It’s the eve of the Open Studios Notts, a three-week event where over 140 artists, makers and festival organisers invite you into their studios and exhibition spaces all the way from Beeston to Worksop. I am sitting having a coffee with Magnús in the tea rooms when he reveals that he is feeling both ‘excited and anxious’ about how his new work will be received. He has changed direction with his recent work, the large-scale steel mask with a heavy textured appearance is softened by the brilliant blue discs he has created as eyes. It’s a large, fabricated steel face, the gaping hole of a mouth could be smiling or coming to eat you, it’s the stuff of legends.
Open Studios Notts is a fantastic opportunity for local artists to showcase their work, visitors to learn more about their inspirations and methods and one where Magnús will be re-installing his large-scale industrial sculptures in the beautiful Canalside Heritage Centre gardens for the third time since 2022. His work will accompany striking watercolours in the tea rooms by Anjana Cawdell, tactile textile art by Zoë Zegzula in the weir room galleries and charming willow figures by Katrine Scott-Mitchell. We have featured three of these four artists at some point over the past three years, so Magnús kind of completes the set!
“I never draw anything out, I see what’s in my head.” He goes on to explain that he chooses not to measure anything or use a spirit level either. “I am enjoying the freedom of not having to make things from somebody’s drawings.” A trained fabrication engineer, Magnús combines his talent for seeing how things are constructed with a discerning eye for detail.
Although his early life back in his home country of Iceland was miserable due to bullying in school and a struggle to find where he fit, a young Magnús recognised his talent for creative problem solving and streamlining processes. This was a skill that didn’t make exactly him popular with the older more experienced fabricators he worked alongside in his early twenties, as he couldn’t help but let them know when he had thought of a smarter, more efficient way to do something.
He moved to the UK in 2006, with his partner who came to study for a master’s degree at Nottingham University. Despite them separating some years later, Magnús wanted to be around for their two sons so remained in Nottingham. He currently lives in Bramcote and works out of a garage studio where he can use his welding equipment safely.
He believes he has always been creative and acknowledges most of his friends are either artists or in creative roles. He began to make his sizeable sculptures around three years ago. Before lockdown put a stop to international travel, Magnús used to travel with a friend to Florida for the drag racing. He’d been an enthusiast for many years, having raced himself in the 80s, and been going to Florida for three years running. In March 2020 he was in Sarasota when he saw the exhibition of grand metal sculptures. “We had planned staying 10 days but had to cut our trip short by 2 days in order to catch the last flight out before lockdown began.”
On his return he heard the affirmation in his head as clear as a bell, “I can do that!” He started to experiment with ideas. Following his Parkinson’s diagnosis eight years ago, he needed something to ‘keep the hand and brain active’ which in turn helps him to manage some of the symptoms of the disease. It is clear Magnús is having fun with his work. His giant insects and towering flowerheads give the sense of being miniature perhaps in the same way we would have been delighted as children.
My favourite is the tall metal flower I chose as the featured piece for the summer issue, I am reminded of a lofty sunflower stalk my wide five-year old eyes travelled up slowly and being dazzled by the brilliant yellow fringe around the dark brown centre, alive with bees. But I also love the form of his Gladiolus Metallica, made from spoons and nails, the orange stamens a brilliant contrast against the cold shiny steel.
Magnús describes his freeform designs, as his ‘giant doodles in industrial steel’ and likes to ‘leave something to the imagination’ so that the viewer can interpret them in their own way. He feels he has always been ‘going against the flow’ and although this doesn’t always make things (and indeed life) easy, it does keep things interesting. He talks about the amazing support and encouragement other artisans have given him over the years, and although he still feels a little awkward at calling himself an ‘artist’ he is finally making the transition to this from being simply a ‘maker’, and this has mainly been through others showing appreciation for his art. He can now accept that a creative past time, he began purely for himself, has grown organically into a small business that brings big rewards.
Magnús reminds me that he still has a few of his earlier pieces in Hopkinson Vintage, Antique and Arts Centre just opposite Nottingham Train Station. He met Ash, who manages the ground floor, when he had lamps made from old objects for sale. After he sold one, they were chatting and hit it off immediately. He maintains Ash has always been very enthusiastic and supportive of his work. The collection at Hopkinson is an eclectic mix that somehow work together, the quirky bird and Origami are the ones that caught my eye.
“By around March 2021 I was considering giving up on it all when Ash invited me round for a coffee – he saw my work and sent this to Janet Shipton. Within a week or two she had me set up with a meeting at Canalside Heritage Centre and my first exhibition was arranged.”
He tells me how much he admires Janet, particularly as a supporter of other creatives, and he exhibited in her garden at the last ABC Art Trail. He was also delighted that fellow artist and self-proclaimed ‘Icelandic student’ Kate Cloud bought his first ever piece. I asked Kate what it was that attracted her to it.
“To start with I love birds, I saw it and thought it looked like a magical bird and indeed Magnús told me it was his phoenix! I just fell in love with it, it brings joy to my garden, Magnús is a true artist.”
Despite all the obstacles life has thrown at him, including long-term problems with his health, Magnús really does feel like he is ‘living his life the best way!’ He is happy in the UK, being part of a network of Nottingham creatives and celebrated his marriage to his new love Denise on March 29th 2021. “We married in West Bridgford and were one of the first couples to marry that year due to lockdown restrictions. We could only invite 4 guests so basically was just us and our witnesses.”
Magnús says he met Denise almost nine years ago via Plenty of Fish on the internet, she was living in Grantham, so for around four years they were travelling between Grantham and Nottingham most weekends. Almost five years ago they moved in together and are currently living near the Sherwin Arms in Bramcote.
“I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2015 when I had been seeing Denise for around a year and I told her I would understand if she didn’t want to carry on but luckily, she wanted to stay with me.”
Ah… we do love a happy ending! And Magnús feels that he has been more than lucky to find his. “I finally found what I was supposed to do.”
In the meantime, why not pop into Hopkinson and ask the friendly team to direct you to the selection Magnús has there.