Onnela

Valikoima Onnela -sarjasta. Selection of Onnela series.

Onnela / A Trip to Paradise – 1985-88 
colour photographs about self-taught artists, 40×50 cm
. Exhibited first time in 1986.

All photos were taken on 9x12cm negative film with Calumet studio view camera.

Snake in Paradise
Veli Granö: Onnela – A Trip to Paradise, series of photographs, 1989

‘Onnela as a Paradise is a kind of a safe haven, your own world within this strange world, it is a place you like going to. I photographed people – folk artists – who fill their gardens with statues, images of animals and people, images of memories, the past when everything was better. The Paradise I found while photographing these people is a fairy-tale world; it is a magic spell that stops the clock. Paradise is never finished, and most keep on building it as long as they can handle the tools.’

But a snake slithered into Paradise the very minute the camera’s switch clicked. The series of photographs of folk artists pursued the innocence of its subjects but ran into a snake hissing post-modernism’s chaotic notes. The newly famous backyard artists pose proudly amidst their works for the whole two-second exposure time, happily ignorant to the fact that the problems of post-modern photography would from now on be the problems of their portraits.

A Window to Art

Throughout the 1980’s, photography fought for its status as an art form among others. The battle demanded more and more proof of the photographer’s artistic contribution, and the definition ‘a photograph is a window to reality’ was considered an abuse. The images were freely manipulated, and people paid attention to composition and other requirements usually set to paintings, or dived into the depths of the emotions and experiences of the photographer. Granö felt that the characteristic features of photography were forgotten, the photographer set himself in front of the picture, and no one cared what the photograph actually portrayed. The photograph had already learned to lie so well that reality started to become interesting again, and the so-called new documentarism surfaced.

For Veli Granö, “A Trip to Paradise” was a proclamation of what photography should be. Granö wanted to show that photography itself is a powerful means of expression: ‘My three-year trip to the world of folk art did not diminish my belief in the perceptiveness of a naïve and spontaneous experience. The folk artists’ struggle against their environment, against prejudice and norms became the incentive for my own work. Despite the folk artists’ variety of motives, I can see in their art the endeavour to the consistent aim of self-expression: to define the creator.’

However, that genuine and original experience that Granö seeks cannot be transferred to a museum as such. The gigantic sculptures of the backyard artists, which were originally made to be more powerful and more realistic than an image, become images again when they are copied from Granö’s film to paper, and put up in a dusky gallery for people to look at and dream of the simplicity of Paradise. But not even Finland’s largest statue of President Kekkonen or Hanna Korhonen’s concrete animals, which have fooled even their real-life equivalents, can fool the post-modern viewer. Numbed by the daily flood of images, the viewer cannot forget that the post-modern photograph is not a window to reality but a deliberately structured presentation of a chosen reality.

The first folk art Granö came in contact with was made by an artist in his home village: a gorilla mailbox and a statue of a mermaid lounging in the garden made a lasting impression. But when he started to create a photography book and exhibition on the backyard artists, he systematically sought subjects through an advertisement in a paper. His aim was to establish the origins of making an image and ascertain the fundamental use of art. While going around meeting the folk artists, he called on them many times, and never took the photographs on the first visit. That was a time for discussing which work was made first, and the artists’ reasons in general for making their art. The answers were universal: loneliness, sorrows, a will to relive or rebuild important experiences, or to make contacts over the garden hedge by way of the statues.

When his photography trips finally reached the point of taking the picture, Granö pulled out his old 4×5 monorail camera and dived under the black hood. The view camera and the two-second exposure time made the act of photographing a calm and dignified occasion. So many things and details are saved on large-format film, that the viewers forget the role of the photographer and completely immerse themselves in their own observations. The sharpness, colours and perspective of the images further emphasize the impression that the photograph would indeed be a window to reality.

Changing Reality

As he in his series returned to the art experiences of his boyhood, Granö noticed that new meanings filled the statues of the fairy-tale world. They showed the isolation, tangible power of dreams and personal tragedies of their makers. The stories were not limited to individual fates, as the photographer might just as likely find himself facing a concrete reincarnation of cattle devoured by the structural changes of society. The reality of the photograph was a means to construct a just image of the folk artist in a self-made environment. The persons’ relationship to their environment was essential. In order to achieve the right impression, he had to move the statues, handle heavy photography equipment and master the technique that produces an outcome that is sufficiently realistic. The photographs in “A Trip to Paradise” give the impression that the photographer had no hand in what the camera captured, but nevertheless, it took a photographer to create this effect.

The reality of the photograph is in a continuous state of change: who gets attention, in which context and what people in the end want to see. In the turn of the 1980’s and 1990’s new documentarism sought its subjects in the margins of life but cast aside the dogmatic attitude and tendency to take sides characteristic to the documentaries of the past decades. New photography does not only mediate meanings but creates new ones simultaneously. To some of the Paradise artists being photographed was a turning point in the attitude of their environment towards them, and the final encouragement to make the conscious decision to become an artist. The innocence and spontaneous habit of creating captured on the film perhaps ended at the moment the picture was taken. The artists Granö met have also encountered the question ‘whose reality’ in relation to their works. One sculptor buried his sculptures of the nude Adam and Eve in his garden because the neighbours could not stand them. One man beheaded his giraffe and made it into a moose, because the villagers claimed they weren’t used to seeing giraffes in the neighbourhood.

Jyrki Simovaara

The viewpoint is based on interviews with Veli Granö and articles by Arja Elovirta on the history of photography.

Translation: Henrika Vuorinen

Käärme Onnelassa

Veli Granö: Onnela, valokuvasarja, 1989

”Onnela on jonkinlainen turvapaikka, oma maailma vieraassa maailmassa, se on paikka, johon on hyvä mennä. Kuvasin ihmisiä, kansantaiteilijoita, jotka täyttävät pihansa patsailla, kuvilla eläimistä ja ihmisistä, kuvilla muistoista, menneestä ajasta, jolloin kaikki oli vielä paremmin. Se Onnela, jonka löysin kuvatessani näitä ihmisiä on sadunomainen maailma, se on taika, joka pysäyttää ajan. Onnela ei ole koskaan valmis, useimmat tekijät jatkavat sen rakentamista niin kauan kuin työkalut pysyvät kädessä.”

Mutta Onnelaan luikerteli käärme samalla hetkellä kun kameran laukaisin räpsähti. Valokuvasarja kansantaiteilijoista tavoitteli kuvattaviensa viattomuutta, mutta törmäsikin postmodernin sekavia säveliä sihisevään käärmeeseen. Ylpeinä juuri julkisuuteen ponnahtaneet takapihojen taiteilijat poseeraavat teostensa keskellä koko kaksisekuntisen valotusajan onnellisen tietämättöminä siitä, että postmodernin valokuvan ongelmat olisivat tästä lähtien heidän filmille tallentuneen muotokuvansa ongelmia.

