Saturday, March 12, 2016

Carolus Enckell (exhibition at the Sara Hildén Art Museum)

Carolus Enckell: Taulun valo / The Light of a Painting I-III. 1975-1980. Three paintings, 3 x 200 x 140. Oil on canvas. Sara Hildén Foundation Collection. Image: Jussi Koivunen, © 2016 Kuvasto.

Carolus Enckell. Exhibition at the Sara Hildén Art Museum, Tampere, 6.2.–15.5.2016
    Exhibition committee: Carolus Enckell, Päivi Loimaala, Sarianne Soikkonen.

The catalogue:
Carolus Enckell. Edited by: Sarianne Soikkonen. Writers: Juha-Heikki Tihinen, Camilla Granbacka, Carolus Enckell. Printed: Helsinki: Lönnberg Print & Promo. Published: Tampere: Sara Hildén Art Museum, 2016. 256 pages. - Essays, curriculum vitae, a list of the works on display, and colour illustrations of almost all of them.

Carolus Enckell: Komposition / Composition / Sommitelma. 1968. Oil on canvas. 100 x 100. HAM Helsinki Art Museum.
An early abstract painting by Carolus Enckell with a dynamism which makes it constantly fascinating to watch. A film aficionado may notice an affinity with the Stenberg brothers poster for Battleship Potemkin.

The Sara Hildén introduction: "Carolus Enckell is one of the foremost Finnish painters of his generation. The retrospective exhibition in the Sara Hildén Art Museum presents works from the late 1960s to present day."

"The Finnish Swedish-speaking painter Carolus Enckell (b. 1945) is a modernist. The central elements in his expression are colour and light. The starting points for his undemonstrative works is often a space or a landscape. In addition to the immediate act of observation, the work process is governed by thought and planning to produce works that are reduced to pure colours and geometrical forms."

"Stripes have been one of the fundamental themes in Carolus Enckell’s art. The stripes in the paintings have later expanded into vertical and horizontal rectangular fields of colour. The serial variation of a single subject has been a characteristic approach for Enckell."

"Carolus Enckell is interested in a theory of colour that communicates the internal experience of colour and light. He strives to eliminate individuality from his works and to keep himself in the background after the fashion of icon painters."

"Carolus Enckell has been particularly inspired by the history of modernism. He has described his role as a transmitter and arranger. His works are often based on borrowing from art and cultural history, which is the artist’s subtle way of criticising the overestimation of originality in the art world."

"Enckell’s numerous journeys to North Africa, America, the Far East and the Mediterranean area have offered him endless material for his work. He is interested in and has drawn inspiration from architecture and ancient cultures."

"Carolus Enckell studied at the Free Art School in Helsinki under Unto Pusa and Tor Arne. In addition to his career as an artist he is also known for his work as a long-serving teacher and principal of the Free Art School and as the editor-in-chief of the art journal Taide. Enckell was nominated Artist of the Year in 1990, and among other distinctions he has received the Carnegie Art Award (2001) and the Pro Finlandia medal (2009).

Carolus Enckell: Oe. 2005. Oil and wax on aluminium. 190 x 110. Carolus Enckell. Image: Jussi Tiainen © 2016 Kuvasto.
AA: There has been a splendid opportunity to examine the passion for colour in Finnish art in recent high profile exhibitions.

At Amos Anderson Art Museum there is still until next year a wonderful Sigurd Frosterus collection exhibition. Among Frosterus's favourite artists were A. W. Finch, Magnus Enckell, Verner Thomé, and Sigrid Schauman. They were figurative artists, but the predominant interest of Frosterus was colourism.

The Taidesalonki Centenary and the Bäcksbacka Collection exhibition at Helsinki Art Museum was to a large part overlapping with the Frosterus exhibition with many of the same artists, but, of course, different artworks. A major focus even here was colour, and the temporal span was expanded to a hundred years, until the present. Mostly figurative art was on display even here. One of the key artists was Alvar Cawén, also present in a big retrospective Alvar & Ragni Cawén exhibition at Tampere Art Museum.

Even Didrichsen Art Museum contributed in their beautiful 50th anniversary exhibition Colour Liberated: Finnish Art Reformers 1908-1914, interestingly overlapping with the Frosterus and Bäcksbacka tributes.

Carolus Enckell: Eutropia 22.3. 1982. Oil on canvas. 160 x 240. Carolus Enckell. (I do not think this image reflects the original colour particularly well). Image: Jussi Koivunen © 2016 Kuvasto.

Carolus Enckell belongs to the most profound artists of colour in Finnish art. He has practised colour in his art since half a century. He has taught it. He has studied the classic colour theories of Goethe and Albers. He has written about them.

Artists hate classifications. Labels are for the critics and the historians. Carolus Enckell is known as a modernist and a master of abstract art with a geometrical penchant. But his real essence is in his approach to colour. His works are vehicles for a projection of colour which seems to shine from the inside. His art is about an inner light which appears in colours.

Enckell's affinities are in the spiritual tradition of art: from ancient sacred art and mythological imagery till Buddhist abstraction, including Tantrism. He loves Fra Angelico, Piet Mondrian, and Mark Rothko.

His forms are windows, doors, and gateways which take us from the visible to the invisible.

Carolus Enckell: Untitled (Eutro) (1990). Oil on canvas. 120 x 480. Jenny ja Antti Wihurin rahaston kokoelma / Rovaniemen taidemuseo. Image: Arto Liiti © 2016 Kuvasto.

It is rewarding to read the catalogue and to refresh the memory of the artworks. One immediate observation is that size matters. Many of the artworks are big, even five meters long. Studying them at the museum they embrace us, they immerse us into the world of colour spaces. Watching the reduced images in the catalogue we must try to imagine them covering an entire wall.

The Carolus Enckell colours are difficult to reproduce. In Pinx, the history of Finnish art, the colour reproductions in the Carolus Enckell chapter do justice to him, but in this catalogue they do not. They are not terribly wrong, but there is a certain edge of the mysterious glow that is missing.

In reproductions colour surfaces appear simplified. The artworks themselves are usually oil paintings, and examining them we notice texture and patterns. They are alive with the traces of the brushwork.

Last Christmas I celebrated the centenary of The Black Square by Kazimir Malevich at the Russian Museum. A hundred years ago it meant the end of something, "The End of Art" in a serious way. But it also meant the beginning of something, or a return to an ancient tradition of non-figurative art. The work of Carolus Enckell is relevant in reflections like this. For him, abstraction means to focus on meditation and regeneration.

Carolus Enckell: Jag / Minä / Me. 2006-2007. Oil and wax on canvas. 150 x 240. The Pro Artibus Art Foundation. Image: Jussi Tiainen © 2016 Kuvasto.

No comments: