s degree in Motion Picture & Television Directing was getting on. I told him I was inundated with the richness of academia. With regards to A Force in Nature, I told him we were in full post-production and we expect to be close to finishing.
He paused for a moment and then said the following: “Directing is understanding darkness, silence, and stillness.” At first, I did not get it, but he proceeded to elaborate and said that “light is a consequence of darkness, sound a consequence of silence, and movement a consequence of stillness.” Because light, sound and movement are so fundamental to the making of any movie, I was now re-engaged, thanks to Jóhann, as I reflect on the role I am playing as a director of our film, A Force in Nature. In short, I was re-ignited by a man almost twice my age as I step away from my own effortless tendency towards complacency.
Our Problem: The Unconscious versus the Conscious. All great activities escape consciousness.
“I assume it is a fundamental trait of human nature to desire an explanation when faced with something unknowable, or in other words to be comforted by something that can “only” be sensed. As an abstract artist in the modernist tradition, I generally shy away from trying to explain the “unknowable” that belongs to the eternal nature of all things. On the other hand, I am always more willing to make an attempt at unraveling the categories of an infinitely active beginning-less and ending-less continuum, which is always implicitly present in all creative manifestations. Additionally, and perhaps more fundamentally, I would also be more than willing to attempt to unravel and elucidate the infinite ability of “our” creative unconsciousness to reach beyond anthropomorphic concepts of symptoms and symbols, and thus try to penetrate into the obscure conceptual categories of the unconsciousness itself.
The driving force and the only unifying factor behind all of the investigative endeavors as articulated above can be made more specific by the employment of the all-inclusive, yet radically dualistic and ambivalent term: “operational necessity.”
The reader will most likely recognize the term from the vernacular of industrial or military strategies, yet this expression has a much more immediate and radically different dynamic application in the domains of philosophy and art, the two domains where our use of the phrase, “operational necessity” exemplifies a momentary rejection of all established values. If we imagine two unequal and irreducible forces, one dominant and the other dominated in close proximity to one another, then what we witness at the very moment when they enter into a relationship is a necessary formation of a whole or an absolute birth of an “event” which cannot be scientifically verified. It is only to be observed and perhaps described. Thus our “operational necessity” serves no established patterns and is of the kind that contains no known causes (no know “WHYs”). This enigmatic, yet super-positive version of our quarry contains, however, a totally fresh “uncreated” and an almost esoteric essence or a will, which appears or turns out to be necessarily constituted by two irreducible halves, Chaos and Circular Motion, where oppositions do not exist. Thus our quarry becomes the “embodiment” of the impossibility of the existence of “absolute” wholes, but exemplifies instead, the ceaseless and absolute genesis of something. Again our “operational necessity” must thus be recognized as the thought of pure becoming a momentary creation and a chance occurrence. A specific yet unbiased “example” would be “THE THROW OF THE DICE.”
Furthermore, and concretely, the double meaning of “operational necessity” depends on whether we affirm our own difference (positively) or deny that which differs (negatively). Finally and most deeply, “operational necessity” is defined negatively as the ”affirmation” of established values and positively defined as the transmutation of all known values.
Similarly, the multiple phenomenon which I call “Singularicity” exists as a unique whole or being of sensation that cannot be measured or compared. It can only be sensed. It is the kind of complex unity that ideally would exemplify the union of life and thought, sometimes referred to as a “pre-Socratic unity.”
This is the essence of art. It can only be affirmed as a necessity of chance (i.e. as a creative thought). What occurs in the innermost nature of my mind as I imagine eternity or infinity is the concept of the (new) positive version of “operational necessity”, i.e. only the affirmative and positive kind as articulated above. I have no choice but to act in light of this joyful and profound event. Thus, I am attempting to express through my work infinity joyously announcing itself. Poets and great composers of music are pioneers in similar pursuits, and I would go as far as to say that this mode of being could become a universal human quest, entirely momentary and positive.
In reference to my work, the reader inevitably will be aware of a physical rupture of a continuum as is clearly evidenced by my spirals and even more so in my dissected cubes and rocks. And it is surely the space in-between that becomes a domain of revelations and that will elevate our perceptions. I strive to evoke a sense of an eternity of aesthetic invisibility into my pieces. It is my hope that this infinitely repeated aesthetic “something” is there as surely as are the support structures and the pedestals that I build to support each piece.
All authentic aesthetic feelings that are affected by a work of art must, ideally gain their tone meaning as the magnificent gifts from outside that I strive to portray. Much rewardingly, I have had people look at my work and tell me positive things I could never have anticipated. Occasionally, I have been elated beyond measure by some viewers’ reactions to an art piece I created, and of course, I have been moved in similar ways by the work of my fellow artists on numerous occasions.