Ikkuna taiteeseen

Valokuvaus taisteli koko 1980-luvun asemastaan taidemuotona muiden rinnalla. Taistelu vaati yhä uusia ja uusia todisteita kuvaajan taiteellisesta panoksesta ja määritelmä ”valokuva on ikkuna todellisuuteen” oli todellinen kirosana. Kuvia käsiteltiin surutta, kiinnitettiin huomiota sommitteluun ja muihin maalauksesta tuttuihin vaatimuksiin tai sukellettiin syvälle kuvaajan tunteiden ja kokemusten maailmaan. Granön mielestä valokuvan ominaislaatu oli unohduksissa, kuvaaja oli astunut itse kuvan eteen eikä kukaan välittänyt siitä mitä kuvassa näkyy. Valokuva oli jo oppinut valehtelemaan niin hyvin, että todellisuus alkoi jälleen olla kiinnostavaa, ns. uusi dokumentarismi nosti päätään.

Veli Granölle Onnela oli julistus siitä, mitä valokuvataiteen pitäisi olla. Granö tahtoi osoittaa että valokuva itsessään on voimakas ilmaisukeino: ”Kolmivuotinen retki kansantaiteen maailmaan ei himmentänyt uskoani naiivin ja välittömän kokemuksen tarkkanäköisyyteen. Kansantaiteilijoiden taistelu ympäristön vaatimuksia, ennakkoluuloja ja normistoa vastaan kohosi myös oman työni kannustimeksi. Kansantaiteilijan moninaisesta aiheistosta huolimatta näen heidänkin taiteensa pyrkivän kohti itseilmaisun johdonmukaista päämäärää, määrittää tekijäänsä.”

Aito ja alkuperäinen kokemus, jota Granö tavoittelee, ei kuitenkaan siirry sellaisenaan taidemuseoon. Takapihojen taiteilijoiden jättimäiset veistokset, jotka alunperin tehtiin juuri kuvaa voimakkaammaksi ja todenmukaisemmaksi, vedostuvat Granön filmiltä takaisin kuviksi, joita katsellaan gallerian hämärässä haaveksien Onnelan yksinkertaisuudesta. Mutta edes Suomen suurin Kekkos-patsas tai Hanna Korhosen betonieläimet, jotka ovat hämänneet eläviä lajitovereitaankin, eivät hämää postmodernia katsojaa. Päivittäisen kuvatulvan paaduttama katsoja ei pysty unohtamaan sitä, että postmoderni valokuva ei ole ikkuna todellisuuteen vaan tietoisesti rakennettu esitys valikoidusta todellisuudesta.

Granön ensikosketus kansantaiteeseen oli kotikylän taiteilijan gorilla-postilaatikko ja pihalla kellittelevä merenneito-veistos, jotka tekivät lähtemättömän vaikutuksen. Mutta lähtiessään toteuttamaan valokuvakirjaa ja -näyttelyä takapihojen taiteilijoista hän etsi kuvauskohteita järjestelmällisesti lehti-ilmoituksilla. Tavoitteena oli kuvan tekemisen alkujuuren ja taiteen perimmäisen käyttötarkoituksen selvittäminen. Kiertäessään kansantaiteilijoiden luona hän kävi heidän luonaan useamman kerran eikä itse kuvaa otettu koskaan ensimmäisellä tapaamisella. Tuolloin juteltiin vaikka siitä, mikä oli ensimmäinen teos ja miksi niitä ylipäätään tehdään. Vastaukset olivat yleismaailmallisia: yksinäisyys, murheet, suurten kokemusten kertaaminen ja uudelleen rakentaminen tai yhteyden solmiminen patsaiden välityksellä pihan pensasaidan yli.

Kun kuvausretkillä lopulta tuli kuvaamisen aika, Granö kaivoi esiin vanhan palkkikameran ja sukelsi itse mustan hupun alle. Palkkikamera ja kahden sekunnin valotusaika teki kuvaustapahtumasta rauhallisen ja arvokkaan. Suurelle filmille tallentuu niin paljon asiaa ja yksityiskohtia, että katsoja unohtaa valokuvaajan roolin kokonaan ja uppoutuu omaan havaintoonsa. Kuvien terävyys, värit ja perspektiivi korostavat entisestään vaikutelmaa siitä, että valokuva olisi ikkuna suoraan todellisuuteen.

Muuttuva todellisuus

Palatessaan kuvasarjassaan poikavuosien taidekokemusten pariin, Granö huomasi että satumaailman veistokset olivat täyttyneet uusilla merkityksillä. Niissä näkyi tekijöidensä eristäytyneisyys, haavekuvien kouriintuntuva voima ja henkilökohtaiset tragediat. Eikä kertomus rajoitu yksilöiden elämänkohtaloihin, vaan yhtä hyvin valokuvaajan edessä saattoi seistä rakennemuutoksen viemän lehmäkarjan betoninen reinkarnaatio. Valokuvan todellisuus oli keino rakentaa oikeudenmukaista kuvaa kansantaiteilijasta ympäristössä, jonka hän itse on luonut. Keskeistä oli henkilöiden suhde ympäristöönsä. Oikean vaikutelman aikaansaamiseksi on patsaita täytynyt siirrellä paikoiltaan, käsiteltävä raskasta kuvauskalustoa ja hallittava tekniikka, joka tuottaa riittävän todellista jälkeä. Onnelan kuvat antavat vaikutelman ettei kuvaajalla olisi mitään osuutta siihen mitä kamera tallentaa, mutta sitäkin vaikutelmaa luomaan on tarvittu kuvaaja.

Kuvan todellisuus on jatkuvassa muutostilassa, ketkä pääsevät esiin, missä yhteydessä ja mitä ylipäätään halutaan nähdä. 1980 ja -90 lukujen taitteessa uusi dokumentarismi haki kuvauskohteensa elämän marginaaleista, mutta jätti taakseen menneiden vuosikymmenten dokumenttien opettavaisen asenteen ja kantaaottavuuden. Uusi valokuva ei ainoastaan välitä merkityksiä vaan tuottaa samalla uusia. Toisille Onnelan taiteilijoille kuvaamisen kohteeksi pääseminen oli käännekohta ympäristön suhtautumisessa ja lopullinen rohkaisu tietoiseen taiteilijaksi ryhtymiseen. Filmille tallentunut viattomuus ja spontaani tekemisen tapa päättyivät kenties samalla hetkellä kuin kamera laukaistiin. Granön kohtaamat kansantaiteilijat ovat myös kohdanneet kysymyksen ”kenen todellisuus” oman tuotantonsa kohdalla. Eräskin kuvanveistäjä hautasi alastomat veistoksensa Aatamista ja Eevasta pihamaahan, kun naapurit eivät niitä sietäneet. Muuan mies katkaisi kirahviltaan kaulan ja teki siitä hirven kun kylällä puhuttiin ettei täällä ennenkään ole kirahveja nähty.

