Teddi is a hearty looking 60 something, a former firefighter and sailor, He is also a woodcarver, and says the reason he originally took up woodcarving was all the dead time between shifts at the fire station. He has long since retired from that profession, and after he gave up drinking around 15 years ago, he has still more time on his hands to concentrate on his work. He has met with considerable success, and has had exhibitions in Germany, Spain and the Faeroes. He greets us with a firm handshake and motions us inside. I am in the company of our art correspondent, the Czech Beata, and I ask Teddi whether he can explain things to us in English. “Yes,” he says, and rambles on in Icelandic. I ask him whether we can touch the items on display. “Of course,” he says.
“Art is like a beautiful woman, you should be allowed to touch.” Ah, if only it were so, Teddi, if only it were so. Teddi shows us his works (discussed below), including a piece crafted from a bit of the old harbour, built with Marshall plan Aid money after the war. Finally, he shows us a piece that is four blocks of marble with teeth attached on one end, the one work that is not made out of wood. He tells me it is built in honour of insurance salesmen, cold on the outside, hollow within. Every once in a while, he makes a piece with a message in that vein, although neither his wife nor friends understand why he would want to cause trouble. The path of the rebel is a lonely one. “Go get them, boy,” he shouts after me as I leave. I will, Teddi, I will. Meanwhile, art is too important to be left to the critics, and will presently be turned over to the artists:
Wood and timber is for obvious reasons not the most common sight in Iceland. Teddi’s workshop and exhibition gallery comes therefore as a shock to the barren-land accustomed eye, reminding the visitor of the many faces the material can adopt. Although the artist also works with metal cast, the majority of sculptures are from wood in all its variety of type and origin. There is Icelandic birch and oak, driftwood from Russia and African mahogany, each piece having its individual background and history. Some come from an old dismantled pier, others were found on the shore, presented to the artist by friends and acquaintances or transported from remote places all over the world. The past often shows itself in the altered quality of the material, which becomes incorporated into the finished work.
With all due respect to a piece of timber laden with history, the artist far from handles the raw material with kid gloves – he mercilessly cuts it to pieces, glues it back together, attacks it with a chisel, sandblasts it, often working on several pieces at the same time just to get a relief from the uniform physical strain. Yet he actually manages to uncover the hidden qualities of the material and expose its full potential. He combines the different structures and the wood’s natural colours to achieve the desired expression, and the result is often a surprising discovery of a quality that had been lying unnoticed.
Occasionally the material refuses to give in to the artist’s intentions making its own contribution to the work instead. A huge nail, originally meant as a mere tool to split a large piece of wood, gets stuck in the plank and becomes a part of the sculpture – and, frankly, the nail is the very finishing touch the work needed. In another sculpture a metal component dissolves its acids into the wood, staining it in patterns that add further emphasis to the shape of the sculpture. Thus the creative process seems to be a collaboration between the artist and the material, with the artist having a major say, yet not a veto right.
The making of a sculpture is, of course, physically demanding and requires extensive sawing, lifting and dragging. According to Teddi’s words, however, the most difficult task is the interpretation and naming of the finished piece. Balancing on the verge between a particular form and abstraction, the sculptures draw on the imagination of individual viewers and, just like the famed mark on the wall, trigger off images and associations. Some of the sculptures have amorphous shapes that seem to follow the outlines of tree rings and the wood’s natural structure, although they are the result of a laid-out plan and meticulous work. These shapes evoke the images of embryos, amoebae, underwater life of the driftwood’s past and processes concealed from the human eye and rational mind in general.
A work of a different kind is a piece the artist is especially fond of, a wall sculpture consisting of three corroded planks of timber that suddenly seem to have spread like the wings of an altarpiece. Other sculptures are vertical, clearly reminiscent of totems or worship monuments. One of them is indeed named ‘Adoption of Christianity’ and on closer inspection the upper part of the sculpture takes on the shape of a Viking helmet, a cardinal’s hat or even a Ku Klux Klan hood, in this way comprising all the different aspects of the notion. These sculptures combine wood, metal and brick and the artist mentions the influence of the French sculptor Constantin Brancusi and his approach to form and material.
Teddi’s workshop seems to be a place so typical for the Icelandic art scene – a place where the artist’s passion for his work totally outweighs any fame hunting urges. Let us just hope that the artist’s fiery enthusiasm will not set the whole place ablaze on 16th August.