Having become renowned for her rich compositions of vibrant, impossible creatures which derive from an amalgamation of Victorian engravings, antique painting and expert draughtsmanship, Kristjana S Williams now collaborates with Outline Editions to present a new series of work: Anachroquarianism. This exhibition is displayed within Shapero Rare Books, Mayfair – within the walls and between the precious volumes which inspired it.
Krisjana’s fantastical compositions both compliment and contrast with the original artwork of this archaic setting: playing with the same organic forms, but imbuing them with new life through vivid colours, which radiate amongst the ochres and umbers of the neighbouring pieces. The choice for this almost psychedelic palette is not simply aesthetic- the artist explains that in her native Iceland, butterflies and moths flit about with grey-blue wings so she had always wished she could see this nature in Technicolour as such; through her work this fantasy becomes a reality. This unnatural colouration also contemporises the antique illustrations Kristjana chooses to cut out, copy, and combine, therefore allowing her audience to view these traditional images with fresh eyes.
Kristjana has spent the last ten years trawling through prints, paintings, books to create a vast catalogue of illustrative material; she is captivated by the skill represented by these ancient pieces of draughtsmanship and is the first to state that “she is not making anything better, but celebrating the craft.” Through carefully avoiding corrupting and instead sensitively adapting, Kristjana exposes the traditional techniques which produced the beautiful images she works with – images which could otherwise lie hidden between book pages, dormant and dusty.
The fusing of these examples of flora and fauna is an element of Kristjana’s work which has greatly progressed over the past year; as always her colours are kaleidoscopic, limbs replicated and unfamiliar animals stand together in contradictory environments – but now we additionally see bird forms comprised of leaping tigers, or parakeets displaying plumes of vermillion butterfly wings. With this exhibition it is clear that Kristjana’s work has gained confidence, and in doing so it is undoubtedly more powerful, yet the young artist herself is still incredibly modest about her work. Her practice overtly conveys a desire to promote the importance of good draughtsmanship (something which is lost to a lot of contemporary artists), and an admiration of pure, unadulterated nature.
Kristjana sees the natural forms of insects, animals and plants as organic lines which merge together seamlessly: an idea which is perfectly echoed by her flawless compositions of “nature on nature”, pictorially uniting the animal kingdom. Although her montages may be primarily constructed through digital means, this is done with such dexterity that they remain harmonious and elegant, retaining and in fact magnifying every curve and colour of an ink illustration and the minute detail of a copper engraving.
With such intense hues, bold lines and unusual imagery, it is a wonder that Kristjana’s work doesn’t bleach out the original wall coverings and take over Shapero Rare Books entirely, however through tactful curation this has been avoided: Kristjana’s contemporary Map Of London hangs parallel to its antique predecessor, and although it may slightly exceed it in terms of colour, structurally the works both old and new reflect upon each other beautifully; it is such a valuable experience to see Kristjana’s work standing proudly beside the source of her inspiration. Further to this, the most opulent of Kristjana’s works – her hand gold-leafed horticultural pieces which glint sumptuously within cabinets and high on the walls – mirror rather than detract from the gold spines which garnish Shapero’s mahogany shelves.
This stunning series of prints may be brighter, glossier and edgier than the usual adornment of Shapero’s famed walls, yet rather than outshine its endless rows of antique books and prints Kristjana’s work truly pays tribute to the old mastery and ancient crafts which created them; something which this artist recognises over all, and succeeds in celebrating through this superb and exciting exhibition.