The Artist Thorvaldur Thorsteinsson

Thorvaldur Thorsteinsson is one of the most versatile and productive artists in Iceland. He writes books, plays and material for radio and television, and has received awards and grants both for visual arts and writing. His works are varied but it is possible to observe clear ideas behind them, and in all cases the same philosophy and the same author are present. In some of his works Thorsteinsson becomes almost invisible and absent and makes the viewer and the public the protagonists of the pieces; they create the art.

In the visual arts Thorsteinsson has done almost everything, from sculpture to performances. In recent years his work has to a growing degree been characterised by an activation of the environment, the public, and the parts of peoples’ everyday lives that are usually considered unimportant, inconsequential and naïve from an artistic point of view. By bringing clichés down to earth, by revealing the unexamined potential of the obvious and commonly known, and last but not least by creating a place for people to examine themselves rather than the work of art, Thorsteinsson constantly strives to use art to draw attention to something other than art itself and the artist; namely the unexplored adventure of the common everyday world.

In Thorsteinsson´s video “The Most real Death” people act being shot down by a machine gun. The initial reaction of the audience is smiling or laughing but it slowly dawns on them that behind the humour there is a serious idea. Manipulation and people’s irrational reactions come to mind. People’s stated disgust of violence becomes meaningless when we see them participate in this game… Maybe Thorsteinsson is pointing out how our ethical norms become skewed because of constant media coverage of murder and mayhem in distant lands, making us numb and indifferent. His references to a manifold and fragile human nature make us examine where we stand.

Thorgeir Olafsson
Ministry of Education, Science and Culture
Reykjavik, Iceland

The Writer Thorvaldur Thorsteinsson

Thorvaldur Thorsteinsson draws his artistic origins from the visual arts. His first steps in writing were a series of short radio plays, which he performed himself in a style utterly devoid of dramatic expression. His cynical comic talent was quickly recognized as well as his sharp eye for the absurd and comically meaningless in normal everyday dialogue. He turned this to its best effect his first full length drama for the stage, Talespin. Talespin is perhaps best described as a situation comedy written in the wrong key and designed to be performed out of tune.

Thorvaldur has gained a solid reputation as an author of children’s books. Two of those have gained international recognition for being among the best written in the genre during the nineties. The titles of which are “My Name is Betterby, you can call me Bobo” and “Are you Betterby, I have an Important Message”. He has turned his talent in writing for children to good use in two plays, “The Message Bag”, a grand scale musical adventure inolving dwarfs, trolls and a magic pouch; and “Loves Fable”, a the simple adventure of a poor boy that wins the princess’ heart for his heroic deeds. “Loves Fable” is written in rhymed verse, a novelty in icelandic children drama and that turned out to be a part of play’s public appeal.

His latest play, “Father and Son or Me and My Boy”, is a dramatic piece laced with comic irony that dives into a merciless portrayal of the relationship between an alcoholic father and his son. The dramatic screw is tightened when the past catches up with them in an unexpected way exposing their real lives. The strength of the play is the fact that the revelation of old truths is not likely to change the present situation in any way.

“Father and Son” is a strong addition to the impressive body of work Thorvaldur Thorsteinsson has produced to date and all of them suggest that his primary concern in his dramatic writing is based on his fascination with the visual power of theatre as a place of magic and of language as a thoroughly limited means of communication.

Hávar Sigurjónsson
Editor Culture & Arts,
Morgunbladid newspaper