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Changing landscape

Views of Icelandic horizons are being showcased at the Mills Art Museum in an exhibition of landscape painter Arngunnur Yr.

While Yr’s landscapes have certain influences placed squarely in her native land, she said they also convey philosophical ideas.

“I like my work to express a certain quest without necessarily giving any definite answers,” said Yr. “It appears on one level as certain but there is an underlying theme, one that leaves you looking for something else.”

Yr’s show, entitled Non Sine Spe (Not Without Hope), deals with concepts of transience and impermanence. She said her work creates a strong sense of coming and going rather than of being in one specific place.

“On the physical level the paintings work this way-the image is something easily recognizable, something everyone can identify with,” said Yr. But looking closer, the image “seems to be slowly disintegrating into something else.”

Although she grew up in Iceland, Yr is a Mills alumna who considers San Francisco her home. It’s been 10 years since graduate school, but she said she is delighted to be back at Mills.

“Physically and psychologically, the smallness of Mills makes it special and provides great quality of teaching,” Yr said. “The beauty and tranquility [of Mills] was great as an artist working amongst the trees in the beautiful light; it was just amazing.”

Yr once struggled to find understanding of her own work while trying to establish a personal style.

“I persisted,” she said. “I am incredibly hard on myself, kind of militant, and my own worst enemy. But that’s how you have to be if you want to get anywhere.”

Yr’s effort has paid off. Today her work is popular all over the world, and uniquely her own. She describes a powerful duality of her paintings; they have “an incredibly inviting precious quality but also look as if they’re badly done, falling apart; worth little at all.”

Finally, to the Mills community, Yr offers what she tells herself and her son: “Whatever you’re working on, always give it your best. Always do it primarily for yourself.”