Artist Lisa Congdon focuses on arctic pleasures 

Despite being in the midst of summer, San Francisco artist Lisa Congdon’s latest works — paintings and mixed media — are rather arctic.

Congdon’s show, “Boreas,” which opens Saturday at Gallery Hijinks, draws inspiration from “Heima,” a documentary by Icelandic minimalist musicians Sigur Rós, who are filmed playing venues from Reykjavik to the meadows of Iceland.

“I’ve always been attracted to barren, arctic landscapes in general, and I think that watching the documentary was the tipping point for this new body of work,” Congdon says. “In the same way that I’m interested in the desert, there’s something about the barrenness of the landscape that’s really appealing to me.”

Congdon’s style is distinctive and popular for its simplicity and sense of geometry, but it maintains an organic quality.  

Although her recent series is inspired by the sensibilities of Nordic countries, only a couple icebergs appear and the collection bears a sustained vitality, even warmth.  

The log cabin on stilts in “Sunrise” is inviting, and the smattering of quilts and their geometrics hint at domesticity and the comforts of home, placing her folk-art influences front and center.

“Nature was a jumping-off point,” Congdon says, “but once I started delving in and researching the natural beauty of Nordic and Arctic countries, I discovered all of these older handicraft and folk patterns from the region and I think in some ways that became the main part of the show.”

Gouache, acrylic paints, shadow boxes, graphite, ephemera and even fake fur are used in “Boreas,” continuing Congdon’s familiarity with various media, but she returns to painting for ultimate fulfillment.

“I like cutting paper, layering, the dimension of collage and the softness of working with pencil, but painting is more gratifying,” she says. “Paint is fluid. Your work can evolve over a longer period of time.”

As a self-taught artist who came into her own in her 30s, some might consider Congdon a late bloomer, but she sees her path as an asset.

“If I had fallen into doing this when I was at the typical age of 20 or 21, I might have taken a completely different path,” she says. “I might have gone to school and gotten burned out and done something different.

“Making art evolved really naturally for me in the course of my life. I think the experience I had in my 20s — before I was making art, having regular jobs, making a regular paycheck and working really hard for somebody else — built my character in other ways.

“I really appreciate the fact that I can wake up and make paintings for a living.”



Where: Gallery Hijinks, 2309 Bryant St., San Francisco

When: Opens with a reception from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; noon to 6 p.m. Saturdays; closes July 30


(415) 371-9330,

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Lauren Gallagher

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