There is no place on the planet more beautiful than Iceland. That land of ice and fire makes the islands of the south, with their boring cloudless skies, stupefying sunshine, palms and bland white beaches, seem paragons of dullness. Iceland's sunsets last and last, her mists are never still, her geysers hiss, her lava glows. No accurate portrayals of that changing land could possibly be ugly.
Bjo rn Ru riksson's photographs of Iceland, now on view at Meridian House, 1630 Crescent Place NW, are accurate enough. But their spirit is lifeless and mechanical. The artist aimed his camera at waterfalls, volcanos, fjords and arctic flowers, but his pictures make one think of complicated lenses, precisely timed exposures, tripods and transparencies and labs where film is processed. They are the sort of photographs, too colorful, too slick, that appear on airline posters and in the glossy pages of Arizona Highways or National Geographic.
One ought to hear the sound of ever-rushing water in photographs of Iceland. Here one hears instead the roar of the airplanes the photographer has hired and his shutter's click. The sheen of high technology distances each image. It might well have been titled "Iceland Under Glass."
He shows us much that awes--transparent, sky-reflecting wind-form sculptures made of ice, snow-topped peaks, the midnight sun, glaciers whose white paws walk over the land, and rocky shores--yet his postcard-pretty pictures drive one's awe away.
They are wholly free of mystery. Viking sails once appeared on those mighty fjords, barefoot raiders strode those hills, shepherds do so still. We do not see them here. Absent from these images are Iceland's people and her ghosts.
The least moving are the aerial shots. They turn torrents into trickles, vast and silent landscapes into eye-pleasing designs. Their lack of scale is disturbing. They have no up or down. Ru riksson's photos decorate the wall and would nicely illustrate a handbook of geology. But he never lets us feel the experience of the land. The shows closes Sept. 14. ------
Paradoxically, perhaps, nature--or her spirit--is far more clearly felt in the nearly abstract paintings by Mark Shecter and Laima Simanavichus now on exhibit at the Zenith Gallery, 1441 Rhode Island Ave. NW (rear). Their art seems alive.
Shecter's wall-sized paintings show us plants we do not know and colors of a kind we rarely see outside--electric pinks and plastic greens--and yet these pictures seem to be drenched in garden sunlight. With arcs and drips of thickest paint and emblem-simple drawing, Shecter somehow lets us sense the glare of summer's noons, the weight of summer's heat and the smell and waxy textures of summer's thick green leaves. His art is not flower-pretty but muscular and raw. His blossoms on their stalks are as tough as weeds, and look as if they have come to life as quickly.
Laima Simanavichus paints on sheets of plexiglass. She works the back of that material not just with brushes, but with spray guns and with razor blades. It is apparent at a glance that she does not take from life. Her made-up art is lifelike nonetheless.
One looks into her plastic sheets as one would through windows toward the waters and beaches and the misted mountain ranges of the landscape in the distance. That narrow, sharply cut horizontal line that runs from framing edge to framing edge seems a far horizon. That loosely brushed scribbling of gray above seems a turmoil of clouds. An unexpected touch of red makes one think about sunlight on a rounded hill; that glowing green beside it seems the after-image left by the setting sun. Her paintings are not large, but they open up the wall. It is their airy spaciousness that one remembers most. They are full of air and oceans, of landscape and of skies.
More than 50 artists--painters, sculptors, metalworkers, jewelers and carpenters--now work in the studios of nearby Zenith Square. This exhibition marks the fifth anniversary of that thriving art community. It closes Sept. 16.