Erró: War and Peace
In Erró’s art, scarcely a region exists where life flows by calmly and gently, far from the sound and fury of war. Striðið (War) is the title of one of his oldest works. It is a drawing in ink and watercolour that dates from 1950. Its subject is violence, destruction, death. Iceland, the artist’s native country, is represented in the centre and at the top of a small, circular planisphere placed in the middle of the composition and superimposed on the silhouette of a nuclear bomb, equidistant between East and West. From this over-sized globe-bomb emanate lethal rays crammed with skeletons.
The war to which this drawing refers is the Second World War, a war that made a profound mark on Erró’s young years and which, with the double disaster of the Holocaust and Hiroshima, continues to remain for him the absolute incarnation of evil. But also, superimposed upon this, is the Korean War, which had just broken out, threatening global equilibrium and instilling fears of a Third World War, not to say the end of the world, given the possibility of recourse to nuclear weapons. The spectre of a nuclear holocaust, brandished throughout the Cold War, was to reappear in the artist’s later works, starting with the two tragic-comic series of drawings, Sur-Atom (Reykjavik, 1957) et Radioactivity (Israel, 1958).
War, all the hot and cold wars that have been in the headlines right through the 20th and 21st centuries, from the Second World War to the Gulf War, taking in on the way Algeria, Cuba, Vietnam, the Cultural Revolution in China, Chile, South Africa, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, have preoccupied Erró throughout his career. From 1964 on, he has made reference to war, directly or indirectly, via images of consumer society (advertising, news photos, strip cartoons, propaganda posters, press cartoons) which he brings back from the four corners of the world and puts together in collages, then in paintings, in order to produce open narratives that are complex and subtle. Committed witness and critical commentator of his times as he is, Erró is not for all that a depicter of history: in his works, fiction mingles intimately with reality, to the point sometimes of ousting the latter, taking the narrative to a higher level of detachment and abstraction. Humour and irony make it possible for him to temper the violence of his subject matter, to introduce discrepancies, to multiply effects of meaning. His painting constitutes a discourse on our times but even more than this, it constitutes a discourse on the images that invade our daily lives. It is both a reflection and an incitement to reflection.
« Art must always make us laugh a little, must also make us fear a little. But what it must not do is bore us. Art does not have the right to be boring.” Erró might probably take these remarks of Jean Dubuffet’s in 1967 for his own, while stipulating, however, that art also has a duty to unsettle, to provoke, to shake us into awareness.