Landscape painter Valérie Boyce’s first encounter with Iceland was in the 1970s. She remembers a strange moonlit planet! Later, as a graduate of the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts in Paris, her young Icelandic sister-in-law, Asdis Dan Thorrisdottir, gave her a closer introduction to the country.
In 1999, Sverrir Olafsson invited her to Straumur. She stayed for three months in this artist’s residency near Hafnarfjordur and met several Icelandic artists and the poet Gudrun Hannesdottir, who helped her through her poetic vision to a better understanding of Iceland. “Wilderness is an escape route for the soul,” said painter-explorer Keith Shackleton and, in so doing, expressed one of the great preoccupations of our era.
“Iceland is one of our last remaining European deserts,” she says, “a country of science fiction connected directly to the cosmos. It is a country at the “roof of the world”, constantly moving and recreating itself with lava, earthquakes and wind. It symbolises our instability, our fragility and our resilience.
Valerie Boyce has always painted the highly “civilised” landscapes of her youth in the Paris region, not far from Auvers sur Oise, Van Gogh’s last place of residence. She came to Iceland because she wanted to find another space, another light. She has exhibited her work in Hafnarborg, at the Fold Gallery and has stayed in several Icelandic artist’s residencies.
When she came to Iceland last April to give talks at the Culture House in Isafjordur and at SIM House in Reykjavik, she wanted to explain why Icelandic landscapes are important to contemporary landscape painting. “A painting reveals the shadows and the lights which are within each of us,” she told her audiences. “To paint a landscape is to paint your self-portrait. It reflects your mood, your history, your culture and the philosophy that inhabits you.”
In so doing, she said, it caught the spirit of the masters of classical Chinese painting of which she is particularly fond. She cited French author Antoine de Saint-Exupery who said: “We are from our childhood as we are from one country.”
She says that the “childhood” of Icelanders is their difficult past, a history of dramas, hunger, hostile weather conditions and towering mountains! And, even though technology has made Iceland a thoroughly modern country, inhabitable over its whole territory, enabling international artists to come and work on impressive videos and installations, she argues that there will always be this haunting past confronting the splendid harsh landscapes , indifferent to mankind, which give Iceland its special character. And this is what interests Valérie Boyce in her work as a landscape painter.