Issue 208
May/June 2019


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May 23, 2019

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From an Anglo-Icelandic perspective

Karólína Lárusdóttir was born in 1944 in Reykjavík to Daisy Josefson and Larus Ludvigsson.

Reykjavík harbour

She always knew that she wanted to be an artist. However, at that time in Iceland the art establishment was heavily biased towards abstraction, so she took the decision to move to England.

Her time at the Ruskin School of Art in Oxford was pivotal to her future artistic development, as the course focused heavily on life drawing. It was during this time that Karólína learned to draw convincing figures, using gesture and body posture to suggest a whole range of emotions.

Karólína Lárusdóttir at work

She graduated with a BA in Fine Art from the Ruskin School of Art in 1967 and, in the same year, provided illustrations in her distinctive drawing style for the book Mead Moondaughter & Other Icelandic Folk Tales (Chilton, Philadelphia, 1967).

Throughout her long career she received great accolades: membership of the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers, the Royal Watercolour Society and the New English Art Club, with frequent works accepted for the Royal Academy Summer Shows and paintings in the national collections of Iceland.

She featured in The Renewal of Icelandic Painting (Narayana Press, 2006) and the 'ING Discerning Eye' at the Mall Galleries, London, in 2008.

Two extensive and impressive publications on the life and works of Karólína Lárusdóttir were published in 1993 and 2013. Karólína Lárusdóttir, in many ways, was more a part of the British art establishment than the Icelandic, having lived in England for the greater part of her adult life.

It was whilst studying printmaking in the 1970s at the Barking School of Art in Essex with Jane Stobart and Harry Eccleston that Karólína found her true artistic direction.

She became driven by a need to put down on canvas or paper the multitude of bizarre ideas that popped into her head, and these often referred back, whether consciously or unconsciously, to her unusual childhood in Reykjavík.

Her grandfather, Johannes Josefsson, was a strongman with Barnum and Bailey's Circus and worked with the escapologist, Harry Houdini, before returning to Reykjavík to found the Hotel Borg in 1930.

Much of Karólína's childhood was spent in this hotel and its luxuriously appointed public rooms feature prominently in her work, as well as glimpses behind the scenes of maids and waiters going about their business or taking a break.

'Leyja Comes to Hotel Borg' shows Karólína and her childhood nanny, Leyja, floating into the grand dining room of the Hotel Borg.

She was a great observer and commentator on social interactions and customs. This inspirational material, combined with her ability to capture a pose and place her characters within a well-structured composition, marks her out as a truly outstanding artist.

DENISE COLLINS

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