In an introduction to his 1998 collection of paintings, poetry and photography titled Recent Forgeries, artist and actor Viggo Mortensen notes, “Even if you produce stuff that’s interesting to nobody but yourself, the activity justifies itself.
“Making things is a way of finding out.”
North country fans of the film star and former Watertown resident will be introduced to other sides of his talents for the first time locally when he returns to his college alma mater next weekend. The exhibition Signlanguage: Photographs by Viggo Mortensen opens Friday at St. Lawrence University in Canton with receptions from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 and 9 p.m. to 10 in the Richard F. Brush Art Gallery.
Saturday events begin with a poetry reading by the 1980 SLU graduate at 2:30 p.m. in Gulick Theatre, followed by four hours of book signings starting at 3 p.m. at the gallery. Two screenings of the extended version of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring are offered that evening, each with introductory remarks by Mr. Mortensen.
According to Macreena A. Doyle of the Office of University Communications, plans to bring Viggo Mortensen back to campus were in the works well before his role as Aragorn in the ongoing Rings trilogy brought him to international fame. “We had been talking with him for quite a long time, actually,” she said. “And it was a matter of figuring out a schedule that fit both the gallery and his schedules, because he wanted to be here for at least part of it.”
The exhibition continues in Canton through April 5.
In a December interview in these pages, Viggo Mortensen noted that recent film shootings including the forthcoming Hidalgo have left little time for other artistic pursuits. He said from somewhere in South Dakota, “That’s been a bit of a problem. But I have done a lot of photography in the past few months.”
Said Ms. Doyle, “Anyone who’s familiar with how films get made knows that schedules are fluid to say the least. This has necessitated a lot of flexibility by both parties. So we’re especially pleased that everything is coming together as it is.”
Also along the way, “People at the university have been in touch with him over the years, and with the galleries where he shows his work regularly, and the person who acts as his art agent. We’ve been communicating with them for several years.”
Given Viggo Mortensen’s recent recognizability from TV promos for The Two Towers to a new line of Valentine’s Day cards, officials at St. Lawrence have taken every step to ensure that as many people as possible will have a chance to see the school’s most famous film star alumnus since Kirk Douglas, while avoiding mob scenes.
“We know there’s a lot of interest,” Macreena Doyle said. “We certainly know that.”
“We came up with this plan, and we think it will work.” It includes a limit of two free tickets for any one person for one event only, and tickets must be obtained in person at the main desk at the E.J. Noble University Center on a first-come, first-served basis. Identification is required, no phone requests will be taken, no tickets will be mailed, and no waiting list will be established.
Also certain is that many of those interested had little or no idea who Viggo Mortensen was before The Lord of the Rings, and may never have been to an art gallery, poetry reading, or photo exhibition.
“I would say that that’s a very accurate statement,” she said.
“As you know, the galleries where he shows his art have encountered just that issue. It has been somewhat common in the past few years – even before The Lord of the Rings’ movies. The Web sites for those galleries have very clear statements like, ‘A note to Viggo’s fans – This is about his artwork.’ So this is something he’s had to deal with.”
At Saturday’s book signing, she said, “There will be a variety of his books available for purchase. Some are just photos, and some are a combination of photos, paintings and poetry.”
Screenings of The Fellowship of the Ring that evening begin at 7:30 p.m. in Gulick Theatre, and at 7:45 p.m. in The Underground. Both are located in the E.J. Noble University Center.
“We anticipate great interest in that. He was very interested in having this extended version of the film shown, and he wanted to say a little about it and the making of it and so forth.”
In the end, Ms. Doyle said, “This is a big event. It’s something we’ve wanted to do for a long time, and we’re glad that it’s something he’s wanted to do for a long time. One of the things that’s really nice about this is that he is so very well-known now for his film career, and particularly for The Lord of the Rings. But a lot of people don’t know about his other career as an artist, photographer, and poet. So we’re very proud to be able to help people know that other side of him.
“We’ve certainly been getting a lot of interest in this from folks all over the place, which is great,” she said. “We’re always happy to showcase a successful alumnus. And having one who’s from this area is great, too.”