“Behind the clouds, the sky is always blue.”
Distant red buildings were peeking through a fog-shrouded sky as the Seabourn Ovation made its way toward Norway’s Lofoten Islands. Our ship would be anchoring off the shores of Svolvaer, Lofoten’s largest town, and tenders would be needed to take us ashore. The misty morning was a sharp contrast to our sun-filled day in Ålesund, but it was not unexpected.
We were above the Arctic Circle, after all.
Lofoten – pronounced Lō’-fo-ten – is an archipelago of six principal islands and a host of smaller, isolated islands west of mainland Norway, about 150 km, or 93 miles, in length. A popular destination for mountain and beach activities, Lofoten is also known for its thriving arts community. In the winter months, the Northern Lights are often visible; from May 28th through July 14th, the “midnight sun” remains above the horizon all day and night.
The Road to Henningsvaer
Herb and I had signed on to visit two art galleries in the town of Henningsvaer, a fishing village about a half-hour drive southwest of Svolvaer. At the tender dock, we met our guide Lisa, a friendly, soft-spoken woman who talked about life above the Arctic Circle as we rode along the coast, offering insight into how artists were attracted to these remote islands, accessible to one another by bridges and ferries.
“The light here is interesting to painters,” she explained. “We have polar nights from mid-December to mid-January, where the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon – 2 hours of twilight and 22 hours of darkness. And then we have the midnight sun we are experiencing now, where the sun never goes down below the horizon.”
The road to Henningsvaer weaves along the water, past deep green hills and forests and through a stone tunnel. Except for a yellow timber-framed church and an occasional house or fishing cottage, it’s a scene of quiet landscapes.
Our first stop in Henningsvaer was Galleri Lofoten which houses Norway’s largest collection of northern Norwegian paintings from the turn of the last century as well as works by contemporary artists. The gallery’s exterior is painted the traditional deep red color found on Norwegian fishing cottages. The interior galleries are surprisingly engaging, warm and inviting, with an immediate Scandinavian feel – light wooden plank floors, a blue wooden staircase and a third floor with beam ceilings and a nautical theme.
I loved the art here, especially the paintings by Lars Lerin, known as one of Scandinavia’s greatest watercolorists. Originally from Sweden, Lerin lived in Lofoten in the 1990s, painting fishing villages and coastal landscapes as well as writing and illustrating books, including the award-winning Naturlära.
“The artist has developed his own way of applying colours. Grey, blue and ocher can dominate in changing shades. The tones can be deep dark or ethereally bright where the picture space is lit up from within in a magical way… The common denominator for all of them is that they touch something deep in us with their beautiful, distinctive motifs.”
~Lars Lerin Exhibition: All Year Round, galleri-lofoton.no
A Walk Around Henningsvaer
For anyone who was interested, Lisa had suggested walking around Henningsvaer before heading to the next gallery. It’s a small town, with a little over 500 residents living on two islands, and she recommended a route that would lead to the best photo stop for viewing the waterfront.
What struck me most about Henningsvaer were the colors. This was a town that had painted outside the traditional red or white lines, choosing a rainbow of shades for their homes and shops, sometimes using more than one tone to define their spaces. There was definitely an artistic vibe here, and I would have loved to have met some of the residents. With colors like this, they just had to have interesting stories to tell!
We rejoined Lisa “by the mustard colored house” as she had instructed and headed to KaviarFactory, a contemporary art gallery housed – as its name implies – in a former caviar factory. Art collectors Venke and Rolf Hoff purchased the old industrial facility and began renovations in 2009. Four years later, they had transformed the space and opened their gallery to the public.
Venke greeted us at the entrance, told us a bit about the gallery’s history and offered our group an informal tour. I was struck by how these two collectors had turned their vision into a serious contemporary art destination in such a remote, albeit beautiful, spot in Norway. It’s the kind of place I would have expected to find in a large metropolitan area rather than in a town of 500!
The current exhibition is called Inside Out and showcases fifty-one works by nineteen artists from Norway and around the world. “What the works have in common,” the exhibition’s brochure explains, “is that they all depict heads – portraits and self-portraits, honest and authentic – that clearly show the inside on the outside – Inside Out. An exploration of fragility and loneliness…the full range of human emotions.” Most of the artists’ names were new to me, but I did spot Edvard Munch and Andy Warhol on the list.
A Treat Before Leaving
Before leaving Henningsvaer, Herb and I made a quick dash to pick up coffees and a pastry at Kafé Lysstøperiet, a cute spot with – what else? – a colorful interior. I smiled when I saw the cinnamon rolls – they looked just as I had remembered from our time in Stockholm, with bits of sugar decorating the sides and top. I would have loved to stay awhile, but there was no time to linger, and we asked for our coffees “to go.”
Back in Svolvaer, our tour ended at an ice bar called Magic Ice, a tourist attraction in this northern part of the world, but also great fun. The experience began in the gift shop, where we were given gloves and hooded cape-like ponchos before entering the sub-zero ice-sculpted world. A bartender handed us drinks in glasses made out of ice, and we wandered around the space as various sculptures changed from blue to pink or orange in an instant, with some help from clever LED lighting.
Before the cold finally got the best of us, Herb and I took turns holding each other’s drinks and sitting for a photo on the ice throne. It just seemed like the thing to do when you’re north of the Arctic Circle.