Saemundur's children by Adalsteinn Ingolfsson
Sæmundur Valdimarsson´s statues are by no means aggressive works. Yet they are quite demanding in their unassuming way. They make demands of those who have elected to foster them, expect to be treated with a modicum of respect, given a place of honour in the home and proper consideration by the household. In return they watch over homes like the domestic deities of old. Their owners soon realize that they are being observed. The statues send them loving looks, wistful or inquisitive gazes, depending on the mood of the owners. And when these statues are turned to the wall, either on purpose or by accident, they exude the silent sorrow of children who have been wrongly accused of something.
It is in this fusion of the childlike and the archetypical that the power of these works lies. On the one hand they are an extension of the upright structures that have been used by different cultures from time immemorial to objectify Homo Erectus and his desire to become one with the almighty on high. Their counterparts are the Viking pillars, totem poles of indigenous peoples and the caryatids of ancient Greek temples.
They also embody an old peasants nostalgia for youths utopian state, when life was simple, feelings were sincere and sincerity was real.
Sæmundur´s statues are either male, female, hermaphroditic or androgynous, depending on the type or cut of the wood he is working on. But they are first and foremost children, or perhaps a special breed of an Icelandic elf, essentially youngsters caught between childhood and adolescence, big-boned and fuzzy-cheeked lads with large, inquisitive eyes and overgrown girls. And even though the girls may have suddenly grown breasts with rose-red nipples and the lads sport genitals, they are in essence prelapsarian. The loving gaze they direct at one another is pure and untainted, without a hint of sexual longing.
Like all children, Sæmundur´s offspring love dressing up and pretending to be grown up. The girls pretend to be heroines from the Sagas such as Guðrún Ósvífursdóttir or Hallgerður Langbrók or little princesses with elaborate coiffures. These coiffures are a reminder that Sæmundur grew up in the Thirties and Forties when popular films featured a lot of women with big hair and extravagant hats. The Queen of Sheba (1988), a sculpture of a girl with a fruit-basket balanced on her head may well be a humorous reference to the unchallenged Queen of Hats, Carmen Miranda.
A greater part of Sæmundur´s sculptures may be female, but his boys also act out their fantasies. They pretend to be mythical characters, perhaps Thor with his hammer (1986), heroes from the Icelandic Sagas such as Gunnar or Skarphéðinn, or modern day heroes, see his ,,Astronaut of 1989. In between Sæmundur may turn his boys into symbols of ,,masculine virtues such as ambition, initiative and courage.
To Sæmundur, nature is always a female entity, see his ,,Mother Nature of 1992. When describing emotional states jealousy, longing or wistfulness he turns them into females. Perhaps it is in these sculptures that Sæmundur´s concise style really comes into its own. After all, being as they are without arms, these figures are born to being, not doing, something.
But despite their calm demeanour, their somewhat impenetrable expressions, these sculptures reveal a great deal about their creators disposition and principles. As is obvious from the above, Sæmundur´s art is characterized by a profound reverence for children, their innocence and sincerity. In his sculptures, happiness is frequently seen as the result of the affection of two or more individuals. It is also obvious from the titles that Sæmundur gives his sculptures that he sees children as the key to the good life. For him, children are always a blessing, whether they are born in his backyard or in darkest Africa.
The titles are also an indication of other issues that are close to Sæmundur´s heart. He hates injustice, likewise any attempt to curb the natural appetites of the innocent, see stern images of his entitled ,,Injustice (1976) and ,,Political Prisoners (1993). Consequently he is no friend to those who oppress or manipulate people in one way or another. He thinks we should enjoy life, but not to do anything to excess, see an early sculpture entitled ,,Playboy (1974). He likes a touch of extravagance it is difficult to imagine a more extravagant sculpture than his ,,Sunrise, a female figure with an enormous halo of undulating copper wires but dislikes arrogance and high-handedness, see an old piece entitled ,,The Boaster (1974).
What of the development of these sculptures? Admittedly, they have not changed drastically during Sæmundur´s career of some forty years. Being a mature individual when he started off, one would not expect his work to change very much. Yet, as his technical skills have developed, his sculptures have become more elegant, more detailed and frankly decorative.
To increase their allure Sæmundur has taken to an unusual type of moulding. With a home-made mixture of sawdust and wood-glue, he adds luxuriant headgear and hairpieces to his originally bald female figures (,,Lóa-Lóa, 1995), to the point of swathing them in their own hair (,,Laufey 1996), after which he covers these additions with bright colours. In addition he uses this mixture to cover up various flaws in the wood that he is working on.
Sæmundur´s statues - his children - quickly become friends to those who live with them. I do not know of any other sculptures that make such pleasurable demands on our affection.