Guðrún Halldórsdóttir does not like to crow too loudly about her accomplishments. Like William S. Burroughs and Wallace Stevens, Guðrún’s creative blossoming started relatively late in life; it wasn’t until she was about 40 that she decided to pursue art as a hobby, let alone as a profession.
“I have America to thank for the idea of making art with ceramics,” she tells us. “Ceramic art in that country is on a very high plane, and I was fortunate enough to visit many well-known artists and took classes from some of them.”
Guðrún started working with ceramics in 1987 in Boulder, Colorado. Her husband was attending university and the whole family lived there at that time, although they’re originally from Ísafjörður. After a year in Colorado, the family moved to New Jersey, where her husband was working in marketing and sales for the printers Oddi, and lived there for fifteen years.
Politics and dishwear
Visiting her modest studio in Vesturbær, the first thing you notice are the giant ceramic busts on the shelves. These sculptures are simultaneously naive and evocative: a wall-eyed man holding the ISC post-crash financial report, a screaming woman whose chest is filled with other screaming people, a snarling suited man with a canoe full of fish on his head. Even if they had no socio-political point—and they all do—they awaken feelings of uneasiness, danger, the ripples of a large sullen monster beneath the surface of a dark lake.
Not that Guðrún’s works exist solely in the domain of high art. She has also made dishware for restaurants, and makes smaller, more affordable but equally evocative pieces for the consumer market.
“Making bowls and cups and such was something I did more of when I moved back to Iceland,” she says. “I’ve sold most of the larger workers abroad; these smaller pieces are more sellable here at home. That’s what I find fun to do.”
Passerby window shopping
Guðrún’s modesty is reflected in her modest process. She tells us she shows up at her studio around nine in the morning, and will typically work until early afternoon. She then goes home, where many more of her works are on display in her windows, and works on orders she receives through her website. In fact, a good number of her sales are made from people passing by her home, who then call her to ask how much her pieces are.
But where the ideas come from, she can never tell.
“I never know where inspiration will come from,” she tells us. “Sometimes I’ll set out to do one thing and something completely different comes out.”
Although she’s been based in Iceland since 2005, her works have been shown all over the world. In fact, when we caught up with her, she was packing up works for an exhibition in Estonia coming up this August.
When all is said and done, she has her sights set on a decidedly middle-class pursuit:
“I’m going to take a small vacation next,” Guðrún says. “Head off to America in October and play a little golf, like I do every year. I’ve been working a lot lately, which can wear you out.”
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