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 Samuel Joensen-Mikines  (1906 - 1979)

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Lived/Active: Denmark      Known for: modernist genre, figure and portrait painting, life and death themes

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Ad Code: 3
AskART Artist
from Auction House Records.
Whale killing scene, the Faroe Islands.
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

*This article first appeared at Iceland Review on-line on February, 18, 2008. The exhibition reviewed was "Pioneers of Art-Samal Joensen Mikines and Nina Saemundsson".
Imagine being born on a secluded island, which at the time of your birth counts no more than 120 people. Imagine growing up surrounded by endless water and bottomless sky in a remote fishing village. There, each journey to the ocean can easily turn into the last one, and life mainly consists of seeing off the fishermen and bidding farewell to those lost at sea. Imagine at the age of nine, due to your good singing voice, being made “Singer for the Dead.” Each time tragedy strikes, according to Faroese tradition, you place your hand on a dead person’s chest and sing, accompanying the dead on their last journey. Death is solidly woven into the pattern of everyday life.

The Kjarvalsstadir branch of the Reykjavík Art Museum is holding a retrospective exhibition of Sámal Joensen Mikines (1906-1979), the most important artist of the Faroe Islands. He was born on the isolated island of Mykines, the westernmost island of the archipelago, and became the first professional artist of his land and the first one to gain recognition abroad – a pioneer of the Faroese art scene.? ?The exhibition is divided into three main areas – a central hall is devoted to the themes of life and death, and halls to the right and left focus on specific genres, landscapes and portraits respectively.

Upon entering the main hall of the exhibition, you will immediately be drawn to two large canvases; both titled Pilot Whale Killing. They dominate the first hall much as whale hunting dominated life in Mykines. The dark figures in the boats, thrashing whales, blood-colored water and the orange glow of the sky create a threatening, battle-like atmosphere.

As you turn slightly to the right you will see yet another painting with the same title and almost identical composition. This one, however, conveys a very different feeling. The bright yellow colors of the whale hunters’ clothes, the hue of the sky and the gleaming black T-shape of a whale’s tail give this painting a tone of joyful ritual, a celebration of life if you will.

Going left through the central hall will bring you to the heart of the exhibition and the recurring theme of the artist’s work – death. You will see the most somber by palette and mood paintings. There is no movement in the darkened rooms; black silhouettes in the background dissolve into darkness; the stillness makes grief almost tangible. On the same wall, contrasting with the theme of death, Faroese Dance depicts a joyous celebration at the end of the whale hunting season.

Faced with the circle of life and death you have to find a way of balancing them. For the artist, nature becomes the source of harmony. As you turn to the opposite wall, you will see several paintings projecting scenes of calm serenity, all of them with a similar motif – people and the sea.
Ships Leaving Harbour, with a woman looking at a far-away ship, is especially striking. The woman’s figure in a softly flowing dress is placed between the sky and the sea, symbolically uniting them. The ultramarine and brilliant green colors; the simplified, geometric outline of a cliff; the orange dot of the three-master sailing away just below the horizon – create a wonderfully tranquil scene.

Passing into the next hall brings you to one of the artist’s favorite genres, the landscape. All the landscapes are inspired by his beloved Mykines. Mikines was so devoted to his island that he added its name to his surname and became known as Sámal Joensen Mikines. Even after settling in Copenhagen he returned to his island every summer and continued to paint it in different seasons and with different techniques. The vivid colors of Mykines are captured best in Northern Wind and View from Mykines Islet.

The landscapes include some interesting samples of an experimentation stage of the artist’s career. In A House on Mykines Island, you will notice the clear influence of Modernism. Shortly after World War II, the Faroese art that was dominated by Mikines for more than 20 years experienced an explosion of new talented artists, who either returned to the islands after completing their studies in Denmark – like Ruth Smith or Janus Kamban – or chose the Faroes as a place to settle down, like Jack Kampmann. They all brought in new ideas, but Mikines was challenged most by Kampmann, with his interest in analytical Modernism. Mikines felt compelled to experiment with new techniques and modern structures in his paintings. In the words of the curator of the exhibition, Adalsteinn Ingólfsson, this period brought Mikines “to the verge of abstraction.”

The opposite hall of the exhibition contains a series of portraits. The careful observer will notice that in the bulk of his work, Mikines used the human form as a prop to convey an idea or emotion – the figures always simplified, the faces lacking distinct features. This is not the case with his portraits, which are quite detailed. His portraits have been highly acclaimed by critics; but I found his other work much more interesting.

Online Source:

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Sámuel Joensen-Mikines was a Faroese painter. He was the first recognized painter of the Faroe Islands and one of the Faroe Islands most important artists. Many of his paintings have been displayed on Faroese stamps.

Joensen-Mikines was never in doubt that he would be an artist, and his first inclination was to be musician and play the violin. But in the summer of 1924 the Swedish bird painter William Gislander visited the Faroe Islands for painting the enormous colonies of birds. Gislander was not a great artist, but for the young Joensen-Mikines he was the idol, whose steps he followed from the very beginning, and who let him make his first brush strokes with the remainders of paint that could squeeze out of Gislander's tubes. His paintings were inspired both by Edvard Munch and Eugène Delacroix, and his trend-setting art was decisive for the development of Faeroese art.

The most early works of Mikines are from the middle of the 1920s. He then painted in a fresh and naturalistic style with a precise representation of colour and motifs. He was asked by the author and artist William Heinesen to apply for the "Danske Kunstakademi", the Royal Danish Art Academy. He was admitted on the Painting School in 1928 and had Ejnar Mikkelsen and later on Aksel Jørgensen as teachers. He settled in Denmark but was almost every year on Mykines in the summer until 1971. On Mykines he draw and painted as he also made rough sketches which later on became paintings during the winter in Denmark. S J Mikines travelled many other places than Mykines and also these places were among his motifs. S J Mikines participated in countless exhibitions since his debut in Tórshavn in 1927, where all his paintings were sold and his paintings can be seen many different places. Apart from Listaskálin in Tórshavn, where a great permanent exhibition is, paintings can be seen in the Faroese Parliament as well in many banks and savings banks all over the Faroes. Paintings of Mikines can also be seen in "Statens Museum for Kunst" in Copenhagen.

With Aksel Jørgensen and Ejner Nielsen as his teachers and together with the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch, they inspired Mikines' symbolic, expressive, and often sombre and dramatic portrayals in which death plays a major role. The darkest paintings are dated around 1934, which became a fateful year for Mikines. His native village, Mikines, was struck by grief when a large part of the male population of the village drowned because of a boat wreck. Furthermore this was the year when Mikines' father died. Mikines has described it as an artistic experience when his father's coffin was carried through the village. But later paintings of, for example, his native village were noticeably light and idyllic. The drama, however, remained an important part of the artistic expression of Mikines.

It is disputed who the woman is on the vertical portrait painted 1934, many people believe the portrait shows the artist's wife, and it certainly does resemble her very precisely; others say that she is an anonymous woman from the village Sørvag. The horizontal painting shows a woman standing beside the sea coast, looking out for her husband to arrive home from the sea. Although this set is dedicated to "Famous Women", the women are anonymous, but Mikines intended it to represent the Faroese Woman.


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