Hulda Stefánsdóttir’s paintings have sometimes appeared so sparse and pale that they seemed to be trying to merge with the walls of the gallery. Until now, Hulda used mostly neutral colours, often various hues of grey that sometimes paled almost to white. She arranged her small canvases in the space so that they formed clusters that, from a distance, appeared like geometric reliefs on the wall, installations so minimalistic that they seemed about to disappear altogether. On closer examination, however, these neutral surfaces revealed surprising details, brushstrokes and pale washes of colour that draw delicate shapes and provide textures and depth.
Now, Hulda has taken a new turn and exhibits large paintings, most of which command their own space and independence. On a larger canvas, the delicate changes in hue seem more deliberate, apparent already from a distance as one enters the gallery. The brushstrokes are more forceful, and shapes and textures jump out that, in her older work, were sometimes so small and delicate that they were hard to discern. The colour range is also much broader, perhaps most notably in the use of gilt paint that totally transforms the appearance of the exhibition. Gold has strong symbolic connections and here it imbues the paintings with a light that transforms the colour scale and projects them into the surrounding space.
The continuity with Hulda’s older work is, nonetheless, clear. These paintings are a stage on the journey in which Hulda explores the possibilities of painting. Her works do, of course, recall the experiments and research of artists in the early twentieth century, the first abstract painters, and the monochromatic paintings that appeared in the middle of the century, but they are in fact a great deal more organic and painterly. Hulda has deliberately combined two apparently contradictory aesthetic approaches, and sometimes it seems that her paintings can lean either way: Toward the minimalism of the clear surface or toward a stronger expression of line and clearly defined, organic forms. In many of the new paintings, Hulda has opted for the lyrically expressive approach. Other paintings in the exhibition, however, remind us of the strong link to her earlier work.
Hulda’s journey in painting is not merely a confrontation with art history, the more than one hundred years that have passed since the very first abstract paintings were made. Artists in the twenty-first century do not live somehow in the shadow of the great conflicts and innovations that characterised the last century. On the contrary, Hulda’s paintings show that she has examined in detail the possibilities of her colours and surfaces, the basic elements of any painting. They provide a visual parallel to the questions we must all answer for ourselves about how we perceive and understand the world, not only in its visual aspect, but also about the very nature of our thinking and of meaning itself. This is a journey that each of us has to undertake on our own, based on our own understanding and experience.
Hulda’s exhibitions have often been quieter and more low-key than the work of many of her contemporaries who have opted for a more aggressive and colourful mode of expression. Yet it is precisely in these low-key paintings that we most strongly sense the mission of the painter and are given a quiet space in which to reflect on the finer details of her thinking, finding the parallels to our own thoughts and understanding. Now that Hulda has increased the scale of her paintings, sharpened their colour, and given each canvas a more independent character, we can immerse ourselves in them even more deeply.