Friday, January 25, 2019

Paul Osipow (exhibition at Kunsthalle Helsinki)

Paul Osipow. Espressopannu, juureksia [Moka Pot, Root Vegetables] (2003). Oil on canvas. 75 x 100. Photo: Patrik Rastenberger. Paul Osipow. Kunsthalle Helsinki. Please do click on the images to enlarge them.

Paul Osipow: Olympia (2013) Oil on canvas. 210 x 170. Photo: Patrik Rastenberger. Paul Osipow. Kunsthalle Helsinki.

Paul Osipow: Paradise View II (1989). Acrylic paint on canvas. 120 x 90. Photo: Patrik Rastenberger. Paul Osipow. Kunsthalle Helsinki.

Paul Osipow: Sininen kallo ja hattu / [Blue Skull and Hat] (2006). Oil on canvas. 81 x 130. Photo: Patrik Rastenberger. Paul Osipow. Kunsthalle Helsinki.

The exhibition:
Paul Osipow
    Helsingin Taidehalli / Helsingforst Konsthall / Kunsthalle Helsinki
    Producer: Suomen Taideyhdistys ry.
    Curator: Kari Kenetti.
    Team: Paul Osipow, Jan Förster, Päivi Karttunen, Kari Kenetti, Anna Kinnunen, Kiira Miesmaa, Lotta Nelimarkka, Lasse Saarinen, Martta Soveri, Pirkko Tuukkonen.

The book:
Paul Osipow. Edited by Pirkko Tuukkanen. Layout: Penni Osipow, Teemu Pokala.
    Text of introduction ("The White Hat") by Silja Rantanen, an interview with Paul Osipow conducted in July 2018 by Timo Valjakka ("I Want to Paint and Look at Paintings"), foreword by Lasse Saarinen and a translation by Aira Buffa of Umberto Eco's satire "Come presentare un catalogo d'arte" (L'Espresso, 2.4.1980). Plus "Chronological Samplings" from Osipow's life.
    Richly illustrated from 22 sources. Bilingual in Finnish and Swedish.
    ISBN 978-952-68476-3-4.
    Helsinki: Grano, 2019.

The official introduction: "The extensive retrospective exhibition of Paul Osipow, one of the top names of Finnish art, at Kunsthalle Helsinki, is a display of the transformations in the artist's oeuvre across several decades. The exhibition produced by Finnish Art Society has been curated by the gallerist Kari Kenetti."

"Paul Osipow (b. 1939) has during his artistic career spanning 60 years examined systematically the possibilities of his means of expression via painting. In the exhibition produced by Finnish Art Society are on display Osipow's geometrical and free form abstractions, classical figurative subjects such as still lives of food and ruins and also non-figurative paintings from the 1960s to this day that have never before been exhibited in public."

"In the focus of the versatile expressions has always been painting and its process. References to various painters and currents are in evidence. The artist is not a follower of any particular style or ideology. All through his career he has drawn independently from the history of art and focused on painting as an organic happening in which colours and form search their place on the canvas."

"Osipow graduated from the School of the Finnish Art Academy in 1962. His works are held in significant Nordic collections such as the Nasjonalmuseet in Oslo, Ateneum, and Moderna Museet in Stockholm. Osipow has received important awards including Suomen Taideyhdistyksen Dukaattipalkinto 1966, the government's 15 year artist grant  1985, Prince Eugen's medal 1989, Pro Finlandia medal 1990, Suomen Leijonan ritarikunnan komentajamerkki 2005, and a life achievement award of the Kordelin Foundation in 2009."

AA: Paul Osipow's artistic creation has gone on for more than 60 years now. In the 1960s he was reacting to trends of his times, but since then he has proceeded irreverently and independently in his own ways, always curious to try something new. Most of his major works veer to abstraction, but he is always more than happy to move back and forth between the figurative and the non-figurative.

The joy of colour and pure form are constants in Osipow's paintings. He is happy to use bright and elementary colours, and for a film person it is interesting to learn that he loved Jean-Luc Godard's Pierrot le fou (1965) and revisited it several times during its first run. The sensual explosion of colour and the glow of the Mediterranean sun are important for Osipow to this day.

Osipow's teacher in the early 1960s was Sam Vanni, the great pioneer of Finnish abstract art, but in order to free himself from Vanni's shadow Osipow embraced Pop Art for a while. Osipow has been widely travelled since youth, with Paris and Italy as especially important destinations, and in the 1970s he stayed in the U.S. Robert Rauschenberg made a particularly great impact on him.

From the 1950s to the 1970s Osipow absorbed the creations of contemporary art but during recent decades he has been focusing on the antiquity and the classics of Italian art and stayed for extended periods in Mediterranean countries within the tradition of the Roman Empire. He has a special affection to the artists of the Renaissance, Mannerism and Baroque.

In both periods Osipow's art has been "in contrast to Finnish melancholy". His colours are bright and elementary but the abstract impulse is evident in his minimalist urge. My favourite painting in the exhibition is called "Untitled" (1983, acrylic paint on canvas, 227 x 179, Gothenburg Museum of Art). It is a colour revelation in shades of dark red. It has an affinity with Rothko, his approach to nothingness, and Osipow indeed was impressed with the Rothko Chapel. I would like to provide an illustration here but the reproduction in the catalogue fails to do justice to the work. It might be a favourite of Osipow himself, as it is one in a series of three highly reduced abstractions on the wall which was right behind him in the vernissage.

Many of Osipow's approaches and motifs are on display: abstractions, skulls, hats, collages, Pop, constructivism, minimalism, letter motifs, serials and single works, pearl paintings, optical illusions, grids, ruins, sausages, walls, fruit, vegetables, cakes and pastry. The comic strip influences of Pop Art make a return in his recent Mediterranean views. There are even recent paintings of the delight of the female nude with a touch of Matisse. The latest Osipow serial is inspired by colour mosaics of rugs and carpets. Osipow, not a program painter, remembers a soirée arranged by Maire Gullichsen, a major patron of the arts, who had invited artists to celebrate the visit of the gallerist Denise René. There was a debate on the topic "How do I recognize a great work of art?". Ms. Gullichsen (80-something at the time) grabbed herself in the crotch and stated: "Then I know when I feel it here".

Osipow's paintings are often abstract, but there is a sense of something elementary, a sense of urgency, a compelling drive. I have often seen Osipow's paintings in exhibitions and private homes, but this is my first visit to a solo exhibition of his. The retrospective is a richly rewarding journey, and the fellow painter Silja Rantanen and the art historian Timo Valjakka provide us with background and context in the book to the exhibition. Its texts and the selection of its illustrations are great, but the reproduction of the colours is flat and fails to do justice to the originals.