Sigtryggur paintings

About me

For the last five years or so, running water has been my only motif. The surface of water has been of interest for me for a long time. The fact that you do not see the water itself, but only what can be seen through it or what reflects in it makes it so interesting and somehow a very obvious platform for thoughts about art. What matters when you look at art is in fact what you see through it and when the spectator reflects himself in a piece of art, art happens. So perhaps my paintings are allegoric, in a way.

Another aspect of my work as a painter is a search to understand natural phenomena through the act of painting. To try to understand the incomprehensible flux that happens when the light reflects on the surface of the water that is pulled down by the earth over stones, sand and mud. There is some kind of a highly important system behind this that I seek to find through painting. I have my moments of doubts but I believe in the importance of the search itself.

The starting point of a painting might be looking at a map and then the weather forecast. In Iceland there is an endless number of rivers and streams. Some of them I know a little bit and others not at all. Every river has its own character and as far as I know, none of them the same. Sometimes I follow interesting names of rivers, when I am looking for a river to paint and sometimes I already know the river because I have been fishing it. I take my camera and appropriate boots. After I have found the river I walk along its banks and wade in. The photographic process is very similar to a fishing trip. There is a lot of walking and searching. Sometimes I see nothing important for a long time but then suddenly there is something interesting, it might be a current of an interesting type or special light condition or a stone of peculiar color that I can see through the water. Then the painting/fishing starts. The same feeling that grabs me when I know there is a fish somewhere. I then have to capture the motif carefully but without hesitation, just like I do when I am fishing. It all happens very quickly and I shoot a lot of photos in a moment of total concentration. I do not study the river in a scientific way. I use my instinct and feelings.

When I come home I load the images into the computer and the next part of the process starts. I look over my catch. Occasionally an image is almost ready for the actual painting process, but more often I have to cut out parts and change colors a little bit. In some cases I work a lot on the images and change the colors a lot. The result is a pattern like paintings or camouflage. Those paintings underline better, in a way, the currents and structure of the river. It is another way of trying to grasp the flux.

The painting process is physically straining. I wake up at 5am, having already marked the general structure of the water surface on the canvas. Then I have to blend many colors, sometimes 10, sometimes 20. All of them have to be of the exactly right shade and lightness. That can take hours. Then I have to finish the painting in one go. The water/oil colors, must not dry. This can take up to 30 hours and I can only take few short brakes. All that time my concentration has to be 100%. During this process I get connected to the river again and as feeling takes over reason. I am fishing again.

Sigtryggur Bjarni Baldvinsson

The following text are thoughts by Gunnar Hersveinn philosopher

"Spectator in search for knowledge"

I sit on a chair facing the painter in a studio with a higher ceiling than in other buildings. The sentences flow on ...
Water has shaped its course, tidal rivers, glacial rivers and spring rivers have created their image for thousands of years in cohabitation with the soil itself and the climate. A kind of flowing canvas of shifting light, changing colours and swirling currents that tumble together in the water. The paint must not dry, one brushstroke has to fuse with the next, the flow must not stop. If the flow is disturbed the river will congeal, dry up or flood its banks. The author enters the work, the flow, the current, the rhythm. The seven colours merge and diverge until they reach their destination in the work. The painting is as unpredictable as the weather. Painters and meteorologists take measurements, make comparisons and produce results, but people sense changes in the weather, art. Scientists make environmental impact assessments but the spectator is left speechless by dramatic beauty. He does not need to know about kilowatt hours or whether it is a fish. But he might want to be an angler, jump into waders and stride out into the water with a fishing rod. Man is a paradox and there is a difference between believing and knowing, perceiving and calculating. Doubts about value remain in our hearts but perpetual motion in the environment creates a rhythm that the artist strives to capture and convey to counter it. Sensitivity towards the rhythm of nature grows and care towards it soon comes to the fore – harmony. The artist expresses the land on the canvas without any intermediaries. He sits in astonishment by a pool, reflecting something that dwells between nature and human society. He knows it is not logical, but does it all the same.


