New YorkNina Tryggvadottir: Abstractions: Construction and Deconstruction
David Richard Gallery presents the gallery’s second solo exhibition for Icelandic artist Nina Tryggvadottir, who lived in New York and was one of the few women and an original member of the New York School.
The presentation, Abstractions: Construction and Deconstruction, focuses on a selection of eleven mixed media collages created from 1950 through 1958 that combined myriad artist, household, office, packing and construction papers with black ink. While the artist considered each collage a stand-alone work of art, one enamel painting on panel is included to demonstrate how much she enjoyed working in both paper and enamel paint and especially with the collaged geometric imagery of which she was so fond.
About the Exhibition and Collages:
The eleven collages in this presentation fall into distinct aesthetic groups. The smallest group produced during 1957 and 1958 is comprised of blocky shapes, overlapping and laid on colored paper with two distinguishing characteristics. First, the shapes were created by tearing various papers and materials by hand, including construction, tissue and tracing papers as well as insulated and waxed papers, each producing rough and uneven perimeters that revealed layers of color and texture along the torn edges—especially from the complexly layered construction papers and packing materials. Second, the color palette is muted and neutral with sage green, tan, ivory and brown colors with contrast provided by additions of black incorporated into the compositions or a black ground for one artwork. The works on whole have a serene and subdued quality, evocative of the quiet Icelandic landscapes, which was a constant source of influence on and inspiration for Tryggvadottir’s abstract constructions and paintings. The hand-torn papers with their soft edges and organic shapes in earthy colors against peaceful quiet atmospheric grounds suggest a vast and wide countryside against an open clear sky.
The largest group of collages in the presentation was produced from 1950 to 1952. They are very abstract with geometric shapes and vibrant color palettes and a generous use of black ink to provide internal contrasts and dynamic compositions. This grouping also falls into 2 distinct aesthetic categories. Two of the works produced in 1952 have asymmetric compositions that span from edge to edge comprised of rectilinear and curvilinear shapes interspersed with open grounds and negative space. The remaining five collages, one produced in 1950 and the rest in 1952, are dominated by open geometric and asymmetric grid-like structures produced with black ink with vibrant yellow, orange, green, red and soft lavender colors—from collaged paper elements beneath the paint—peeking through the openings in the grids and all of which is laid on soft sage green and brown or amber grounds. Tryggvadottir thought of these constructions as “landscapes”, but really more “cityscapes” as she interprets the black ink grids as roof lines and apparently exposed rafters during their construction when light and color can be seen between the angled wooden boards. In her words, the overpainted structures on the collages are, “a black grid that is reminiscent of the frames of houses being built, this gives the works a distinguishing depth and distance”. The net effect is the open grid of black ink provides an illusory dimensional depth to the collages, especially when combined with the forward pull of the warmer and vibrant colors against the receding push of the neutral and cooler ground colors. The artist’s color choices of the sage green on the top portion of the compositions with the amber and brown colors on the lower portions created, de facto, not only a horizon line, but implied the sky and earth, respectively. Yet at a first, and second, glance the compositions read primarily as pure geometric abstractions that seem very contemporary and vibrant still today.
The Significance of Tryggvadottir’s Collages:
Collages were an important and critical part of Tryggvadottir’s artmaking practice. As a child in Iceland, she constantly drew birds with pencil and crayons and also used cod fishbones to actually sculpt birds. Thus, her collages, a combination of mark making and adhering existing and found materials, were an extension of her love of applying line, color and form—in particular organic forms—on a two-dimensional plane. Both, her renderings and constructions came to life and conveyed volume and dimensional space through her careful use of color and understanding its interplay with light and shadow.
As a practical matter, collage was an important part of Tryggvadottir’s studio practice as often, it was not possible to afford or readily access fine art materials at various times during her career. Thus, found and repurposed papers, office and constructions materials allowed her to continue experimenting with shapes, color and compositions, even if she could not obtain paint. Her vision remained constant and the art persevered with this medium.
In 1949, when Tryggvadottir was denied a visa to the US, she remained in Iceland and then later moved to Paris toward the end of 1952. Her husband, Alcopley, visited her in Iceland a few times during that period and brought her some art supplies. However, that was an important and seminal period for Tyrggvadottir as she focused heavily on collages and watercolors with very few oil paintings. In November of 1952, she had an exhibition at Listvinasalurinn in Reykjavík of mostly her collages. The types of collages from 1950 to 1952 in this presentation were of the type also included in that important exhibition in Reykjavík in 1952, which cemented for her collage as a vital part of her art making practice. It was in 1955 when the artist returned to using oil paint on a regular basis.
About Nina Tryggvadottir:
Nina Tryggvadottir was born in 1913 in Seyðisfjörður, on the East coast of Iceland, where she was raised before moving to Reykjavik with her parents. Tryggvadottir was interested in art from an early age and would take art lessons from her uncle, the landscape painter Ásgrímur Jónsson. In 1935 Tryggvadottir went to Copenhagen to study at the Royal Danish Academy of Art, following which, she lived in Paris. After returning to Iceland at the outbreak of WWII, she went to study in New York on a stipend from the Icelandic State. There, she studied under Morris Kantor, Hans Hoffman and Fernand Leger, and exhibited at the prestigious New Art Circle Gallery run by JB Neumann. She was asked to create stage sets and costumes for a staging of the famous ballet, Soldier’s Tale, by Igor Stravinsky and CF Ramus. After being banned from the US under McCarthyism, Tryggvadottir lived in Paris, where she exhibited at the Musée d’Art Moderne and London, where she showed works at the Institute of Contemporary Arts and also presented numerous solo exhibitions at galleries throughout Europe. She was permitted to move back to NY in 1959 where she lived and worked until the end of her life in 1968.
Tryggvadottir has exhibited internationally and her work resides in numerous private and public collections throughout Europe, Japan, and the United States, including: the Museum of Modern Art, NY; Musee National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, France; The National Gallery of Iceland; The Reykjavik Municipal Art Gallery, Iceland; and Musee D’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, France.
All Artwork Copyright © Nina Tryggvadottir Estate, Courtesy David Richard Gallery.