It's Very Comfortable to Rest Your Eyes on Unnur Ýrr Helgadóttir's Feminine Paintings


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It's Very Comfortable to Rest Your Eyes on Unnur Ýrr Helgadóttir's Feminine Paintings

Which is great, since her first Stockholm exhibition opens tonight.

Unnur Ýrr Helgadóttir is a Stockholm-based painter from Iceland. Being educated in America before eventually moving to Sweden, Unnur is constantly inspired by her whereabouts. Her realistic portraits of young women are loaded with twists. Her paintings sometimes look like appealing mixtures between the work of John Bauer and anime drawings. But her personal style of adding surreal details on realistic portraits are unique, which makes it very comfortable to rest your eyes on her work.


Although a little sleepy when I chatted with her (she was preparing for the opening of her first Stockholm exhibition), she managed to explain the parallels between her art and the strength of Icelandic women.

Unnur Ýrr Helgadóttir

VICE: You were born in Iceland, raised in the United States and are now living to Stockholm. Tell me about that.
Unnur Ýrr Helgadóttir: Well, I was born in Iceland and lived there until I was five. My dad was a heart surgeon and we followed him to the States. So I started school there, until high school, and spent the summers in Iceland. I always saw myself as Icelandic even though my school years were in the States. Then I moved to Iceland on my own until I met a guy and moved to Stockholm. Have you relocating affected your art?
I think because of the fact that I moved away from Iceland it kind of gave me an outside view of it. I had a craving for [Iceland] and painted a lot of Icelandic things. But when I came to Stockholm I felt the need to paint more Swedish things. The location of where I am has a lot to do with what affects me. Some people describe Iceland as a matriarchy.
I would say that women are very strong in Iceland. We have a survival instinct that maybe not a lot of other countries have. Iceland is a very harsh country with a lot of energy, people who go there think there is nothing like it. That affects people. The women are strong, with a history of having to hold up the homes and stand on their own while the men where out fishing. I tend to paint strong women because the women that I know are strong.


Many of your paintings are naked girls with objects that don't seem to "belong" on the girls' bodies. What's up with that?
Yeah, I like to twist it a bit, just to say something. A lot of the times it's just me looking at myself in retrospect, stuff I've gone through. I live in female world, so I paint what I experience and observe. But I am actually painting a male in this exhibition. Some hairy legs! Your paintings are very colourful, but at the same time minimalistic and almost black and grey. How do you balance that?
I have no idea. People say it's my style but I have a very hard time defining it. I've been painting this style since I was tiny. When I was five years old, I loved colouring books because of the black lines you could colour inside of. One time I decided to colour outside of one line and started crying because it didn't look right. So my mum handed me a black marker and I drew a line outside of what I'd drawn. She made me feel better about it. I guess I've always had that within me. I can do different things as a graphic designer, but as far as painting goes this is my style. I started with black and white and have added colours since. This is your 12th solo exhibition, but your first in Stockholm. How do you think the Stockholmers will feel about your art?
It will probably fit them pretty well. Stockholmers tend to have a clean sense of style. The lightness of my paintings will fit their mentality. I also think Swedes deep down likes humour, even though they don't carry it on their outside. I have a lot of twists that may touch them in some way. I hope they like it.


Unnur Ýrr Helgadóttir's first Stockholm exhibition opens tonight between 6PM – 9PM at Ljunggren, Götgatan 36 in Stockholm, Sweden, and runs until October 4. Find more information here.


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Richard Holland's Skateable Forest Installation