Does “exterior reality” sometimes feel like we are in somebody’s movie? Do you “almost” hear and see the unknowable script echoing in and passing through your head as you keep wondering what existence might conceivably be about? Does the unknowable leave you unsettled, feeling incomplete and skeptical? Don’t despair…confronting the unknowable is the concrete form of the human condition, and we must have total faith in and embrace this feeling of radical ambivalence, because it initiates the necessity of our faith in the world and that which becomes the fundamental source and cause of everything, a sort of a “womb” of absolute genesis or that which I call “only a birth”. It exists as the entirely momentary fact of living or the glittering “Being” of the flash of eternity. It is the inside of the inside, a version of infinity that wants to show itself. That is the “durational” movie you and I are in; a movie that is the highest functionary of what IS – a power that has the ability to instill in us as deviations/spirals, again, or eternally “once more”, faith in the world, and only new faith in living can re-join us to the movies’ script: “our” seeing, “our” hearing, “our” feeling, “our” loving, “our” creating, etc, etc. Embrace it! We (as dispersed absences of the origin) call it “Receptualism”. Welcome it!”
I = M∞2
The following is an interview of Jóhann Eyfells in the early 60’s, shortly after he decided to leave architecture for sculpture.
Published Interview – October 17, 1964 – Visir (Icelandic newspaper) by Steinnun S. Briem
SB. What are you expressing with this?
JE. “I think that this work of mine does a better job of saying something about me, than I can say about ‘it’. It is very difficult to analyze and explain one’s own work. The artist expresses himself through a certain form, and through this particular form he says all he has to say. When I have expressed myself in sculpture, I cannot repeat the same thing in another form, that is to say in words. This does not mean that I don’t know what I am doing, but I express myself as a sculptor, not as a man with words. All outside influences, that affect me, all inner movements of the emotions, must inevitably find expression in my work. No artist can exist outside his times. The forces of his era always surround him. Perhaps one can detect anxiety and apprehension in my work; ruins, timelessness…how long will this live?…how long does mind live in matter? So much remains unsaid.”
SB. Are you a kind of artist-philosopher?
JE. “No, I am not. Some forms of visual expression base their life on intellectual reasoning, but my art relies more on the logic of feelings. It is two different things to know and to understand. We may know what we are doing, although we may not understand it. We turn on the light by pressing the switch, but we do not understand electricity. We understand nothing.”
“We are constantly taking new steps into the unknown, both in science and art, but do we really understand what is happening? I do not think so. That is why I cannot say much about my work. I can discuss my position and attitude towards art, but not the expression of what I sense. That is in my work and nowhere else.”
And here is some info about A Force in Nature, a feature documentary film due out in Spring or summer of 2013
You can join us on Facebook at Friends of Jóhann Eyfells
Jóhann Eyfells, a defyingly driven 89 year old Icelandic sculptor living in Texas, redefines the meaning and purpose of art for the 21st century. Art is no longer a commodity or something that is there merely as a status symbol or to satisfy a superficial aesthetic need. It has a higher more profound purpose, to reformulate human consciousness. It is there to remind humanity of its own eternal infinite nature that goes beyond time and space. As a young man in Iceland, he was considered to be an exceptional boxer who had never experienced defeat. He would win over his opponent not because he was stronger, but because he would be faster, infinitely so. Boxing provided him with a glimpse of a boundless universe in which everything traveled at infinite speed.
Through Jóhann’s penetrating insight and body of work, we can begin to catch a glimpse at an infinite and ‘unknowable’ universe that resides around us…in spite of our precarious fondness of the visible and physical world.
“Complacency is the unwillingness to explore the chaotic unknown and the undefinable, and resigning ourselves to the coziness of the knowable.” Hayden de M. Yates
Jóhann’s fiery loyalty and commitment had not always been limited just to art. At 23, he left his home in Iceland, land of fire and ice, to forge a new life in America, where he would eventually meet the love of his life, Kristin, also an Icelandic sculptor/painter, with whom he would spend the next 54 years.
Jóhann and Kristin, in their undiluted love for one another would both become consummate and masterly artists, each pushed by the other’s genuine passion and tenacious commitment to their craft, as an expression of humanity and beyond.
And here is some info about A Force in Nature, a feature documentary film due out in Spring or summer of 2013. The password is “spirals”.
You can join us on Facebook at Friends of Jóhann Eyfells
A major exhibit of Jóhann Eyfells’ collaption along with a video installation by filmmaker, Þór Elís Pálsson at Iceland’s Reykjavik Museum of Art.
As the title suggests, Power of Passage explores the passing moment and its image. The focal point of the exhibition is the large scale Cloth Collapsion by Jóhann Eyfells (b. 1923) which is shown alongside a three-channel video installation created by video artist Þór Elís Pálsson, using his own interviews with Eyfells about his philosophy of art and life.
The exhibit is from September 12 to January 6, 2013
See the trailer for A Force in Nature, a full length documentary film about the artist.
In Iceland, the day that you are born, you are somebody, whether girl or boy. Your family name is your father’s, however, Icelanders take it one step further and tack on your gender. For example, when the artist Kristin Halldorsdottir was born in a small village inland from Reykjavik, she was given the name Kristin by her parents, but her surname was “the daughter of Halldors.” Had she been a boy, she would have been named “the son of Halldors.” This clears up any confusion in communications as to the gender of the newborn child, a matter of extreme importance in Iceland. In the Icelandic language, there are different greetings for males and females, nouns have gender as in German, and opportunities for girls, until recent times, have been limited.
Kristin Eyfells, the eldest of six children, grew up admiring her father, a rural doctor serving Icelandic families. He recognized her keen intellect early on and took her with him on his visits to his patients living on isolated farms throughout the territory. Very early in her life she developed an unquenchable ambition to make large contributions. Her interests were many. She loved clothing and design, psychology, music, photography and especially visual arts. By the time she met Jóhann Eyfells in Berkeley, California in 1948, she was already a very independent dress designer and businesswoman. She owned a dress shop in Reykjavik, while attending design school in Berkeley.
By the 1950’s, she was married to Jóhann and embarking on a new career as a painter and sculptor. Kristin would leave a lucrative career as a clothing industry entrepreneur to become a visual artists. Jóhann, would also eventually distance himself away from working as a licensed architect and ambitiously devote his life as a fine artist. With a bachelor of arts degree in psychology from the University of Florida, she continued her studies in fine art, applying all of her experiences and education toward her goal of producing formidable art.
What is great art? Simply put, it is art that has the power to change your thinking in a “truthful” way. It does not shock or offend, rather it brings you to new insights and heightens your esthetic appreciation of the world. This is what Kristin Eyfells attempted to do when she began painting people. Her most ambitious and recognized body of work is entitled “Famous Faces“, in which all of her subjects are people of notoriety. Not all of her subjects were famous though. She did a body of work entitled “Anonymous Faces” that reveal her subjects’ deepest feelings and strengths. In this series she wanted to focus on women whose surface beauty is defined by a mask of make up, yet still exposing underneath another more subtle mask of defensiveness, which suggests that Kristin, in spite of this double mask (mask within a mask) carried by her subjects, had the uncanny ability to reveal the inner beauty and vulnerability of the person through the layers of paint and color.
After 32 years of producing “great art”, Kristin Eyfells died in Orlando, Florida from complications brought on by a stroke. She was 85 years old. In 2003, Jóhann Eyfells moved to Fredericksburg, Texas from Orlando, and brought with him both his large body of work as well as Kristin’s. It was a monumental undertaking, but it presented him with a new challenge of being and creating without his life partner. He continues to work to this day on new bodies of work, and his major goal for the remaining years of his life is to see Kristin Eyfells, the artist, move to the forefront of American art. Presently, her “Famous Faces” series is being exhibited at the International Museum of Art and Science (IMAS) in McAllen, Texas.
We, here in the Hill Country, are lucky to have Kristin Halldorsdottir Eyfells’ large body of work housed at the Eyfells & Eyfells Sculpture & Art Ranch, just 5 miles west of Fredericksburg, Texas. Jóhann, her husband of 52 years, is also exhibiting her “Anonymous Faces” series in the Sunken Gallery. Outdoor visitors are welcome to come and visit anytime and see this exceptional collection.
Written by Sherryl Brown
The following poem was written by Jóhann Eyfells, which was also part of his thesis:
Conceptions of man,
Synthesized in active structures of cosmic rhythms.
Unadulterated formative forces,
Expanding the vistas of emotional discourse,
Convictions transformed in actions,
Attitudes and inward visions,
Hewn in harmonic forms and spaces,
Conceived in the circular expanse of barren horizons.
Rebelling against random nature,
Symbol of cohesion,
Staunch mark of its epoch,
Bearing meanings extracted from life,
Affirming implicit spiritual liberation,
In sky oriented forms of living faith.
Forces in Nature – Jóhann Eyfells a documentary film
The last part of our journey was no less amazing. Johann’s niece, Margret and her husband Kale invited us to stay in the northern territory of Iceland, in Akureyri, where we stayed for the next two nights. The flight north with Air Iceland was also a treat since we were invited to accompany and film the pilots in the cockpit, one of whom happened to be Margret and Kale’s son. Once on the ground, our guide Kale would drive us 100’s of kilometers through lava fields, along coastal roads, into volcanoes and finally to one of the largest waterfalls in Europe, Dettifoss , one of the most spectacular sites I’d ever experienced.