Anyone who sits on the bank of a river and gives himself time to take a long look into the water perceives the rhythm of life: the becoming. That which is, has already become something else. Life seems intangible. But anyone who sits until the consciousness and the water merge in time senses the permanency.
I am a spectator.
He is an angler, spends a long time at rivers or lakes catching fish. He is an artist who stands in front of the canvas for hours at a time, painting the current in order to handle laws. Attempts to capture what he admires, the light and the form. He says:

“I believe that the painting is a force of nature or primeval force. The instinct to fish and hunt is a primeval instinct. When I go fishing, when the watch begins and the actual fishing starts, my perception changes radically, my character changes. The vision of nature becomes focused, the whole body takes part. Stomach, nose, everything. The goal is simple and clear. Instinct is harnessed to the full.”

The tubes of paint in the drawer at his study are reminiscent of a box of fishing flies. What colour should be used on this canvas in this picture at this time to catch the character of this river ...

“At best, I experience painting like fishing. I try to arrange the preparations and preliminary work for the painting in such a way as to create the oblivion and concentration that is characteristic of the hunting man. If it succeeds, the result, the painting, is usually good. If it succeeds, the vision of nature is harnessed and I acquire my own view of nature,“ says Sigtryggur Bjarni Baldvinsson.


The river flows on, streams and brooks enter it, everything flows on in a beautiful tone. One man described his admiration of deep, grand canyons, the landscape seemed etched into his mind and soul, and he said: “This is an incredibly beautiful place, the colours of the mountains are unique and the light in the air is indescribable. Magnificent mountains, so rocky and changeable depending upon how the sun shines on them.” His words surprised me but I did not doubt them; it sounded obvious that he was a child of nature. What surprised me was that this man was blind. He had been brought up in close contact with nature, and loved it. So everything was open to him. His love of the land outweighed his blindness.

The blind man felt the tone. Sigtryggur felt the colour. But I am a spectator in a restless world. Few people hear the tone on the other side of the noise or see the colours that the fog conceals. Few people expect to hear or see something remarkable, since romanticism is over.

“I don’t agree, romanticism is alive and in full swing for a lot of excellent artists. Half the Icelandic nation is enchanted by the nature that is vanishing. People have found something sacred. And that’s romantic,” Sigtryggur says.


The painting is not a delusion. The painted world is reflected in water. It is also a tempting pool. The painting is a natural phenomenon. The brushstroke is one of the basic elements of the painting and can represent everything from the deepest anguish to empty ornament.

“I strive to make the work of producing the paintings, the physical approach to the canvas with the paint, the actual painting, into a kind of flow,” Sigtryggur says. “Mixing as conscientiously as I can the basic colours for the work, which might be, for example, seven blue tones. I have already marked the main shifts in light, changes of colour and currents on the canvas. Then the flow can begin. I try to merge into the rhythm of the water and paint the work in a single session. To manage that I need to keep my concentration throughout the whole process, which can take up to a whole day and night.”

There is a difference between believing and knowing. The painting is not a delusion, in spite of the doubt that gnaws the artist. it is a question of stamina, vigour and sensitivity.

“Doubt sudden fades and what I mixed together in misery and wretchedness a week before has become something substantial. I’ve been through this process so often that even at the lowest depths I know I’m going through a process.”

The painting has always accompanied man and will vanish when he does. The painting has an interactive effect on the consciousness.


Narcissus bent down to a clear spring to quench his thirst. Seeing his reflection, he fell in love with himself at once. “Now I understand,” he whispered, “why others have suffered on my account. I am burning with love for myself. But how can I enjoy the beauty reflected in the water? I am tied to this image, I cannot abandon it.”

Narcissus was a spectator, but he saw only himself. The spectator needs more.

After walking around Iceland, where rivers flow into other rivers, into lakes or to the sea. After walking along rivers, up or down, wading through them, throwing stones into them and even making little dams. After learning the names, catching trout, taking a swim. After lying on my stomach, sitting on the bank and becoming one with the current, watching my reflection flow away, I did not expect a new experience.

Then I stumbled across Sigtryggur’s studio and saw the unfathomable wealth of hues in the water on the canvas, the surface reflecting the world. Saw nature and the canvas flow into one.

