FINE ART – Hannu Väisänen, Tuomo Saali, Marjatta Tapiola

Galerie Forsblom has been a major player in the Helsinki art scene for decades. The new gallery space, opened in a historical landmark building in central Helsinki in May 2011, and designed by Gluckman Mayner Architects, New York, adds to the status and expectations of the gallery and the ”over-all ambiance of a pleasant gallery visit”.  There is light, height, elegance to the space, and even a refined scent through the materials used (solid cedar wood?).

Hannu Väisänen is one of my favorite Finnish contemporary artists, and, though based in France, one of the most cherished visual artists in Finland. Through his 40-year successful career, he has been often surprising, versatile, touching and thoroughly witty in his output. Paintings, graphic art, stage design for opera, performances. Decade after decade, new facets of his artistry come to the fore, adding to the story, and at this point, to the legend.

I adore his visual interpretations for the Kalevala epic (1999), a major undertaking that paid off brilliantly. Significantly inspired by and involved with music, Väisänen has also created most successful public art in Finland; his two giant paintings, with integral sculptural elements, are breathtaking at the Finnish National Opera.

Hannu Väisänen’s key painting ”The Mother of Colours” (2012) at Galerie Forsblom.

”Silent Yellow”, my favorite Hannu Väisänen painting in the Forsblom show.

Väisänen is also a successful author, and that is part of the problem of his new exhibition at Galerie Forsblom. The third installment of his life’s story, told through the alter ego Antero, was just published and has become No1. best-seller in Finland. The second of the series (2007) won him the esteemed Finlandia prize.

Most of the works at the new exhibition seem hastily painted, and without enough enthusiasm that would make them look self-evident. Thin layers of paint, little vibrancy or life in the colours, they bathe in glorious light in the vast elegant space of the Forsblom gallery, and start to evaporate.

The subject matters of the paintings have become mostly so personal that only the keenest followers of the painter, or readers of Antero’s adventures in the published books, get a sense of connection or reason in front of the paintings. The painter’s time and passion seem to have become the writer’s; one has to know and love Antero first in order to ”get” the paintings.

I recall a premiere of the Finnish dancer-choreographer Jorma Uotinen’s new spectacle in Helsinki in the early 80’s. The flamboyant Uotinen had become such a favorite with the critics and the Helsinki audiences that he could get away with anything on stage. Feeling apparently let down by the choreographer’s latest flight of fancy, Hannu Väisänen was heard shouting from the audience, calling for ”relevance onto the stage!” (asiallisuutta lavalle!).

Great paintings are simply not created by writing.

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Leaving the Forsblom gallery somewhat disappointed, I happened to stop by a store window a block away, and was awakened by delight. A small gallery (G12 Galleria) specialized in lending/renting (and selling by installments) works of art, had four paintings of clouds by the wall next to the front windows. My heart stood still, I had to go in.

”Vapauden kaipuu” (Longing for Freedom, 2012) by Tuomo Saali

”Anabasis (extreme)”, 2012, show’s Tuomo Saali’s masterful sense of color and technique in oils, and a fresh interpretation of a classic theme, Man and/versus Nature.

What an utterly magnificent series of paintings! They were full of air and thought; enjoyable, skilful painting; most voluptuous but not self-conscious use of colors. No matter their actual size, each painting seemed to fill a vast space, create a universe on its own. I felt genuinely elevated, contented.

The theme underneath touched, too, the scale, grandness and beauty of the world, the scope of the skies, the feeling of longing (”kaipuu”), the seeming smallness of man. Man meeting and measuring his boundaries, the disappearance of shores, mountains and borders into the skies or the sea. Men in the company of men, explorers on the journey, with a hint of threat and danger. And beyond that, the questions of the health of the globe and our responsibilities in it.

There was a pleasant reference towards the Romantic era in the works, but the painting style, natural swiftness and ease of the brushwork, studied and vibrant work of a master colorist gave the paintings a modern and timeless feel. Fresh!

Tuomo Saali, I exclaimed to myself after having been immersed into the world of these new paintings. One of my heroes in Finnish painting! From his studies of air, light and architecture in Venice to his buddhas and flowering paradise, I have been in awe of his work. And now these incredible skies!

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In the winter season of Helsinki art, the painter Marjatta Tapiola created a show-stopping appearance in her triple act of a retrospective at the Helsinki Art Museum, a show of new paintings at Galleria Sculptor, and the commisioned portrait of the former Speaker of the Parliament, Mr. Sauli Niinistö, Finland’s current president; all revealed in the course of a week.

Marjatta Tapiola’s masked ball at a grand scale at the recent exhibition at Galleria Sculptor.

Marjatta Tapiola’s ”The Wonderer” (Vaeltaja), 1995, at the Helsinki Art Museum retrospective; fluidity of line, painting at her best.

Tapiola as a painter is not a colorist. Her works these days are large in scale, have a fluent drawing quality, and are filled with expression, distortion, layers of lines. The show of nine new works has a unity, networks of lines on a pale ground, and themes from minotaurs and masked balls, bulls stopped and seized before an attack, to fragmented horses captured in mid-gallop. There is a feeling of speed and events, as if interrupted by the stopping of clocks, of erotic tension, passion and death. Sometimes the references to Picasso (his minotaurs and hers) are obvious. An impressive and energetic entity.

The retrospective exhibition at the Helsinki Art Museum tells the story of the painter’s path from the 80’s till today. Compared to the exceeding superlatives lavished on the artist in the media, the path according to this show seems sometimes surprisingly hesitant. Tapiola’s interest in skulls is not unlike Georgia O’Keeffe’s, and one painting on display also experiments with O’Keeffe’s style of painting. In some of the new works, I notice myself removing in my mind the painter’s later layers and additions, a head there, for example, to ”improve” the work.

Many of the paintings I am stunned by, but some of the early work appears clumsy, and I soon become irritated by how the show is curated and hung. There is little dialogue or interesting tension between the works, and I am startled by discovering (unwanted) dialogue between the works and the museum’s physical quality, of the shape and condition of the walls, the lists, the pipes running in the ceiling, lighting fixtures, all those things that would need to be improved and that scream: we need a proper, elegant exhibition space for the Helsinki Art Museum.

Kirjoitettu Kirjoittaja Markku Piri