Jyrki Simovaara

Näkökulma perustuu Veli Granön haastatteluihin ja Arja Elovirran artikkeleihin valokuvan historiasta.

 

 

ONNELA by Veli Granö 1985-1989

 

Introduction

 

The migration of Finnish families from the countryside to suburban areas has resulted in many people looking for their lost identity. I can distinguish, in the background for producing this book  the experience of the disintegration of my own identity in the both physically and mentally violent suburb where I was forced to settle with my parents. Escapes from the suburb, trips full of sentimental yearning occasionally led me to the works of those folk artists who once lived in my childhood playgrounds.

Fifteen years later I arrived in these places with my 4×5 in monorail camera. Now the landscape was completely different. The nature had veiled a gravel pit with thick jungle, as if the works required this background. The childhood memories gained a new tragic meaning by the sculpture of a mermaid. A dog with a human face, a mutant man, a snake and a crocodile stalking a swan all drew a picture of an artist marked by a serious disease from an early age.

This touch of shocking fate encouraged me to continue my work. Very soon I had to expand my simplified compassion into understanding the social changes as well. The sculptures in the yard were not necessarily a statement of the forgotten artist’s conception of life, but, perhaps, the concrete reincarnation of cattle swallowed by the structural change.

My three-year journey in the world of folk art did not, however, weaken my belief in the sharpness of the naïve, spontaneous experience.

The fight against society’s demands and prejudices and, especially, against the internalization of norms became an incentive to my work.

Despite the diversity of motifs, I see the self-taught artist’s works to be aiming at the consistent target of self-expression, at defining the creator.

The works of art mark their creator’s concrete domain, the territory; and they actively measure the stability of aesthetic and ideological conceptions.  At the same time, the sculptures offer the creator a certainty of the existence of physical and mental identity.  The artist’s view over the yard, or the view seen through the photographer’s lens, is limited to the chaos where the artist would like to attach the frame. Thus the artist wishes to achieve personal equilibrium that does not exist.

 

Veli Granö

Lahti,  6. January 1989

 

Edvin Hevonkoski

born in 1923

Vaasa

The first sculpture to arise in Hevonkoski’s yard was a concrete dragon with mythical riders. Later, as larger and larger sculptures appeared  on the lawn, the son-in-law, who, in fact, was in charge of the Hevonkoski house became pensive. The size of the monuments, he thought,  extended the limits of normal garden decorations. Hevonkoski, however, refused to abandon his new exciting discovery or to begin dabbling. He dragged his works into the nearby woods and, with growing passion, continued to work.

Near the Hevonkoski house there is a jogging track in the recreational area. The artist began to build his gallery along this track. After a few years’ work, joggers could marvel at the sculptures every ten yards.

Hevonkoski does not have a clear principle of art, at least the artist will not explain his works. Still, it is easy to see the artist reflecting on the basic questions of human life. Virtually none of the typical motifs of the folk art can be found in his sculptures, there are no politicians and the only one representative of sport. The animal motifs are almost original. Hevonkoski’s works are not clichés but, inspired by unconscious processes, he creates original works. When a work of art raises questions, the answer may be found by reshaping the work. The solution, the finished work, can be removed to a more remote place to give space to more mind-occupying new-comers.

Many works are arranged in groups as if they were on a stage; the imagination of the audience will supply the action for the scene. The works have a dialogue not only with one another but also with nature and the location. The shocking scene is being acted out in a deforestated area, under sizzling power lines; a wooden man, sculptured by nature, with a twig in his hand, is trying to force an invincible, decaying technical lizard, put together from scrap, back into a brook, straight as an arrow, and into the dusk of prehistory.  Hevonkoski shows no mercy on the man raising the twig, the lizard is already suckling the new generation with its rusty nipples.

Hevonkoski has a complete mastery of using both wood and metal, he can choose the right material for his purposes. This former sheet metal worker shapes metal, but he respects wood and lets it control the cuts of ax. The resulting works have ambiguous natural mysticism.

In ” the Thinking Cap”, a turret from an old torn-down building Hevonkoski had transported by the jogging track,  one can sit wondering about the altruism and profound humanity of his art.

Some of Hevonkoski’s works might make artists seeking after originality and primitiveness envious but , in the world of folk art, originality is not valued per se. Self-taught artists allow themselves imitation and  may, without any pressures, repeat clichéd motifs only to feel affinity with their inspirator. Also, various stylistic deviations bring peculiarity into the artist’s works, which otherwise are often repetitious and egocentric. The innocent flame into creating lives on in Hevonkoski’s works.

 

 

Mikko Jatkola

born in 1910,

Kuorevesi

 

At first, heart disease and ensuing retirement seemed like a catastrophe to Mikko Jatkola. He did not want to yield his fate, but began building ” The Wall of Sufferings”. This six-foot high and nine-foot long piece of wall was erected in the garden as a mockery of the weakness brought on by the illness and, at the same time, as a monument for the artist himself.

After the completion of ”The Wall”, Jatkola felt his strength returning and perceived the world filled with ideas that required to be implemented. Thenceforth, the works that were arising in his garden were always anchored to the time they were created.

Jatkola follows the media closely and selects the most important events. He only depicts those events that stir his emotional or intellectual interest.

Jatkola’s works take a strong stance on the more humane world. A memorial to those killed in the bombings in Vietnam in 1972, a thalidomide child or an Auschwitz oven, all tell the children visiting the exhibition about world history, its stability and effects upon the present. School children who visit the exhibition with their teachers form a great part of consumers of Jatkola’s art; the host explains all his works faithfully.

All twenty or so works which depict  events in Finland are placed in display cases arranged in chronological order in the yard.

The display cases about the political theater narrate the news exaggerated in their time on television and other media. But who remembers the political events of 1973?

It is confusing to observe Jatkola’s sense of history, and the transformation of the current events captured in his works into being unforgotten details in history. The events displayed in the cases belong to our recent history. Still, the faint feeling of dèjà vu stirred by the cases proves the vanity of the easily-forgotten news and the short memory, which is probably characteristic of us.

The development  of our culture seems to be restricted by excess information. Jatkola’s intelligent and selective observation is rare. Many self-taught artists share the attempt but only few are capable of handling the ever-growing flow of information.

Jatkola is an optimist who sees incredible possibilities in conquering space. His developmental optimism, however, resembles more the dreams of a poet than the visions of a technocrat.

The last work on the tour, the most beautiful and the most peculiar piece according to the artist, is called ”the Lily of Jupiter”. It is a piece of glass the size of a fist  attached to a four-foot long pole and, amongst the other, larger constructions, seems almost insubstantial.

The beholder cannot but wonder how Jatkola praises this humble work of art. The praise would sound more appropriate in front of the heaviest, the highest or in another way the most striking work. Perhaps the secret of the crystal lies within; in the clear emptiness which fortifies the beams of the moon and the sun into glowing and shimmering sheaves of light. ”The Lily of Jupiter” is a piece of the other reality. It is a poetic symbol for Jatkola’s way and will to perceive the reality as an adventure with the possibilities of fairy tales and, also, as action based on their bare logic where even the most abstract event appear concrete. The power game played inside Jatkola’s display cases is volleyball, or golf, or whatever happens to be the presidential favorite, and this is clear proof of the clarity of his thinking.

 

 

Jorma Keltto

born in 1921

lives in Helsinki , works in Vöyri

 

Jorma Keltto has tried his opportunities in various fields, in business and advertising, and even in photography. His efforts have, however, often collapsed with rapid changes in circumstances and increasing competition. The resources of the entrepreneur have not always met the growing demands. Keltto wonders at the hardness of business. He has not surrended but his voice reveals the troubles of sleepless nights and the years lost with business long-gone.

Summer vacations spent in Vöyri with his wife and his sister-in-law enable Keltto to completely escape from the competitive atmosphere of Helsinki.

The summer house, located on a hill, has a view over the neighboring houses, far onto the fertile plains. Keltto built a miniature castle on the hillside, as if to guard the landscape. His status in the village changed after building the castle. Not only is his persona notable but he also adopted a lord-of-the-manor attitude towards his surroundings.

The ambience in the village is almost undisturbed. The houses, which date back hundreds of years, create an idyllic and also stagnant atmosphere in the landscape. This isle of man-size building and respect for traditions is sharply bordered by the ever-expanding gas station and new rows of houses by the highway. Keltto’s kingdom seems to end at the same area.

It has always been easy to govern people who are rooted in the soil. Peasants have been warned, not only with violence but also with symbols, of the futility of rebellion. An important symbol favored by rulers has been a castle rising over the forests, waters and fields, unattainable and invincible; a gigantic reminder, mixed with the persona of the lord of the manor, of the immortality of power.

Even though Keltto admits to have studied old castles both in Europe and in Finland, the closest inspiration of his scale model is in Disneyland. Keltto shows the plans of his castle. Even this castle of the Sleeping Beauty has armories and dungeons. The functionality of the castle seems to be very important to its creator.  The clear floor plan and the connection between rooms and activities in them resemble the sectors in a well-organized society.

By sculpturing the abstract into a concrete object, Keltto has approached artists’ methods to explore the maze of his thoughts. Perhaps the castle symbolizes the complicating society that Keltto wants to get a grip on.  It is impossible not to compare Keltto’s castle with Kafka’s; the castle that never takes shape for the protagonist, Mr K, of this nightmarish story.

Keltto’s relationship with his neighbors is illustrated in the visit he pays to another self-made artist, Gunnar Hedlund, who lives at the foot of the castle hill. Encouraged by Keltto’s example, Hedlund became interested in sculpting concrete slabs. The yard of his beautiful Ostrobothnian house has rapidly been filled by purely naïvistic colorful sculpture world.

Hedlund’s art is like sunshine; but this fairyland is threatened by the shadow of Keltto’s Gothic castle on the hill. Hedlund the mason amongst his animals becomes a simple peasant when Keltto the lord of the castle drives the few yards from the hill and parks his limousine on the lawn.

Keltto comments on Hedlund’s rash practices, which cannot produce lasting works. Also, Hedlund’s unoriginal motifs do not attract praises from Keltto. He realizes the demands and the meaning of originality. Keltto’s comments do not bear fruit; Hedlund forgets them and focuses on designing a giant bull. Possibly, Hedlund’s works attract admirers from the castle, but the castle on guard on the hill can escape the attention of no-one strolling around the naïvistic yard.

The image of Hedlund’s inner world is surrounded by a yellow fence but Keltto’s castle needs no shelter. It is tiny, but as its purpose in not to offer defense or dwelling, it perfectly fulfills its task as a symbol. As a symbol it grows gigantic as it escapes into its unattainable  smallness.

 

 

Matias Keskinen

Born in 1922 died in 1997

Vuolijoki

 

Keskinen carved the first relief of Urho Kekkonen, the former president of Finland, in 1956, the year of the inauguration. The relief was even offered to the presidential couple who admired it. Mrs Kekkonen had regretted that the sculptor Kallio owned the copyright of the portrait. Keskinen did not give up but continued developing the theme.

In 1962 Keskinen founded a film society and rented a glass case used by the cinemas in the center of Helsinki to exhibit photographs of his activities. The only visible purpose of the society was to produce stills of imaginary films amongst real film ads. In most of these films the star is Matias Keskinen in disguise. The convincing characters include Tarzan as well as several romantic heroes.

The artist’s constant burden was to lead a double life. In his private life he was quiet and unsociable, but  on the other hand, he was the perfect dandy with a green beret and multi-colored clothes. In the case he hung a photograph of himself with emperor’s clothes, and under the indecently sugary smile he attached a note proclaiming himself the Emperor of Peace, the only in the group of warsome predecessors.

In 1971 Keskinen decided to try his wings as an unbridled artist and moved to the peace of the countryside. ”The Kekkonen Fever” produced dozens of new sculptures in the comfortably large apartment in Pielavesi. Working merely by hand, Keskinen toiled at a huge head of Kekkonen and despite great financial straits he managed to raise the sculpture to near the planned height.   The monument was, deliberately, made to be newsworthy. Hence, as the fulfillment of the artist’s hopes, he surpassed the expectations of those who had suspected his talent. Also, he might have wanted to conquer the spiritual anguish of vagrancy with the massiveness of the work.

The vagrancy, however, continued as the lease expired and there was no place for the artist in Pielavesi. Already, there were other communes more than ready to provide accommodation for the famous artist, and the colossal head, drawn by massive machinery, left the people surprised.

In Vuolijoki, the new location, a 20-ton pedestal was cast for the sculpture. The total height was more than 12 foot, and the total weight was 40 tons. The artist was satisfied with the grown mass of his masterpiece.

In the backwoods of Kainuu, Keskinen found an old abandoned school for his house and studio. The spacious classrooms offered an opportunity not only to sculpture but also to do physical exercise. To brighten up the cool winter evenings Keskinen performs ecstatic tap-dancing, or his one-man orchestra plays a sad patter to the echoing walls of the deserted school.

An ambitious ten-part series of sculptures of Kekkonen is under process in the school. With these the artist has planned to give a full picture of the president’s life and pastimes. The 8-foot giants will depict the president, among other things, skiing, fishing, floating logs, jogging and doing both long and high jump. Huge parts of the president already fill the classrooms; several heads are waiting for the completion of bodies.

