A painting by Icelandic artist, Erró, can be as engrossing as a page from Where’s Waldo?—only there’s no Waldo, and you don’t know who or what you’re looking for.
One of the 17 works on view at Galerie Perrotin, In Lovescape (1973—1974), is a wild clutter of humans, animals, and half-animal-half-humans floating in front of a far-off mountain range. There’s not much sense of perspective: the figures in the front are about the same size as those in the back. There’s some bestiality going on: a donkey-like figure crouches over and kisses a naked blue woman who looks like something out of a Picasso painting. Further back, a fish wriggles atop a woman who seems to have just walked out of a Modigliani. There’s a naked woman with the head of Santa Claus. Some missiles, trains, and airplanes float around. Lovescape evidences a cartoonish sense of humor and absurdity yet underneath all the fun and games lurks a threat.
The works on view at Galerie Perrotin span from 1959 to 2016 and give viewers just a of Erró’s complete oeuvre. It would be difficult to show the artist’s full range—the scholar Jill Gasparina estimates that he’s created over 12,000 works. Years of ascetic discipline have allowed Erró to produce such an expansive body; “I work 10 to 12 hours everyday,” he says. “When I don’t work I feel very tired.”
Erró, whose real name is Guðmundur Guðmundsson, was born in Ólafsvík, Iceland in 1932. In a catalog essay, curator Bartholomew Ryan discusses the artist’s evolution alongside the development of international history. Erró “began producing his collaged paintings [paintings begun only after preparatory montages of ready-made images] in 1959-60” and “his production has sustained though the Vietnam War, Second Wave Feminism, the height of the Cold War… Sarah Palin, Charlie Hebdo; ISIS; Paris; and Donald Trump.” The intervening years gave Erró innumerable international conflicts and pop culture icons on which to meditate. The artist belongs to the Narrative Figuration movement, the European counterpart to the Pop movement in the United States. In contrast to the abstract expressionist painters that preceded him, Erró sought to engage with contemporary discourse through specific, relatable images.
The Erró exhibition is at Galerie Perrotin until April 23.