I still vividly remember the day I went to interview the artists Johann Eyfells and Kristin Eyfells. I had always loved art but didn't know anything about what it meant to be an artist, nor how to write about it.
I was young (23 years old), naive, wide-eyed, and captivated by every detail of everything I observed about their lives. It was all new and different to me. They didn't live in a subdivision (as I did), and their yard was sandy and unkempt, which contradicted the unspoken rules of suburban homeownership. One of Johann's massive sculptures stood outside. Inside, the house was crowded with Kristin's large, colorful paintings and was otherwise given over to the needs of creative industry, in all their messy, impulsive glory. It was a comfortable, appealing home, but it was not the kind of orderly, decorated environment that I had grown up in. I loved it.
When I reread the story that I wrote about them 19 years ago, almost to the day, I see the inexperienced, unworldly person I was, who would take breathless note of an artist writing "philosophical" things on a piece of paper. (Never mind that the newspaper published that sentence—we were all naive in a similar way, I suppose.) I also feel anew that sense of wonder and excitement, for which I did not have the words to express, at discovering a way of being and thinking that felt right. The Eyfells offered a glimpse at what it could be like to spend your life creating and learning, and doing those things alongside someone who is equally ignited by those pursuits.
On a sunny day, the view at the house is almost surreal. The trees are dripping with Spanish moss. Across the street the pastel shingled roofs of a neighborhood are barely visible over a brick wall. A dense population of telephone poles looms into an endless blue sky.
The couple's two-story house on Tuskawilla Road about a half-mile north of State Road 426 is set back from the road. Rough-hewn sculptures shaped like giant sand dollars hang on the house's brick front. Four dogs big enough to saddle gallop around the grassy yard, barking at anything or anyone who approaches the chain-link fence.
Inside this house, artist Johann Eyfells works. He retreats to his dank basement in the wee hours of the morning, scratching philosophical thoughts onto pieces of paper. He labors in the back yard with his three foundries, melting and molding metal for his sculptures that can weigh more than 1,000 pounds.
Activity at the house has reached a particular intensity as Eyfells, who has taught art at the University of Central Florida since 1969, prepares one of his sculptures for an upcoming show in Sweden.
“Hatchway: Concave as Convex,” a cast aluminum piece measuring 9-by-9 feet and 40 inches thick, was three years in the making. Eyfells ladled molten metal in small portions into wooden and earthen molds. The framework surrounds a shallow concave center.
At present the 67-year-old artist is represented in four major shows in the United States and Europe. He has had more than a dozen one-man exhibitions, numerous group exhibitions and has works in public collections in Florida, Germany and his native Iceland.
Not surprisingly, much of Eyfells' success has been recorded outside of the state. He is especially well-received in Iceland, where he is one of nine artists participating in a traveling exhibit.
“Nordic '60s,” which is touring Scandinavia, is a comprehensive exhibit of work from the 1960s. It includes the work of 50 artists, 10 from each Scandinavian country.
Eyfells says he enjoys his relative obscurity in Central Florida. Quoting Picasso, he says living here is akin to “living like a poor person but actually being a millionaire.”
“We are stuck with (the idea that) it's more beautiful to attain sameness than to attain authenticity.” —Johann Eyfells
Eyfells' wife, Kristin, is also an artist. She paints large portraits of famous faces like Jimmy Durante, Tom Selleck and Ronald Reagan. She paints in colors as bright as those of a canary's breast, a lively contrast to the weighty, muted tones of her husband's work.Even in appearance the couple strikes a contrast. Kristin is petite and slim. On this day she is wearing her curly red hair smoothed back in a bun. Her eyes are bright and blue. Her multicolored striped pants flare at the bottom.
When she speaks, the words are distilled through a heavy Icelandic accent and her voice has a sing-song quality. She jokingly says her husband is “so serious.”
Purposeful is another apt word for Eyfells. He chooses his words carefully, deliberately.His blue eyes are magnified behind thick glasses. He has a wide forehead and his tanned face has many lines. Large calloused hands protrude from the cuffs of his forest green shirt.
Eyfells says being married to an artist is like “being married to another version of oneself.”
The fact that they each cultivate separate artistic fields does not adversely affect their relationship. He says they have respect for each other's talent. “The harmony exists in the domain of quality.”
An inclination toward the arts runs in the family. His father was a landscape painter. Eyfells' work diverges considerably from the realistic renderings of his father. “I used to joke with him that he painted mountains and that I created them,” Eyfells said.
A former architect, Eyfells has earned degrees from the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Florida. He gave up architecture, a vocation he took up to please his mother in the early '60s. “I am not a businessman,” he said.
His knowledge of design has not gone to waste, however. He and Kristin bought their home in Oviedo in 1983, when it was nothing more than “an abandoned shell,” Kristin said. “It was just sand and nothing.”
In other words, it was perfect for the couple's needs as artists. Eyfells redesigned the house and did all of the carpentry himself. They have ample studio and storage space and the 2 1/2 acres allows for the birth of many a grand sculpture. Not to mention the fact that those dogs need room to roam.
Kristin added her decorator's touch with purple and blue paneling for the kitchen and painted purple walls in the living room. Other highlights of the house include green shag carpeting and, of course, each of the artist's work prominently displayed.
Bright colors notwithstanding, the house is not unlike any found in a conventional neighborhood. It is both comfortable and functional, with the lived-in feel commonly associated with grandma's house.
It is authentic, to use the artist's term for something that has not been altered to suit outside demands. He says authenticity has a beauty of its own that often goes unappreciated.
“We are stuck with (the idea that) it's more beautiful to attain sameness than to attain authenticity,” he said. “Authenticity is not sameness.”