A catalogue that accompanied the "Signlanguage" exhibition at Track 16 Gallery in February, 2002, it features the photography and painting of Viggo Mortensen created primarily during his stay in New Zealand from 1999 to 2001. With an essay by Kevin Power....
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Viggo is such a renaissance man. He paints, he draws, he takes artistic photographs, he writes poetry, he acts, he sings, of course I've heard he's not much of a housekeeper, but since he looks so good, why should he have to? I've collected most of his books since before his big fame in Lord of the Rings. I first encountered him when he was an entry-level actor and weekend poet at Beyond Baroque in Venice Beach, CA. The man has always had a way with words. Personally, I think his poetry far exceeds his graphic skills, but that's just me.
Mortensen's work is absolutely striking. There's so many layers to it, both metaphorically & literally in the execution of much of his work (especially the paintings/mixed media pieces). His artwork was a huge inspiration to me especially when i was in high school, & it's still impactful to me today. His eye for composition really comes through in his photography, whereas, in his mixed media work, his ability to be able to pull seemingly disparate images & marks together to make a cohesive whole is what comes to the fore for me. I've also been very influenced by his use of text in his mixed media work; he integrates words & phrases seamlessly into the work, & it never feels trite or forced. The written words belong just as much as the ephemera & the paint. I think it's been ever after i saw his work incorporating text that i also began to work text into some of my own things i've made. Obviously, Mortensen isn't the only individual to do this, but for me, i'm fairly certain he was the first person who i saw doing it. There's quite a few photos from his time on Lord of the Rings in the book, as well, & you can see Mortensen's inquisitive exploration of his coworkers & location in the images. One of my favorite pieces is "Éomer," featuring Karl Urban in dress as the title character, not engaging the viewer, but looking off, downward, pensive. There is such a thoughtfulness to the image, & you see both the character & the actor, & the possibility for more than one story to be told. Mortensen is also able to use techniques (such as what look like light leaks) in the development of his photographs to create really interesting textures & again, add another visual layer to the image. The book reinforces the feeling that nothing Mortensen does is half-hearted. If you know the LotR films, then you know how he threw himself into the role of Aragorn, & now, if you look at this book, you can also see how he throws himself into his other artistic paths as well. I've seen derisive remarks in the past that brush off Mortensen's artwork because of his fame as an actor; people want to believe he's simply "playing" at being an artist & that he's being humored because of his fame. They further think that he should only do one thing, that by doing more, he's being fake, to which Mortensen replies the perfect rebuff: "People who are creators create. People say to me all the time, 'Why don't you just focus on one thing?' And I say, 'Why? Why just one thing? Why can't I do more? Who makes up these rules?'" If you really take the time to look at his artwork, you see that the viewpoint of those people is completely & utterly wrong. There is skill & thoughtfulness & careful consideration in Mortensen's work. There are layers upon layers in his art, & there is nothing false about it.The only problem i have with the book is that, over time, pigment of the printed images actually comes off the pages. The aforementioned image titled "Éomer", for instance, has large spots in its composition of dark, even black, color; over the years in my copy of the book, spots of the image have been lifted off simply by the pages being in contact with each other (i'm guessing), & now there are lots of small white spots in these darker areas of the image. It's definitely a sad feeling, to essentially see the images degrade. I don't know if it's the paper or the ink or possibly something else that's caused it, but it does make me wish for a reprint that has this issue addressed, so that the images stay intact.
I spent one of my sick days reading photography books. This was one of them. I think Viggo Moretensen is a fascinating person. I love the way he actively and intentionally pursues his passions. His photos? Don't love them, but I found them interesting.
My review from April 13, 2003
I liked it, but not as much as "Recent Forgeries".
Most of his photos and paintings are to my tastes, but I did enjoy the book and seeing how he sees life.
Deeply enjoyed this.