Valgerður Hafstað - Zephyr

Valgerður Hafstað studied art in Reykjavík, Copenhagen and Paris, where she learned mosaic technique as well as painting. She lived in Paris with her husband, artist André Énard until 1974, after which the couple moved to New York, where they taught and painted.

The works in the exhibition span Valgerður's entire career. The oldest are geometric abstracts from 1953-55. In the early 1960s the forms dissipate; Valgerður's works are on the borderline of the figurative and the abstract. Many works include elusive impressions of landscape or buildings which the artist appears to have transformed in one way or another.

Valgerður held one-woman shows and took part in group exhibitions in Iceland, Europe and the USA. Her first exhibition was held with Gerður Helgadóttir in 1957 at Galerie La Rouge in Paris, and the following year she held her first one-woman show at Listsalurinn in Reykjavík.  In 2001 she held a one-woman show at the Kópavogur Art Museum – Gerðarsafn.

 The Journey

In art historians‘ discussion of abstract art, there is a tendency to forget that it did not necessarily spring from roots in the history of art. The first notions of abstraction in art arose, in fact, from deep spiritual thinking: the pioneers of the abstract were overwhelmingly involved in mysticism and esotericism, which led them towards the dissolution of figurative images.

Wassily Kandinsky, for instance, was active in the Theosophical movement, while Constantin Brancusi was inspired by the Buddhist mysticism of Jetsun Milarepa; Piet Mondrian was drawn to Rudolf Steiner‘s Anthroposophy, and Kazimir Malevich‘s suprematist theories owed much to Peter Ouspensky‘s The Fourth Dimension. Some of these trailblazers had little or no interest in art for art's sake. British artist Georgiana Houghton made her “spirit drawings,” first shown in 1871 –  long before the art world recognised the abstract  –as a means of attaining a trance state.  Houghton's method in her spirit drawings led her to achieve a higher or more profound level of consciousness, and that was her motivation for drawing or painting. The same is true of Swedish artist Hilma af Klint, who painted to achieve a higher/deeper consciousness. She had little interest in art for art's sake, and did not show her work in public.

This relationship between abstract art and esotericism is part of the story behind the paintings of Valgerður (Vala) Hafstað, no less than the linear view which predominates in scholarly discourse about art. Early in her career Vala was drawn to abstract movements in art, and her works display the influence of Concrete art and the French Art Informel which were in their heyday during her student years in Paris. But Vala also learned from Armenian mystic G.I. Gurdjieff, and was deeply involved in esotericism. Her abstract paintings are, from that perspective, not made as art for art's sake; they are part of her journey of self-exploration, and her quest to see deeper existential meanings than those entailed by tangible reality. Vala's art was grounded in questions and uncertainty, rather than knowledge and fixed plans. The act of painting thus became a journey into the unknown, during which the artist could constantly meditate, and take herself by surprise. Thus each painting encompasses a long period of time; but at the same time the artist is moderate, as if time was never forced upon the painting. Time is there simply because the artist was in no hurry. She was well aware that the journey itself was the destination.

Jón B.K.Ransú