Sigurjón Ólafsson

  • Year : 1934-1935
  • Height : 400 cm
  • Width : 300 cm
  • Category : Skúlptúr
  • Sub-category : Steinskúlptúr

Rauðarárholt, adjacent to the former Seamen’s College (now part of Reykjavík Technical College), Háteigsvegur. Sigurjón Ólafsson had not yet completed his studies at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts when he started work on his largest work yet, a 12 m² bas-relief of women stacking saltfish. He told journalists that the work was “a celebration of saltfish, the Icelanders’ only resource.” As a youngster, Sigurjón himself had worked stacking saltfish; and even in Copenhagen he was surrounded by Icelandic fish, brought into the warehouses around his studio in Charlottenborg. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, before the advent of freezing technology, saltfish (salted cod or bacalao) was Iceland’s most important export. Still today it is a major commodity in fish-processing, exported in quantity to Catholic countries. Stacking Saltfish was initially made by additive methods, moulded in clay, of which Sigurjón used a ton, before being cast in plaster of Paris. After World War II Stacking Saltfish was purchased by the Icelandic state, cast in concrete, and shipped to Iceland. The casting process, in 1946, was supervised by the artist. Sigurjón had previously made sculptures of working people, but those had been in Social Realist style. In Stacking Saltfish his approach is different. In order to maximise the impact of the work from a distance, he had to simplify all the composition and planes: this simplification may be seen as representing Purism, a pared-down variant of Cubism, which had some following in Denmark in the 1930s. Stacking Saltfish comprises two horizontal raised planes, and two background planes. The raised planes depict eight standing women stacking saltfish – four in the upper panel, four in the lower. Some stand upright, while others are bent over barrows of saltfish. The horizontal planes are connected by two saltfish which are being added to the stack, “and no less by rhythmical repetition of postures, diagonally across the plane,” as Björn Th. Björnsson put it.

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