A visit to Keskinen’s studio proves him to be a resourceful artist. In addition to the former president,  Mao and Sibelius have been motifs for sculptures. Mao has touched the artist not only with his smile, much less pretended than those of Western statesmen, but also as a man of sport. The Long March was a deed great enough to win a monumentalist’s sympathies. Another massive project standing in the yard is the metal base of the Sibelius sculpture, designed to be even larger than the head of Kekkonen.

Keskinen has chosen the solitude of the deserted school. He has deliberately adopted the role of a hermit artist and needs no company. To an outsider the school looks totally abandoned. Only a small attic room is heated in the building; in this ascetic closet the laughing multi-character clown and the serious artist retired from the world seek to combine the unbalanced roles. Several mirrors of different sizes measure the suitability of costumes. Keskinen switches on the role, plays in front of a mirror or video camera, and evaluates the outcome.

There are numerous characters because each human being is a role to Matias. So, meeting too many people would be hard for the artist always apt to change. Solitude enables him to focus on a few central characters.

To Keskinen, Kekkonen represents almost the only untouchable personality, the great authority with whom it is impossible to identify. One can, however, safely hold and lean on this straightforward and steady person. Keskinen will dedicate his art to Kekkonen until he dies himself.

The artist dreams of recording documents of his life in a museum. There future generations would be able to study his art and innumerable photographs, films and videos which reveal the whole colorful life. Beholders could try to find Matias Keskinen behind the pictures and roles.

 

 

Hanna Korhonen

born in 1918

Rumo

 

Hard work keeping a small farm did not allow Hanna Korhonen to have hobbies, but as soon as the bustle of the farm quietened, images began to flash. Even when milking in a little cowshed, the artist-to-be started seeing landscapes and animals on the lumps on the plastered walls. Bright lamb eyes twinkled from the litter, and in the field she could see human faces in the hay tufts.

The passion left no choices as the vocation was so strong. The first image took shape beside the dung hatch, a lime stain turned into a waterfall surrounded by rocks and woods. A stag settled down on the opposite side of the hatch, and the kitchen walls were covered with animal and human figures.

After relinquishing farming and the cattle, Hanna was left with more leisure time. Attempts to shape sculptures were eventually followed by perpetuating beloved rams and cows into concrete sculptures in the yard. Hanna knows all the animals she has shaped; she saw the lynx, and the bear once drove the cattle into the forest.

The reactions of wild animals are the best proof of the success of the sculptures. A goshawk attacked the concrete hen, and the concrete elk at the corner of the house met a real fellow elk. By making the mistake, nature, as the most severe critic, has approved of the sculptures.

Hanna’s growing passion to create soon covered the living-room walls with paintings, and bric-a-brac she crocheted out of coffee bags appeared in the bookcase. Memories that demanded to be immortalized were unearthed by the urge to create; when visiting Helsinki the artist had seen a black couple which eventually settled down in the bookcase, and a shepherd she had met in her childhood had his sculpture with a birch bark horn.

The Korhonen house is situated between a highway and a railway. Hanna is terrified by the bustle on the both sides of her house. The trains make the crockery tinkle and even fall over. From her window Hanna can see faces in the illuminated train windows darting past. She has been toying with the idea of becoming a hermit. ”Then I’d be really creative; silence is my cup of tea.” There are plenty of empty cottages in the backwoods, but Hanna knows the dream is unrealistic. The idea of leaving behind the strains of life and idyllic dwelling with wood animals is the true Finnish dream of equilibrium.

Hanna’s husband Aarne met a destiny so common to Karelian men; the man who by his own hands  cleared 35 acres could not cease toiling but even after the first stroke continued pushing himself. Nowadays he lies paralyzed in the bedroom, and offers sharp comments into conversation.

The tragedies of this northern Karelian village form a heart-rending picture of people living midst financial and spiritual straits. A passenger traveling through the deserted landscape surrounding the Korhonen house can have no idea of the energy and talent wasted on these plains.

 

 

Erik Myllymäki

born in 1917, died in 1988

Kauhava

 

Half a dozen of sculptures stand in the well-protected and well-cleaned yard in Ostrobothnia, in north-west Finland. The first of them was created to depict the face of its creator. The unquestionable touchability of this massive work, the head of the artist in never-changing form, made of metal, seems to have been the prerequisite to the rest of the works. The metal face stares at the icons of male power on the other side of the yard, a lion and an eagle. The more feminine figures are situated beside and behind the head; an angel and a praying woman meant for the tomb of the artist. Between these two there is a sculpture depicting the forging of metal shears. This, as other folklore motifs, springs from personal memories and the urge  to preserve them, but also from the fear of change and the disappearance of traditions.

Myllymäki shows courage and cherishes the traditional role of an artist with the memorial for his own death. Early shamans as well as modern artists have had the mission to converse with death. They have molded the feeling of perishability into words, paintings and sculptures. Photographers have taken samples of their own times to see a moment becoming eternal in silver pictures. Artists have had an urge to leave fingerprints on the indifference of springs, autumns, lights and darknesses that rage by. Their perishing mission has been to act out their own conflict in public, to mock their own death, to mediate between the unknown and the community.

When Myllymäki reminds us of death, this crosses the boundaries of a taboo in modern community and raises embarrassment. Picturing death, or reminding of the inevitability of death, is often considered either repulsive or banal in modern art and culture. Folk artists, however, do handle the themes of death on some levels. This is very often unconscious, but their choice of the working material, concrete slabs, may signal the difficulty in accepting the perishability.

 

 

Mauri Perkonoja

born in 1902, died in 199x

Paimio

 

Painting or desk drawer poetry is more common and typical amongst folk artists than sculpturing. Sculptures emerge when an artist wants to go public and realizes that aggressive use of space is more effective than tinkering with surfaces only. Mauri Perkonoja also started by focusing his creativity on forms of art other than sculpturing. His early works consist of a few self-published books that now lie under a bed because of insufficient marketing.

The sculptures always have their origins in literature, and they carry the same kind of messages as his texts. Perkonoja puts his soul into the sculptures, thus almost giving them a living spirit. Half jokingly, he refuses to turn his back on the tiger attacking from behind a tree.

The messages of the sculptures bubble from a dozen songs composed in honor of the human and animal figures. We can follow the old man’s adventures as a lonely wolf on moonlit snow, or as a fearful lamb in the kingdom of lions. The songs open an unusual access to the artist’s unknown world, which he is unwilling or unable to describe.

Three female figures settle in  one of the most original and strongest traditions of art. In the Finnish folklore Ilmarinen the smith forged a woman of gold and silver, there is also a modern version of the same theme in ”Simpauttaja”, where one character cuts a lover out of wood for himself.

Eve, found in the yards of many bachelor folk artists, is the center of creation; the suppressed instinctive energy is the trigger for more complicated works as well.

The mystery of woman remains a mystery to many a married artist. Eve with phallic snakes re-emerges as the symbol of a sinful and perhaps even frightening woman. On the other hand, a woman is often pictured as the mythical mother. To an artist, a sculpture of a woman is, more often than not, an image of ideal and unreachable love. Artists have put all their talent into these self-made mistresses, and aimed at the perfect beauty.

 

 

Viljo Raasu

born in 1908, died in 1990

Jaala

 

The art of Viljo Raasu, a concrete castor, began as he sat, after work, wondering how to use the excess concrete. In the hands of the artist,  the cast material meant for pipes and man-hole covers transformed into numerous shapes, and the yard was filled with animal and human figures.

As Raasu retired he ceased using concrete, but always loyal to his own style he continued molding surplus material into figures. Bottle caps became skillfully formed birds; newspaper photos became, with imagination and paint, exciting portrayals of odd places. The money in a bank’s ad became robbers’ treasure, and outdated tools and trash guarded the fallow fields. The artist seeks to find a meaning and persona to all abandoned objects.

The memorial to Raasu’s wife consists of her belongings, likeness is not the aim. The figure with its jam jar head is sitting at a sewing machine, broken watch attached to its wrist. Raasu is not using the language of plastic arts, but the nature of his wife is condensed in the fragile pile of her belongings.

Raasu tells that  a relative of his was a medium and the will to communicate with unknown forces can also be found in his works. To Raasu, the world appears as a place filled with unknown possibilities, sometimes frightening. In the yard of his tightly locked and fenced house there is a piece of glittery metal fence that repels evil spirits. Raasu conducts evil forces from a dark bottle on the stairs by pipes and wires into a bigger bottle, where hair of a deceased relative converts the evil into good and protective forces.

Raasu’s mysticism is not obscure, but it is functional and always includes a grain of playfulness characteristic to researchers and adventurers.

Viljo Raasu is a man with a will to know and understand. When lacking an answer, human beings have tended to invent one. During the centuries, mysticism has provided the human race with answers. Its vitality is visible even in our days. It is request from a human mind in the ever more technical, harder-to-understand and seemingly irrational world.

Viljo Raasu explains that the decrease in his productivity is due to television. Programs start earlier, and with the emerge of the second channel,  jumping between channels captivates his thoughts. Viljo Raasu no longer has time for interpretations. The last large work was a huge hypnotic spiral made of metal wires, a TV antenna.

 

This text was written when the photographs were taken, six months prior to the artist’s death.

 

 

Erkki Rautiainen

born in 1921 died in 1994

Keminmaa

 

In many rural communities the most famous person is a junk collector who tortures the neighbors and planning authorities. The junk does not usually have any connection to its owner’s occupation, or to any other rational activity, but the junk and owning the junk has a value per se to its collector. To an outsider, rusty car wrecks and unidentifiable, dangerous gadgets look like the scary and smelly guilty conscience of our society that lives in the dump. The junk collector, however, is not encouraged only by the infinite possibilities that lie in building up working entities out of the broken pieces, but also by the beautiful past of even the ugliest of objects. Their poets’ soul hear rough but lively stories in the stains of a decomposing car bench or in the acoustic corridors of a twisted bicycle.

Erkki Rautiainen, the baron of Puskanperä, has refined his collecting hobby according to his philosophical principles. The collected works of the baron in his yard are based on the tough and work-filled history of the Finnish people. Rautiainen has collected tools and utensils from all over the country. The rational collector becomes an artist with his unbending principle of giving the findings a new life. He integrates objects of the collection into new entities with a novel use and meaning.

One of Rautiainen’s principles is the respect for the original object. His collages are made of objects soldered together as well as of the dialogue and versatility hidden in the stories the objects tell. An example of this is  a work called ”The Salvation of Finland”; constructed from old circular saw blades used for cutting wood that was exported to the Soviet Union, it depicts the harshness of paying back the war reparations. The enormous flower formed from blades symbolizes the music of distant sawmills.

Hundreds of old tools which cover the outer shed walls from floor to roof make up the real choir of stories. It is difficult to imagine the use for many of them, but the worn handles tell about the past work.

Rautiainen finds it important to convey the dramatic change in life styles seen in the objects to the present and future generations. He is not the only one to interpret with his art the transition  caused by industrialization.

One of Rautiainen’s most fascinating works is a space rocket on thin poles, already standing 15 feet.  The rocket, a communicator, reaches out for strange planets and also to the future cultures on earth. The rocket has an engine and a red flashing light but these were struck dumb by the first thunderstorm. Rautiainen is still toying with the idea that in the mythical year of 2000 the rocket will eventually set off into orbit.  It will then carry along the messages packed in its probe on the day of its building; the weather report, newspapers, coins and banknotes, stamps, and the name of its creator.

The baron is planning to leave the home unfit for living. He is moving to a new house nearby, and will preserve the old building with the collection as a private museum.

 

 

Veijo Rönkkönen

born in 1944

Parikkala

 

The yard around the Rönkkönen house can be divided into three parts. Firstly, there are the sculptures; secondly, the caricatures and ”self-portraits”, and finally, exotic and lush vegetable garden. The yard is the most interesting of Parikkala’s sights and it attracts 16,000 tourists every year. The yard is not, however, one of the official sights as by Veijo’s wish it has remained a private area. Indeed, there is nothing to welcome visitors, but a tourist walking around the yard does feel the privacy of the place. Clearly, this is the artist’s meaning. The concealed nakedness of the figures and the winding paths passing the sauna are part of the privacy-publicity game that the artist plays with his guests.

Veijo’s mother was first reluctant to receive tourists, but as the son’s fame has grown it is only with false shyness that she refuses to be photographed. Veijo, on his part, collects names, and stares, from tourists he considers as voyeurs. Collection of visitors’ books with their names, well-counted and statistically arranged, measure the publicity – or acceptance – of the artist, and offer the most important feedback to this man who avoids visitors.

The eyes of visitors seem to fix on holes and swelling forms. However, to a sympathetic beholder Rönkkönen’s art is not an illustration of problems to be rejected, but, as all good art, it explodes to depict the complexity of life. Unlike so many folk artists, Rönkkönen does not restrict himself to conventionality or eagerness to please.

Veijo practiced with casting concrete in his first sculpture, but the second work, ” the Girl in Chains” begins the story the artist still continues. Caricature sculptures along the driveway attack the stereotype reality stripped of all ideals. The conceited field marshal, the ugly hag, the sailor à la Querelle, the hitch-hiker oozing eroticism, and the Marilyn figure forever lifting her skirt all express the artist’s way of associating clichéd types with the characters  people identify themselves with. They directly attack the unappreciating caricature-like audience that penetrate into the sacred innermost of the artist.

There are no unplanned sculptures in Veijo’s yard; each sculpture strengthens the image of an idealistic dreamer chained with the surrounding culture and his own body. The most curious and complex work in Finnish folk art might be the ever-growing ”Yoga Park” Rönkkönen founded in his chicken pen. The so-called self-portrait displaying yoga positions may be considered a shocking interpretation of how Western people are alienated from their own bodies, and, along with this, from death; all this produces a never-ending series of tossing about. The aim is to find the only harmonic and balancing position, already lost, which our culture may not be able to teach us.

The sculpture park can still be seen as a wholesome, paradise-like jungle inhabited by animals, birds, strange music echoing from open mouths of sculptures and shrieking of birds. Still, Rönkkönen’s park is not a reflection of Paradise but, perhaps, a picture of the Paradise after the Fall of Man. In the shadowy thicket, the child of a man, Narcissus, stares at his own shattering reflection in the pond of mirror mosaic.

 

 

 

Kalervo Uuttu

born in 1943

Äkäslompolo

 

The small number of folk artists in northern Finland cannot be explained merely by the small population, but environmental factors have to be taken into account. It is possible that the short summer in Lapland does not allow for the creation of ”unnecessary” sculptures as there are so many other chores. Also, the lack of garden culture may lessen the need for decorating the yards, which is, sometimes, the initiative for creating the first sculpture. Kalervo Uuttu’s exhibition ”the Spirits of Lapland” is a series of sculptures distinctively Lappish.

The tourist industry has a growing importance in Lapland. The location of Äkäslompolo village beside the Ylläs Fell Tourist Resort offers good opportunities for commercial ideas to succeed. Uuttu advertises his Wizard’s cabin:

The visit is a jump into the darkness of 16th century Lapland. The spirit figures rose from old Sami legends. The carpentry shop produces animal, bird, spirit and Lapman figures for your delight. Lappish ceremony for groups by appointment.

People stepping into the cellar of the Uuttu house find it easy to adapt to the artist’s world. The room is upholstered with snagged wood and surrounded by two dozen concrete and wooden spirits. The sculptures are often covered with moss, feathers or other natural material. In the background, Uuttu, now as the hoarse-voiced sorcerer of Lapland, tells of the evil deeds of those spirits. Kalervo seems to love his role as the mystical storyteller.  It is difficult to see the calculating characteristics of a hard-working businessman in him. The exhibition based on the Sami folk tradition, unquestionably commercial as it is, is still sympathetic. Uuttu puts on new roles as a conscientious actor. His latest part was an old Laplander in worn-out  clothes who was serving a ritual Lappish ceremony to numerous visitors. The Sami people resented the commercial exploitation of the tradition, and angered by malicious talk, Kalervo burnt the costume. The press was present, which proves Kalervo to be a sorcerer who is aware of and meets with modern requirements.

Kalervo Uuttu’s long fight for developing his business is eventually bearing fruit. The following is from a tourist brochure, on the adaptation of myths to cultural changes.

Uuttu stepped into his boat and let the current take him down the river Äkäs. A couple of miles down Äkäslompolo the boat bumped into the river bank. Kalervo got ashore, ascended the bank. Under his breath, he swore. He walked a good few yards in the thicket, and said, barely audibly, ”Here’s the place for the mystical country of Lapland.”

At that moment, a huge breaker came down the river. It tore Kalervo’s boat, as well as some of the bank. Kalervo was alone in the woods. Never regretted his decision. The spirits had blessed the idea of their friend.

 

 

Martti Välinen

born in 1907 died in 1989

Teuva

 

There must be hundreds of gnarled wood cutters in Finland. What rambler would not be tempted to see recognizable figures in trees or other forms of nature? A scenery may seem banal and indefinite, as if it was wasting its meaningless forms. An artist working with gnarled wood wants to label the meaningless and estimate its value. A rambler with an artistic eye sees figures everywhere; it could be an old man, or an elf. A goblin and a scary wolf are demoted to roles of funny decorations. A practically-minded person will see ashtrays and chair legs everywhere.

Making art of, and collecting, gnarled wood is deeply rooted in people who live in a close relation with nature. A city-dweller has already lost the innocent conflict with it; nature seems like a material object, it is for spending freetime, it is a pollution problem, or even just another elk/vehicle collision . For these artists, the wood once was a piece of living wood, hence a piece of the mythical nature. Therefore, it is impossible for a city-dweller to understand the deepest meaning of this art; the attempt to find harmony between the human world of meaning and the nameless supremacy of nature.

The golden age of gnarl art in Finland was during the periods of trench warfare between Finland and the Soviet Union in the years between 1941 and 1944 of the Second World War. Fathers and grand-fathers sat in the forests molding and polishing curious wooden forms into objects. In the tumults of war, the handicrafts served as attempts to reach for the material and balanced atmosphere of the bourgeoisie. A soldier cutting a cup out of a piece of wood could never be sure to live the following day. Folk artists share the same possibility to convey a message into the afterlife.

The unwritten rule of gnarl art is to respect nature. Wood is peeled carefully, and it is cut as if avoiding the violent revelation of man-made transformation.

Martti Välinen is not one of the most orthodox gnarl artists. To Välinen, natural forms do conduct the process of creation but they may and must be adjusted to the artist’s needs. He can be inspired by a branch which resembles a bear’s paw. This hint from nature will remain a visible if small part of the work.

Välinen still lives in the world of our grandparents. This world is made of wild and fascinating nature and delightful agricultural scenery; its music rings in the sad minor key of lowly worms. Topics of conversation have not changed since decades.  The relationship between man and his surroundings, the world indeed, is spontaneous and natural. Nothing endangers the equilibrium. The new road was built a few feet from the windows and it almost swept away the birches. But only almost. One is standing in the corner of the living-room, cleaned and varnished. The tree has been transformed, as if a round hole on its side suddenly could have changed it into a grandfather clock.

 

 

Väinö Ylén

born in 1908

Kodisjoki

 

During the War, Väinö Ylén made a miniature house, which he carried with him wherever the War took him. The house was a detailed plan for the future home that he would build for his future wife, Hilma – if he was ever to make it through the War.

Väinö did survive the War and did complete the house quickly. It was an exact replica of the dream house designed during the War.

All his working years Väinö supported his wife and himself by working as a brick layer. The rebuilding of the post-war country forced the brick layer to travel around the country and to spend lengthy periods of time on distant construction sites. Once there, Väinö returned to his dreams. He started to wonder if his skills could create something more personal, something that he could take pleasure over even himself.

As soon as he reached the retirement age, he quit brick laying altogether, not that there was no need for a skilled brick layer. Ylén had decided to dedicate the rest of his days to Art. He began to mold his life experiences into wooden miniature sculptures. As the first wooden sculptures cracked very quickly, he changed the material to concrete as it would last longer.

The Yléns do not take photographs, their past is not fading away in photo albums, but the story of their lives fills the abandoned cowshed in the yard with tiny, colorful figures and scenes.

The dairy kitchen in the cowshed, with the white-washed walls, resembles a chapel, and it is, indeed, dedicated to heartfelt and personal art. We see the Ylén wedding, the miniature priest in the pulpit as well as all guests, each with an identifiable face. The choir singing in the corner brings atmosphere to the ceremony. Near the wedding scene there is also a model of the house, resembling a shrine, that holds the actual hair decoration that belonged to Hilmaís wedding attire.

Väinö has also placed the few sculptures Hilma made in the same room. In one of her works Hilma has depicted the culmination of a trip to Lapland, climbing the Aavasaksa hill. Introducing the work, Hilma tells how she could see all the way down the ravines and how scared she was as Väinö was steering the car into the sharp curves of the road. We can see the little car parked by a souvenir kiosk. On the cowshed walls there are large paintings, which depict the Ylénsí other holiday trips in detail; landscapes and wonders met on the way. However, none of these captures the coupleís shared experience quite as touchingly as the small hill in Aavasaksa with the lone couple on top of it having arrived to see the sun of the nightless night.

In the next small room we find an almost life-sized family, made of concrete, gathered around a table for their meal. The children are about to cut the cake from the plentiful table. The Sunday idyll is enhanced by the summery view over the fields and the distant lake seen through the window painted on the wall. This is the husband and wifeís shared dream, a whole family.

The largest room in the cowshed is populated by events related to the history of Kodisjoki as well as topics picked up from the media. Väinö seems to think that the fire of the old primary school is the most important event in the Kodisjoki parish. The villagers built a new school of stone in record time, but still we can feel a glimpse of the macabre fascination of the fire, as Väinö switches on the burning red lights for the flames on top of the roof of the model school.

Ylén feels it important to mediate past events to future generations. He points out how perfectly natural his depiction of linen production is. ëAnyone could refine thread and fabric out of linen merely by following my depiction.í Introvert and quiet, Ylén mistrusts oral tradition, and written culture has no meaning for him.

The pedantic order of direct and on-the-spot experiences is jumbled up by the information flow from the media. The tendency of the news to highlight sports and politics can be seen in the Ylén gallery. Ylén has been touched by the incredible successes of Finnish sports people as well as the sometimes rather dramatic events of those achievements. We see the Finnish runner-hero Lasse Virén at the finish of the 5,000 meters race at the Montreal Olympics. The West-German runner has collapsed in the heat of the race, and the Finn wins narrowly. Almost all Finnish sports heroes of the TV era are represented in the sculpture gallery.

The Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe brought together a large number of statesmen in Helsinki in 1975. It is considered the first, and perhaps also the last, important media event in Finland. The media in those days meant the only two official, politically supervised TV and radio channels; later these were to break into numerous commercial fragments. The media were unanimous in assuring the Finns of the historical importance of the conference as well as the role of President Kekkonen in organizing the event.

The Conference is one of the many political motifs found all over the country. It has been depicted by Pentti Ylisjoki, Mikko Jatkola and Väinö Ylén, to name but a few. Sports is a logical action; turning abstract politics into concrete is much more demanding. Ylén depicted the Conference as a train; it is the horse-drawn carriage which clearly shows the roles of the statesmen. Needless to say, President Kekkonen is the coachman and the prestige of the passengers is shown by the seating order.

The Ylén art shed is without compare in Finland. It is filled with more than 600 colorful sculptures. Landscapes extend all over the walls and ceiling. The pillars in the two-storied cowshed have been remolded into amazons and strong men. Each detail has been decorated, modified or cleaned. The environment testifies to a strict working morale and a traditional and rustic sense of style.

The mobile in the garden keeps spinning like the modern world. In the midst of the busy world, the inner circle, the past with the people, wagons, beggars and tramps gone by the Ylén house, turns around slowly and steadily.

 

 

Pentti Ylisjoki

born in 1912

lives in Helsinki, works in Nummela

 

Pentti Ylisjoki does not fit into the picture of a typical folk artist. They usually come from rural and lower-middle class backgrounds. Ylisjoki worked in many high positions, he once was the head of the criminal investigation department in Helsinki. He relates with professional artists and, after retiring, has achieved some formal  education in arts.

The effects of these connections with the art world can be found in Ylisjoki’s works, but they do, in their spontaneity and variability of motifs, contain characteristics of folk art as well. Ylisjoki’s wife is concerned about the relation of her husband’s art and so-called high art, but the artist himself has a rather light-hearted attitude towards any definitions restricting his creativity.

Wood is the material in most of Ylisjoki’s works and, indeed, he is a wood virtuoso. In the summer house yard, the suffering Christ meets popular politicians and sportspeople among dozens of sculptures. Moreover, there are enormous paintings exposed to the elements. Hidden in the thickets and blistered by the humidity, these archpictures repeat visions deeply rooted in the guilt of the human race: the explosion of a hydrogen bomb and the masterpiece of emotional impact, the Indian mother begging for food by Werner Bischof.

Ylisjoki’s Christ hangs on the cross,  tortured to the extreme. It is not only the holy image of Christianity, but also a shocking proof of human brutality. It creates an extremely strange atmosphere in the yard.

The absolute order of the sculptures mixed with the randomness of the motifs seem to support the theory that the obsession about order may express itself in creativity. The sculpture park may be seen as a symbol gallery of the well-ordered reality of the society, where the artist aims at a firmer definition to his own unsteady role.

The Ylisjoki memorial heftily towers over the park. The immovable stone rules the scenery; and the heavy atmosphere it creates cannot be lightened by the small waterfall dripping down its sides. The tomb atmosphere is enforced by the embossed names and figures on the smooth stone and the opening just large enough for entrance. This abstract memorial greatly differs from Ylisjoki’s other, solemnly realistic, works. It may be tragic that the man who created such eloquent and masterly sculptures arrives at the theme of mortality and death, thus abandoning his strongest means and forgetting his forms.

When interviewing folk artists, one repeatedly meets with their suspicion of abstract arts. Abstract art is often belittled, labeled hybrid, and seen as a distorted mold of works originally meant to be figurative.

Most old, public statues are human figures, and people usually like them. During revolutions these lifelike rulers are humiliated. How spiritless a revolution would be if it only destroyed abstract symbols!

It must be admitted that the layman’s suspicion of abstract art is a result of logical reasoning. Modern art exploits ideas that the public does not have access to. To the uninitiated, this usage of unfamiliar codes might seem pure stupidity, or annoyance and highlighting the inequality.

The Ylisjoki memorial bears a slight similarity to some public statues. One is reminded of the symbols of power by this work. The artist attached a self-bust on the side of the abstract monolith, the symbol of power.

 

© Veli Granö 1989