© Kuvasto 2016. Photo: © Bank of Finland
If you happen to look up pictures of Tuulikki Pietilä (1917–2009) and her works online, be prepared to be disappointed. Sites on Pietilä are full of references to Tove Jansson and her art. It would appear that Pietilä has begun to be mainly known as Jansson’s life partner and as the inspiration for the energetic imaginary Moomin character ‟Tooticky”.
In actual fact, Tuulikki Pietilä is the Grand Old Lady of Finnish graphic arts, whose considerable professional skills and visions are clearly seen in her oeuvres and her text book on metal plate printing (1978). Together with Vilho Askola and Erkki Hervo she published a book on woodcuts, in 1982. In addition to graphic art Pietilä was also a skilled sculptor. This a skill she put to good use when, together with Tove Jansson, she created three-dimensional versions of the Moomin characters.
Born in Seattle, USA, Pietilä’s learning path was a long one, interrupted as it was by World War II, and which took her to the battle front in Finland’s East Karelia in the military’s education and propaganda unit. Once war was over, Pietilä studied at the Swedish Royal Academy of Art, followed by a time in Paris between 1949 and 1953, including a period in the private Fernand Léger academy.
The influence of French art can be seen in many ways in Pietilä’s works. One of her better-known works is of a group of racing bicycles in the Tour de France depicting similar images to Roger Delaunay’s painting of the sun. Usually Pietilä’s work is set alongside the calm cubist works of the early 1900s that make up the Section d’Or (Golden Section) group’s work. This can be verified when looking at the subtle composition “Cityscape IV”, and the play on light in the skyscrapers’ recesses. It is exactly in the depiction of light as physical lines and levels that brings Lyonel Feininger’s city and landscape pictures to mind. Anyway, Pietilä has created textured space and completely established her own style in the details, where sharply defined, upright bearing defines the movement of vertical lines within a modern city. It is easy to envision it coming to life as the work opens up vistas of city streets.
Pietilä followed the changes that were taking place in the art world and didn’t shy from trying out the possibilities offered by freer forms. Although her informal chromolithographs are less well-known they still form a notable chapter in Finnish abstract art history.