Saturday, October 25, 2014

Marika Mäkelä (exhibition at Sara Hildén Art Museum)

Verhoutuneena yön kobolttiin / Clad in the Cobalt of the Night (1993). Öljy ja pigmentti kankaalle / Oil and pigment on canvas, 160 x 285 cm. Pyynikinlinnan kokoelma © Jussi Koivunen. Click to enlarge.
Marika Mäkelä 20.9.2014 - 25.1.2015. Sara Hildén Art Museum, Laiturikatu 13, Särkänniemi, Tampere.
    Visited on Saturday, 25 October 2014

The book to the exhibition:
    Marika Mäkelä. Tampere: Sara Hildén Art Museum, 2014. Articles written by Timo Valjakka and Hanna Johansson. Introduction by the museum director Päivi Loimaala, Marika Mäkelä interviewed by the intendent Sarianne Soikkonen, biography by Timo Valjakka and Tomi Moisio. Bilingual in Finnish and English. Fully illustrated. 256 p. 40 €. 

The official introduction:

"Marika Mäkelä is one of the foremost Finnish painters of her generation. Primary characteristic of her richly colourful, multilayered oil and acrylic paintings are their sensuality and decorativeness. She paints a humanity that is mirrored in nature, but equally frequently the work can spring from a feeling of perfect happiness, or even from a difficult stage in life. The retrospective exhibition in the Sara Hildén Art Museum presents works from the late 1970s to 2014."

"Marika Mäkelä (born 1947 in Oulu, Finland) studied fine arts in the Liminka Folk School and in the School of Fine Arts Academy in Finland in Helsinki. She graduated in 1973 and started her professional painting career in the early 1970s. She lives and works in Helsinki and Pernaja. In this retrospective exhibition the earliest works are from the 1970s and the most recent ones from 2014. Marika Mäkelä is one of the artists represented in the Sara Hildén Foundation's collection."

"Ornament plays a principal role in Marika Mäkelä's art. Her painting is mostly abstract. The figurative elements in her works involve ornaments, cultural symbols, and human-like figures. Impressions of nature and the representation of light have always been important to her. Her works display a tangible sense of the material achieved by thick layers of paint and carved wooden surfaces."

"Early in her career Marika Mäkelä was an abstract colorist, and went then through a red period. In her breakthrough exhibition in 1983 she introduced works in an earthy and subdued palette. Paintings from this period, for example All Is Quiet, the Night Approaches (1982) are abstract only tokenly, with obvious allusions to natural elements such as caves, rain, and lichen. In the mid-1980s Mäkelä started using gold leaf. Dark Light (1984) is a prime example of the new dimension that gold leaf brought to her studies of light. She also began to paint on wooden boards. The theme of mother and child, based on a symbolic image used by the African Yoruba people, was her central motif in several works in the 1990s. Inspired by the sculptor Tapani Kokko, Mäkelä started to carve wooden boards and create works that look like reliefs, for example The Officer's Daughter (2006). Co-operation between the two artists continues to this day. Her latest works, the The Secret Garden series (2014), Mäkelä refers to as constructed paintings."

"Marika Mäkelä was awarded the Finnish State Prize for visual arts in 1974 an 1984. She was shortlisted for the Ars Fennica Award in 1992. In 1994 The Finnish Cultural Foundation awarded her a prize for outstanding cultural achievements, and in 2006 she received the Pro Finlandia Medal."

"Mäkelä was shortlisted for the Carnegie Art Award 2014 with three works: Eastern Flowers, Tibetan Bridal Saddle, and Three Times Warm." (Official introduction)

AA: Marika Mäkelä is a key Finnish abstract painter and artist since forty years, still going strong and progressing to new discoveries as is evident in her The Secret Garden series (2014), with influences and affinities with late Matisse, yet quite original.

Marika Mäkelä is not afraid of the ornamental and the decorative - she embraces those qualities, conscious of the fact that the realistic impulse and the abstract impulse are equally fundamental and primordial in the human art urge. Her works have references to ancient signs of old cultures and traditions all over the world.

There is at first glance a distancing effect in that ornamental and formal quality, with finishes in gold leaf and glitter. This year I have been reflecting on the death drive aspect in Andy Warhol (in the memorable previous exhibition at Sara Hildén Art Museum) and in the pop art exhibition curated by Timo Valjakka in Mänttä - in both the King Midas touch seemed to be at first sight a celebration of wealth, at second thought a chilling reminder of the lethal impact ot that touch.

The deeper impact of Marika Mäkelä's art is different. Beyond the chilly glitter and ornament surfaces, and, in this exhibition, often cold or at least broken colours they are a celebration of the life force. Their very surface is often very physical, rugged, alive. With multiple viewings the numerous giant abstract oil canvases in broken colours look different every time. They start to evoke the mysterious interior of an old, rainy forest in the autumn, the leaves no longer green, the sun starting to fade. They also evoke the underground, the underneath: what lies beneath the surface of a forest or a meadow. Although they do not convey the sense of blossoming life, they convey a sense of fertility, of a latent potential to growth.

There is an earthy dimension in many of these paintings, a feeling of nature conveyed via abstraction. There is also a subtle element of sexuality in several of the artworks: in the egg forms, ovular forms, spiral forms, flower forms and other inspirations from plants (like in the pioneer of abstract art, Hilma af Klint), yoni symbols, womb forms, and the theme of the mother and child, all abstract, yet with subtle figurative references. Many of the paintings are explorations into and reflections on the physical interior of the woman.

The colour blue introduces to such earthy forms an element of intelligent meditation, of sublimation, perhaps a little like in the art of tantra, in which the primal sexual force is elevated to the entire sphere of being. In fact, Marika Mäkelä has created sculpted works that evoke the various chakras.

The titles of the paintings are often inspired by poems or film titles, such as À bout de souffle, a huge gold-leaf creation with no obvious connection to Jean-Luc Godard's film, yet with a backstory essential to the painter herself, who was highly impressed by both the film and the location of the finale of the film in Montparnasse which she happened to visit.

The book to the exhibition is excellent and worth reading from cover to cover. The colour of the reproductions is superb. Studying the book it struck me how different many of the works and series of them looked although the colour reproductions are faithful. Part of the exhibition is not fully lit, and some works remain in shadow. But the more fundamental revelation is that Marika Mäkelä's works do look different depending on the way they are hung and on the environment they are in.

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