Gudlaug Gunnarsdottir Visual Artist - Reykjavik, Iceland

You did your formal art training in Demark, can you explain how this came about?

I was always certain about my future belonging to the practice of making art. I moved to Copenhagen a couple of weeks after I turned 18. I thought of Denmark as a stepping stone on my way to studying art in Europe; which it became. In Iceland it takes you 4 years to finish the equivalence of A levels or university prep. By that time most people are 20 years old. I did not feel I had that time to wait to get to studying arts in a serious way. In Denmark I studied couture and finished my A levels in 2 years, while doing preparation studies in Fine Arts.


Flæði, oil on canvas, 130×340 cm, 2014

How has your time in France added to your style?

My art education happened in France. I spent 5 years at Villa Arson, École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts in Nice. I did a Bachelors and a Masters degree there and finished in 2007.  I did many workshops and masterclasses there with wonderful artists. I had good teachers and my fellow students also played part in my evolution as well as I in theirs. It was a very communicative and challenging training. The French like to dissect everything. And I mean everything. There was a huge demand to be very precise and efficient in one’s art making and concept. It was a big challenge for me to learn this as I come from a culture where personal space and tolerance for the unsaid is much greater – believing in elves and magic is not really considered weird in Iceland. But it taught me patience and discipline as well as distancing myself from my practice from time to time, to see the greater image of things and where I fit into all of it – or not.

While I was in Iceland I was fortunate to be able to see your birds on acrylic, discuss?

Thank you.


Acryl on plexiglass, 50×50 cm, 2014           


My inspiration comes from my work in painting. I use the light a lot. My large landscapes are most of the time composed of contrasts of light and darkness and most of my other works also talk about light in some way or another.

Material used

Plexiglass I have custom cut and shaped so the painted surface is about 4 cm from the wall. Acrylic paint.


I draw birds with white acrylic paint on the plexiglass.

 The effect of light on the works

When light of a natural or artificial source is cast on the transparent plexiglass, with the white drawing, its shadow is projected onto the wall. The white drawing gets “activated” on the wall by the light.

 The use of shadows

In a way the white drawing comes to life when projected to the wall as a shadow. All the small nuances in the drawing that are difficult to perceive when seeing the drawing on a white wall, pop out and make everything vibrate when they are cast on the wall.

 Size of the work

The sizes of my plexi-birds vary depending on the birds and the movement they are making. Usually they are between 20 cm and 50 cm in width and length.

On a much larger scale you had a work ‘Rangifer’ explain your use of lighting in this work?

It is a painting, oil on canvas, I made in spring 2015. The size is 120 cm x 220 cm. It portrays a young reindeer calf. The reindeer is stepping out of the dark towards you while looking you straight in the eye. There is no judgement nor demands in its gaze – only contact and observation. I often paint the light and the dark and I appreciate their contrast and how well they work together. I usually work on the darkness first, leaving the light as a reserve. I often use quite vivid and strong colours underneath and then gradually “darken” them up. Several layers of colours superposed on each other work together to bring life and vibration to the subject, light or darkness. A good friend and teacher of mine once told me a simple truth that has made a red line in my work: Colour is light.


Rangifer, oil on canvas, 120×220, 2015

Animals and birds take a huge part of your portfolio discuss this aspect of your work?

Having been born and raised on a farm in Iceland I have always been connected to nature and animals. Their innocence and purity of spirit give promise of an essence that cannot be erased from the world, despite of atrocities happening as a cause of human cultures and religions. Animals don’t care about money, god or ego. They just are. Like children.

You have also use beads in your work, discuss?

I use beads in paintings as a medium to reflect light and give movement in a different way than paint does. Sometimes it’s like a surprise chocolate chip in a fancy sponge cake.  I apply the beads directly into the wet paint. Depending on the painting and the desired movement I either throw them with quite some force or drop them in the paint.  My mixing of mediums can be purely with different kinds of paint that have different nature like oil/acrylic/varnish etc. It can also be with found objects, like beads or wool threads and such.

You also use dots…. Discuss the installation ‘Reds’?

“Reds” was an installation I did the year I finished my studies in France. It consists of human silhouettes made of red stickers or dots, the same kind used for markings of sold art objects in galleries and exhibitions.


 Detail from Reds, stickers on walls, installation, 2007

The figures were all having their brains blown out by unidentified weapons. I guess it was among other things a reaction to the milieu I was in, hence the art milieu. This pressure of making something meaningful and intellectual and on the other hand making money out of it without losing integrity. To me it was a strange pressure and limiting to one’s personal evolution. I probably did this piece as a sort of finger to this side of the art scene which I find endlessly arrogant and boring.


Detail from Reds, stickers on walls, installation, 2007

The amazing light in Iceland can be seen in your landscapes.  Discuss this in relationship to ‘Sletta’?

After spending 10 years abroad, away from Iceland and it’s singular light, I managed to see the light a bit with the eyes of an outsider while still feeling my origins. This combination allows me to take in the scenery and still analyse what’s happening.


Slétta, 2011
2762 × 2838

“Slétta”, meaning prairie, is a painting of the light in Hellisheiði which is a mountainous road leading east of Reykjavik. The light there can often be so amazing. Like all my other landscapes, Slétta is not a painting of an exact place.  It’s a combination of places I’ve drawn or photographed. They then come together in my head and then on the canvas. I sketch the composition directly on the canvas with a big brush and ink and start my painting from there. The deep carmine red is a reoccurring colour in my landscapes as it talks so well with the black I also favour in my landscapes.

Expand in the importance of light and sky in your work?

For a long time I needed to make these big paintings of light, the sky and human free nature. I want the spectator to see what I see and feel this essence of beauty that can be felt simply by taking in the light. I’ve felt the world needs more beauty, by that I don’t mean superficial beauty that is defined by an elite, I mean beauty in its simplest way. Beauty that anyone can understand and relate to. Beauty that is not judgmental nor defining. Just an essence of beauty. Lately I have been working more with the contrast between light and the darkness, like in my painting “Rangifer”. Animal portraits are my thing at the moment and they are in direct continuation with my intentions in my landscapes.

Hestur 2014

Shelter from the storm, oil on canvas,190×220 cm, 2014

Discuss the importance of exhibiting overseas both for you as an artist and promoting your country.

For me it’s important to exhibit overseas to meet other artists and practices. It’s very interesting to get feedback on my work from people who are not familiar with my environment and opening up new horizons, both for them and myself.


Contact details.

 Gudlaug Gunnarsdóttir, Reykjavik, Iceland

Interview by Deborah Blakeley, July, 2015