Birth of Marjatta
© Kuvasto 2016. Photo: © Bank of Finland
NOT JUST A SHAMAN
A legend surrounding the artist can be made of very small matters. Alpo Jaakola (1929–1997) is renowned for having been born on April Fool’s Day. In defiance or possibly because of this fact he became an artist. To support this special quality, it has emerged that Jaakola dropped out of drawing school. It is pointless teaching what comes naturally. Jaakola’s 1950s surrealistic paintings prove that the influence of his drawing school teachers, such as Otto Mäkilä, was significant. This was also the heyday of the primitivistic art movement which is a branch of surrealism.
In retrospect, Alpo Jaakola’s art can be described as being ITE art, a Finnish classification of Folk Art, from the Finnish meaning Self-Made Life, but the national nature of his works is only on the surface. Certainly Jaakola’s paintings and sculptures were rough-hewn, but still he maintained consistency and style. It was not a question of any deficiency of skill, rather the avoidance of affectation and ordinariness.
The “Birth of Marjatta” is Jaakola’s favourite of his works. Its colour palette isn’t darkened with earth tones and its softly flowing figures are reminiscent of the swirling moves of a classical spiral composition. A deliberate primitive solution is to position figures so centrally that they appear to emerge from the surface of the painting.
Lönnrot’s Kalevala doesn’t actually refer to the birth of Marjatta, but it does mention her son, born of a red berry: “Marjatta…ran to pick the berry…, (it) settled in the maiden’s bosom/ Marjatta, child of beauty, thus became a bride impregnate…” Furious, Marjatta’s mother fumes “Woe to thee, thy Hisi-maiden… wedded only to dishonour”, and so the story starts to be complicated. Jaakola has pictured the mother’s face as being green in contrast to Marjatta’s delicate pink.
Free use of the subjects within the Kalevala began with Gallen-Kallela’s art. The pagan world of the Finnish epoch has fitted in with romanticised thinking, so that the earliest cultures are more authentic than present day ones and sow a deeper reality. In the 1900s, Western artists have sought to contact both culture and the psyche beneath the surface by researching the art of indigenous peoples, children and the mentally ill. Jaakola fitted “The Shaman of Loimaa” cloak.
Jaakola sometimes took part in building his own myth. In Eeli Aalto’s documentary film (1975) the artist grabbed an axe and smashed a mirror to smithereens. More precisely, it looks as if he hit it. The message is clear: shatterer of pictures, breaker of images, in other words an avant-gardist.
Alpo Jaakola’s works are extensively on display in the sculpture park in Karhula, Loimaa, Southwest Finland, as well as in the artist’s atelier home, Torkville. Jaakola is also remembered as an environmental protectionist who, in 1978, won a rare court case. Jaakola demanded damages from his neighbour for cutting down the woods on the land beside his own land. Jaakola’s argument was that the loss of the woodland damaged his artistic creativity. A similar situation had been experienced by Kain Tapper [link: Kain Tapper’s page] when he prevented his brother, 20 years earlier, from installing a hydroelectric plant in the uniquely beautiful falls on the family land to harness its energy.