Colour, power and the break-up of form

Helsinki City Museum

Picture: Juho Kuva / Visit Helsinki

In the early twentieth century anyone had at least a theoretical opportunity to study art, as students without means were admitted to the drawing school without fees.

There were fears that the artistic community, once equated with the bourgeoisie, would become proletarian, endangering the Finnish national spirit.

The reasons were plain: young, pro-Finnish artists kept a close eye on international developments.

Impressionism, Expressionism and Cubism found northern echoes in Finnish studios.

The new movements included Magnus Enckell’s colour painting school Septem, and the Expressionistic Novembrist Group led by Tyko Sallinen.

Meanwhile, the Cubists were preoccupied with the idea and nature of form. After Finnish independence in 1917, the Surrealists began to put forward works which playfully subverted the laws of the visible world.

In the years immediately after the Second World War, non-figurative art played a significant role in the construction of Finnish national identity.

Finnish abstract art, industrial design and architecture

Finnish abstract art, industrial design and architecture helped to project an image of a modern nation that was looking to the future after the war. 

In the early 1960s, the non-figurative aesthetic was challenged by a whole artistic movement which went by the name of Informalism.

Jaakko Sievänen, among others, filled his canvases with powerful, freely formed planes of flaming colour.

Instead of traditional oil paint, the artist might use thick plaster, rags and sacking, as seen in the paintings of Ahti Lavonen, or cloths and scraps of paper, as in Anitra Lucander’s collages.

Sculptors such as Eila Hiltunen made welded metal constructions, while Kain Tapper worked in wood and Ukri Merikanto used stone.

The 1980s were dominated by ideas of the modern, postmodernism, and feminism, with strong painters like Marika Mäkelä, Marjatta Tapiola, and Leena Luostarinen.

In the 1990s, increasing emphasis was laid on the relationship between the self and the surrounding society, crossover between the arts, and various technical concerns.

Interest in the surrounding society brought art to the street level, tackling social questions like multiculturalism or poverty, as in the experimental works of Minna Heikinaho

Lately the most prominent Finnish artists have come from the field of video and photography.

Filmmaker and video artist Eija-Liisa Ahtila’s triumphant career has focused the art world’s interest on the work of the younger generation.

The rising stars include names like Salla Tykkä, Laura Horelli, and Liisa Lounila or photographer Elina Brotherus and installation artist Tea Mäkipää.

All these are talented Finnish women for whom the entire world is their home. Questions like nationalism in art are no longer relevant.

Now it’s all about art and nothing more.

Related articles:

  • 10 must-see museums to visit during your stay in Helsinki
    10 must-see museums to visit during your stay in Helsinki

    Picture: Aku Pöllänen / Visit Finland Here are 10 must see museums for you to visit in Helsinki that offer a wide variety of collections for every taste:   AMOS ANDERSON ART MUSEUM Large art museum in the centre of Helsinki. Yrjönkatu 27, 00100 Helsinki Tel. +358 (0)9 684 4460 Open: Mon,...

  • National fervour and symbolism
    National fervour and symbolism

      The plein-air method drove Finnish artists out among real subjects: the peasantry and genuine nature. Artists, who usually had an upper-class background, began to make excursions into the “original Finland” that was supposed to lie in the forest wilderness of Karelia. Landscape painting and ...

  • From rococo to realism
    From rococo to realism

    The Three Smiths statue Profane, so-called free art, had its hesitant origin in Finland in the 18th century Isak Wacklin’s rococo portraits and in Nils Schillmark’s paintings, which employed the Neoclassical idiom. Elias Martin’s landscape paintings documenting the fortification of Viapori re...