Visual artist Arngunnur Ýr has an inviting smile in her eyes that perfectly matches her sunny personality. She brightens any room she steps into so it only made sense for Hotel Rangá to ask her to leave a bit of herself behind, by painting a very special piece for our bar and lounge area. The piece is in fact so special that hotelier Friðrik Pálson didn’t just want it on the wall – he wanted it inside of the wall.
“They tore down the wall and rebuild it to fit the piece inside,” Arngunnur explains. “It makes it a lot more fun; this way the art becomes a part of the space.”
The piece shows one of Hotel Rangá’s neighboring volcano’s Hekla, bathed in Northern lights. Arngunnur, who likes to experiment with different materials in her art, painted it on very thin silk that she prepped with emulsions until the material was “as strong as a drum.” She then used French pigments with Icelandic volcanic ash, without knowing exactly how the materials would react to each other once combined, to create the image itself.
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She often likes to leave different emulsions and pigments embracing and drying in her studio for days or even weeks at a time. That way, she lets the alchemy of it all become a part of her pieces lending an element of coincidence to her work. “I felt like it was appropriate because you never know what Hekla wants to do,” Arngunnur says.
She’s very attracted to volcanic energy; she even chose to build a summer cabin at Hekla’s roots. She also created a wall painting of Hekla in Room #2 and in Room #42 she painted the infamous Eyjafjallajökull glacier.
“There’s some magic in these places that no one can quite understand. They are dangerous for sure but that’s also what’s appealing – playing with fire.”
Arngunnur’s piece is backlit inside of the wall. Although strong, the thin material remains somewhat see-through, and while the light streaming through it helps produce the ethereal feeling of the aurora it can also be interpreted as the fire below. The piece has four sister pieces in the Reykjavik headquarters of biopharmaceutical company deCODE Genetics. She worked with similar materials for those pieces, focusing on the micro and macro as her subjects – from human fingerprints to Jupiter’s atmosphere.
Much of Arngunnur’s work is in some way inspired by this dualism, humans and nature. These days she’s working on a new series about the world’s shrinking glaciers. “It’s almost a lament to the nature that is disappearing in front of our eyes,” she says. “I’m very passionate about it and want to travel to Patagonia and Greenland next year to document places outside of Iceland.”
Arngunnur describes her recent body of work as an ode to the power and beauty of nature. She chooses to depict places that remind us to respect nature’s upper hand. “Maybe that’s why I keep painting the volcanos over and over,” she says. “They are gorgeous and magnificent but at the same time we know their history and, as is often the case in Iceland, nature always has the last word.”