“My role is to find a perspective or window that reflects the supposed fundamental truth I am seeking, and present it in a way that arouses people’s interest and hopefully opens up something for them as a result,” Sigtryggur says.

The artist is a medium. I sank into the painting, looked until the water began to flow. After I sensed the permanency that envelops the current, something opened up and I saw what I had not seen before. What opened up was knowledge, although it was not passed on in the conventional way.

“I think that a painter studies more along the lines of a religious quest than scientific research. In my view, the added importance nature seems to have in its pure and unspoilt form justifies such a study. A growing feeling for the land gives our lives satisfaction in a sceptical world,” Sigtryggur says.


The concept of knowledge is too confined, which can have dubious consequences, because certain groups sanction their authority by accepted knowledge. A painter can convey his knowledge of a landscape, knowledge that otherwise would not be learned. The spirit of the age makes it vital for art to return lovingly to the landscape: the painting as nature.

After I learned the knowledge that lies in Sigtryggur’s works and returned to the land, walked along rivers, crossed them and perceived more than before. I took along a camera and photographed living water that never stops, rivers that jump for joy like Brúará, more frowning rivers and one that I made no sense of. I own a book about that river: Lagarfljót – Iceland’s greatest watercourse, but I lack the knowledge f it that Sigtryggur could possibly convey with his art. If those paintings existed they could make a major contribution to an environmental impact assessment of the river. The written report on Lagarfljót is fine, and photographs of it too, but if I were minister for the environment I would ask for many paintings of it.

Because a painting conveys knowledge, depth and expression that cannot be acquired elsewhere: a clear example is Elliðaár (2003-2005) in Sigtryggur’s view of nature. The flow and the character of Elliðaár appear in red and orange colours on a dark background and this makes me think about the stories of how Benedikt Sveinsson, father of the poet Einar Benediktsson, was afraid of the dark. The painting forms part of the history of Elliðaár.

“It took me two years to complete that work and once I wrestled with it for 25 hours in one go without achieving what I wanted. So you could say there is a ghost in it. As far as I recall I was reading Guðjón Friðriksson’s excellent biography of Einar Benediktsson at that time, and the table where my family dined was once owned by the poet, but I do not make any deliberate historical associations in this work,” Sigtryggur says.


Knowledge is precious and doubt never disappears. But it is wonder that makes us into living people. We are moved by the child’s sense of wonder, and also by the wonder of other living beings: kittens, puppies, calves, even young birds. Wonder about the behaviour of things is the starting point for a new thought in every individual’s mind. Such wonder is on the decline in efficient modern cities. To avoid alienation and acquire vision, the city-dweller needs to escape into nature, because it is sad to be continuously inside an organised space. He needs to feel wonder outside buildings. Such wonder needs to be sought from the order produced by nature and can be found in Sigtryggur’s works.

Faced with paintings of the River Sog, the spectator wonders. He has seen this river flowing, but may have ceased to notice it. He has also read about Sog and heard stories and poems about it, but now he has acquired a new vision.

“I have wanted to paint the River Sog for a long time,” Sigtryggur says. “I read a novel by Steinunn Sigurðardóttir once which includes a fictional obituary of a man who had a summer chalet in Þrastarskógur, with a lyrical description of the viscous River Sog. I think the word ‘viscous’ captures the character of Sog.”

He has been painting for so long that he shakes off tradition and matures on his own terms. The artist becomes animated and when he paints, his concentration turns into oblivion, just like the angler at a river. But what is the difference between an artist poised in front of his canvas and an angler poised in front of a river?

“A relationship is formed with the river and the challenge is to deal with its character. I am interested in the physical properties of the water: how it flows and behaves. Brúará is whimsical but Sog has more density,” Sigtryggur says.

The spectator keeps on concentrating, achieves oblivion and wonders how the painting can be more than an image of water, not a vague reflection, but a kind of nature in its own right.

Gunnar Hersveinn
Thanks to: Brúará, Aðalsteinn Ingólfsson, Elliðaár, Ragna Sigurðardóttir, Lagarfljót, Friðbjörg Ingimarsdóttir and Sog.