Written Images

Jóhann Vilhjálmsson

Jóhann Vilhjálmsson began drawing at an early age and has kept at it ever since, despite life’s countless distractions, work and family obligations. When he was around sixty, he found out he had a serious illness that forced him to quit working, but instead he chose to focus on his art practice, including an exhibition of his works in ArtReach Gallery in Portland, Oregon, in 2019.

Jóhann’s images are defined by careful planning and fine details, both when it comes to composition and colour combinations, but it is immediately clear to the viewer that there is a lot of work that goes into each picture. To this end, Jóhann finds strength in being on the autism spectrum, but things finally fell into place for him upon receiving a diagnosis of ASD late in life.

Jóhann creates his works using paper, various types of ink and a range of colours. Sometimes, he works from an image, though he also tends to make abstract studies based on forms and colour, but in later years the works have taken to resemble skillfully illuminated medieval manuscripts, of European or Oriental origin. This can be seen in the rich illustrations, for example dragon flourishes, commonly found in Northern European manuscripts, and the apparent division of text into columns on the page.

On closer inspection, one notices that what looks like writing is not made up of any recognisable letters; the script does not correspond to any known words or sounds. This kind of writing has been dubbed asemic (from Greek: lacking meaning). Nevertheless, this does not mean that such writing lacks all substance, serving only decorative purpose, as it may yet convey messages that it is otherwise difficult to put into words – thus prompting the viewer to read using the imagination.

Curated by Erling T. V. Klingenberg and Jón Proppé.