My favourite painting: The Countess of Harewood

'They record an engagement with the very substance of the Earth itself.'

Lava Landscape, 2014, by Ragna Róbertsdóttir (b.1945), a temporary mural for ‘Safn Berlin’ made with lava from Hekla, 131¾in by 102 1/3in, Berlin.

The Countess of Harewood says:
There is a formal beauty to these ‘Lava Landscapes’, constructed on site, their size and shape determined by their location, the monochrome surfaces subtly and infinitely variable. But these works are not merely landscape views, they are the land, made from pumice collected by the artist in the volcanic areas of Iceland. They record an engagement with the very substance of the Earth itself, with a physicality that takes your experience beyond the purely visual, a scale and an immeasurable quantity of stone fragments that place us bodily in relationship to the vastness of the landscape.

The Countess of Harewood is the artist and curator Diane Howse, whose exhibition ‘The Silent Wild’ is at the Brontë Parsonage Museum until September 28.

John McEwen comments:
To make this landscape, Ragna Róbertsdóttir first spread glue onto the selected area of wall. Then, she donned a face mask and plastic boilersuit to protect herself from the pumice stone she had earlier gathered and ground into dust. With gloved hands, she scooped the pumice from heaps on the floor and flung it to stick on the glued surface. When the pumice was distributed to her satisfaction, the work was complete, the floor swept and viewing commenced.

Such murals require an eruption of physical energy, mirroring the volcanic origins of the material. They are temporary installations; when the exhibition finishes, so does the work. The wall is cleared and repainted, the eruption over.

‘I always have done it very simply. Often the story is in the material,’ says Mrs Róbertsdóttir. When she receives a commission, she goes to her ‘material bank’ and selects what she considers best for the particular space. The bank consists of labelled plastic boxes filled with pumice stone—parent volcano named —basalt, seashells and even acrylic chips normally used in discotheques.

The pumice and other natural materials are sieved, weighed and washed before being stored. Some materials she grinds down to spread as floor or wall pieces. Big lava stones are sometimes cut to make sculptures.

Mrs Róbertsdóttir is one of Iceland’s international stars. Reykavik-born, she studied at the Icelandic College of Arts and Crafts before completing her art education in Stockholm. Like many Icelanders, she is only semi-resident: she lives in Berlin, exhibits round the world and returns for the summer, like the island’s myriad migratory species of fish and birds.

This article was originally published in Country Life July 29, 2015

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