Visitors to the Gudjon Ketilsson exhibition, "Extensions of the Head," at Luise Ross Gallery on West 25th Street in Chelsea are likely to stop dead in their tracks at the sight of a gargantuan -- well, one meter long -- cord of braided, knotty hair hanging inside the door. Size does matter, and it would be a brawny lad indeed who would sport this rattail. Carved from mahogany and varnished, The Braid (2003) suggests that the rest of the giant may be waiting elsewhere inside. We proceed cautiously, expecting big things.
Next we come upon Three Witches (2002), a sort of triangular mandala consisting of three identical braided coifs made of black resin, gathered seductively together like a trio of conspiring rats, their tails extending outward. Arrayed like a Mercedes logo, the sculpture could be the symbol of an unknown brotherhood. Our trepidation is now fueled by wonder, and dismay. Are we quite safe?
Ketilsson is from Iceland, said to be home of the happiest people on earth by those that measure such things. Still, we wonder if whatever Viking saga we have stumbled upon isn’t better left alone. Once inside the gallery proper, our trepidation is confirmed by the uncanny items scattered about the gallery floor.
Part gourd and part coiffure, the eight capillaceous objects that lie before us, carved of wood and whitewashed, seem unceremoniously dropped from some unknown above. Apparently calcified, mollusk-like but also fecund like fallen fruits, these artifacts are also austerely whimsical, and could come straight from the Flintstones of Bedrock (the works are priced at $3,000-$3,600).
A relief-carved panel that hangs on the wall, Hair (2002), is symmetrically butterflied like a chicken breast prepared for frying. The central spine is a kind of part in the hair, wood made raw by sanding, with the wavy tresses extending out, finely carved and stained dark. It’s like a seascape with a rising sun of neon intensity. For Ketilsson, the head is the seat of the soul and it is adorned with hair. Truly, faith is the currency and like Moses and his parting sea, we leave bedazzled at the experience and new-found possibility.
Gudjon Ketilsson, "Extensions of the Head," Mar. 29-May 5, 2012, at Luise Ross Gallery, 511 West 25th Street, New York, N.Y. 10011.
JOHN DRURY is a New York-based artist, writer and teacher.