top of page

Kosmos/Kaos - Ragnheiður Jónsdóttir

Listasafn Árnesinga, 

2. september - 22. december, 2023

When considering Ragnheiður Jónsdóttir’s oeuvre within the field of drawing and graphic art in Iceland’s art history, her iconic status is evident. The exhibition Cosmos/Chaos marks the year of her 90th birthday, and Ragnheiður’s messages from the 1970s regarding women's empowerment, environmental awareness and social responsibility are still remarkably apt in the present day. Her graphic works depict everyday phenomena rich in symbolism, referencing industrial development, political turmoil and unrest, damage to nature, social activism, the patriarchy and the women’s movement. Starkly relevant to our present social and environmental issues, her works remain sharp and contemporary today.

Ragnheiður’s early works are characterised by powerful symbolism, together with the meticulous and detailed-oriented hard labour that typifies the arduous medium of graphic art. The themes of

her graphic works are unsettling and intriguing – abounding in surrealism and dry wit. Ragnheiður draws upon cultural metaphors within bizarre forms and creations that directly reference political, moral and social issues in Iceland at the time. Her graphic works strongly influenced the women's liberation movement, and to this day she is seen as one of the leading pioneers of feminist art in

Iceland. Her practice is one of contrasts – and not only the literal contrast between black and white. Ragnheiður’s works are rooted in the dichotomy between meticulousness and freedom,

abstraction and symbolism, natural and mechanical, pictorial representation and emotive feeling, between graphic art and free-form drawing. In the 1990s, Ragnheiður began working solely with large-scale charcoal drawing, leaving behind the time-consuming and precise practice of graphic art she had spent a lifetime mastering. Moving away from a literal symbolic language, in this new direction Ragnheiður focussed on an imagery of pure expression and abstraction. Ragnheiður’s charcoal drawings were no less incisive and trenchant than her graphic works, but they were imbued with more freedom of movement, a quality of lightness, and abstract symbolism.


What lessons can be learned from Ragnheiður’s 60 years as a pioneer of graphic art and gestural drawing? Her shifting and constantly evolving practice points to something inherent within human

nature – the need for freedom, abstraction, breathing and movement, amidst the bustle of everyday existence. Ragnheiður’s career attests to the impact an artist can have on their society, the power a single artistic voice has to call attention to issues, to urge action, and to influence social and political change, generation after generation.

Installation Photos by Ragnheiður Sóllilja Tindsdóttir​

link to artist talk

view the exhibition catalogue

bottom of page