Hair, there and everywhere

Two recent books get to grips with our fascination with hair and how it continues to provide creative inspiration for artists and designers

Portraits by Levi Van Veluw, 2009, courtesy of Ronmandos gallery

Two recent books get to grips with our fascination with hair and how it continues to provide creative inspiration for artists and designers…

Hair’s a funny old thing. We all have it, as both men and women we covet it, yet it has the power to repulse us, often simply because it’s no longer attached to the body (think plugholes, hairballs, hair in food … you get the idea).

Nick Cave, Soundsuit, 2009, courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman gallery, NY

So why make art from it? Well, it seems that’s a question which has occupied the publishers of two recent titles, namely, Hair ‘em Scare ‘em, a new Gestalten visual feast, and the first publication to emerge from the Trunk books stable, which takes “the evolutionary ambiguous outgrowth of protein known as hair” as its theme.

Hair ‘em Scare ‘em catalogues the vast array of possibilities that hair provides as a creative medium. Levi Van Veluw’s beautiful, but rather itchy-looking portraits (shown, top), show what can be achieved with a bit of persistent combing, transforming the notion of the portrait photograph; while for Vik Prjónsdóttir and Erin Dollar, it’s all about the beard, albeit making a series of pretend ones out of fabric.

Patrick Madigan, 2008, left to right: Company; Grandma and Grandpa; Self-portrait, with Ruth and Maggie

Potential hairballs aside, perhaps one of the most alarming projects in the book is Patrick Madigan’s series of family portraits, where each relation’s head has been flipped back-to-front (Grandma, Grandpa and a Self-Portrait with “Ruth and Maggie”, shown above).

Here the hair isn’t modulated in any way – like in most cases in Hair ’em Scare ’em – it’s merely the fact that the heads are skewed 180º that proves a little jarring to say the least.

From Lucyandbart’s Grow On you series, 2008

Trunk: Hair, published by Sydney press Boccalatte, operates on a rather different level.

It offers up a great selection of art (Helen Pynor’s human hair sculpture of a heart is a rather lovely, fragile-looking creation) and includes some fascinating writing on the subject of hair and its cultural and social significance – from Medusa and Rapunzel, to ‘Brazilians’ and monobrows.

Martine Roch, Oliver, 2009, courtesy the artist

Each forthcoming edition from Trunk explores a part of the human body. Blood is next. Should be good.

Hair ‘em Scare ‘em is published by Gestalten; £32.50. Trunk vol one: Hair is published by Boccalatte; $50 (Aus). Trunk visuals editor: Suzanne Boccalatte. Trunk writing editor: Meredith Jones.


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