Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Art Contest – Adult Winners, Midsummer 2015

We received an amazing array of international entries in the adult division of this year's Midsummer Art Contest. Wonderful works were submitted from Canada, Czech Republic, England, Sweden and the United States. All were at a very high level, and we had a very difficult time ranking the many entries received.

I'd like to thank my fellow judges Simon Fraser (comics artist for Doctor Who and Judge Dredd) and Merrill Kaplan (Associate Professor of Folklore and Scandinavian Studies at Ohio State University) for the time they spent considering the entries and for their thoughtful comments on the works created by these talenting young people. This contest would not be possible without their participation.

Congratulations to our winner! The assignment was to create a piece that related to an excerpt from the Old Norse poem Sigrdrífumál ("Sayings of Sigrdrifa") from the Poetic Edda, the great collection of mythological and heroic poems from medieval Iceland.

At this point in the poem, the dragonslayer Sigurð has just woken the Valkyrie Sigrdrífa (who may or may not be the heroine Brynhild under another name). She had been mystically put to sleep by the god Odin as punishment for vanquishing his chosen hero in battle.

As she wakes, the Valkyrie sings a beautiful song of celebration. In the classic 1923 translation by Henry Adams Bellows, she sings:

Hail, day! Hail, sons of day!
And night and her daughter now!
Look on us here with loving eyes,
That waiting we victory win.

Hail to the gods! Ye goddesses, hail,
And all the generous earth!
Give to us wisdom and goodly speech,
And healing hands, life-long.

Congratulations to the five featured artists! These were our favorites in a very competitive division. We hope to see more art from all of these artists in the Midwinter Art Contest later this year.

Note: You can click on the art to see larger versions.

Eric Matzner
Age 20
Quesnel, British Columbia, Canada

Eric writes, "I chose to illustrate the mood that the excerpt conveyed to me. When I read this passage, I imagined an invigorated Valkyrie jumping up to greet the sun after a lengthy slumber. To keep in touch with the Norse and midsummer themes, the painting is located atop a rocky knoll in the high north, the line of suns to show the progression of the arctic sun on the longest day of the year."

At age nineteen, Eric won first place in the Midsummer 2014 contest. At age twenty, he now wins first place in the adult division. Like last year, Eric was voted first by unanimous agreement of all three judges. I love Eric's work, and I think this painting has a mystical feeling that evokes the dreamlike landscapes of Salvador Dalí. It's fantastic in every sense of the word.

Simon says, "This feels truly Norse. Maybe it's the use of color. It also has a mythic, iconic quality that feels very right to me."

Merrill comments, "The midsummer sun dipping low and the lovely curve of lakes echoing its arc: it’s such a strong composition. The color scheme, too, reverses the yellow sun on blue in the blue lakes on a golden plain. The visual harmony of binary elements captures exactly the excerpt Karl presented to us. Any viewer sees a joyful greeting of night and day and the bountiful earth, even one who’d never read the poem."

First Place: Eric Matzner

Levi Simpson
Age 34
Sedro-Woolley, Washington, USA

Levi calls this piece Sigrdrífa Sings in Summer. He writes, "I settled on a simple idea. I wanted to capture a moment of Sigrdrífa singing her poem, happy to be awake and looking up at a sun-filled summer sky. I tried to illustrate this image with the idea that perhaps it was discovered during an archaeological dig, painted on a wall and well-preserved, with light just hitting it for the first time in a long time."

Levi won first place in the Midwinter 2014 contest with a strikingly beautiful image of Frau Holle and the Yule Goat. His entry this time around is equally impressive and again demonstrates his unique artistic vision.

Simon comments, "This has a bold, graphic quality that immediately makes it stand out. The drawing is also very good."

Merrill writes, "It’s the strong graphic quality of this piece that captures me visually. Thematically, the bird motif on the helmet echoes the feathers in the foreground. Are they part of a cloak? A physical wing? The ambiguity is appropriate to the material, as Valkyries overlap with shape-changing swan maidens, and shape-changing is often figured as the donning and doffing of a hamr or skin/cloak. But instead of a swan, I see a bird of prey, which is appropriate to Sigrdrífa’s associations with battle. The conceit that we’re seeing an ancient painting, newly brought to light, is lovely. Both the painting and its subject are seeing the sun for the first time in many ages; the idea is really quite moving."

Second Place (Tie): Levi Simpson

Emma Häthén
Age 26
Karlshamn, Sweden

Emma writes, "My piece is an illustration of Brynhild/Sigrdrífa waking up from her magical sleep. I wanted to focus on the human act of waking and her joy. The glow and the sign is the touch of magic and power within her that reveals her as a Valkyrie."

I simply love this piece. Emma really captures a young woman's joy in the simple act of waking up from a long sleep, and she simultaneously imbues the moment with spiritual power. The depth of emotion and meaning is striking, as is Emma's talent as an artist.

Simon comments, "This is the most engaging and human of all of the images."

Merrill writes,
Emma does catch the spontaneous human moment. Sigurð is not really part of Sigrdrífa’s experience here. Maybe she’ll notice him in a second, but right now it’s all about her feeling life again. She’s unselfconscious and invigorated, feeling her body from the inside before she knows someone is looking at her and perhaps evaluating whether or not she’s attractive to him. The viewer, too, feels what she feels instead of assessing her female charms. Western art history doesn’t give us so many moments like that. 
Meanwhile, the sign hovers midway between representation (dragon? serpent?) and symbolic meaning (power!). It’s behind her, like her life as a valkyrie, but it illuminates her still. Emma’s style reminds me a little of Jeff Smith’s Bone and the affection with which he renders Thorn.
Second Place (Tie): Emma Häthén

Genevieve Terry
Age 33
Fallbrook, California, USA

Genevieve's piece is titled Hail the Day. She writes,
As someone with synesthesia (I "see" emotions, sounds as shapes, colors, textures, and movements in my mind's eye), the art I typically create tends to focus on representations of my mental "pictures" of emotional feelings and the senses. When I read the poem, especially Sigrdrífa's song, I saw an image in my mind that was one of hope and overcoming "the dark" (i.e., death, endings, static states). I associated this with reds/yellow/oranges, and blue/purple/black, and with sweeping wave-like movements (light) and spiky, pitted textures (darkness). To translate the movement and textures of the picture in my head into a visual medium, I used plaster on the canvas. I then used acrylic paint for the colors.

As midsummer is the longest day of the year, it is a day that is one to focus on and celebrate passion, growth, hope for the future, and action. This attitude and message is an important part of Sigrdrífa's song, and it made a picture in my mind of the brightness overcoming the darkness. Sigrdrífa emerges from the cave (darkness) into the sun (light); not cursing the darkness, but rather recognizing that both are different yet worthy of praise as parts of the great cycle of life, and that right now, it is time for life and progress. Without the darkness (death, "cave") we would take the sun (progress, "day"/sun) for granted.
Even when viewed on a computer screen, Genevieve's painting has a physical depth that draws the viewer into its world. What a wonderful work!

Simon writes, "I appreciate the painterly use of texture."

Merrill comments, "I love a good impasto! The obvious physical texture of this piece makes me wish I could see it in person. Together with the vibrant colors, Genevieve really communicates her synæsthetic experience to viewers who don’t experience the world as richly. That purple makes me want to go buy more art supplies."

Thank you to all the kids, teens and adults who entered this summer. We really enjoyed everyone's work. See you in November for the Midwinter Art Contest!

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