Leena Luostarinen

Dancers on the bridge

oil • 100 x 120 cm




Two women, eye downcast, dance against the dark of night. The dance is being staged in a garden, decorated with a pond over which there is a bridge. The dancers’ long-sleeved outfits are those of the Chinese Tang Dynasty (618–907 A.D.) style, as too are the headdresses with their ear-like decorative details. The “Long sleeved dance” has even more ancient roots.

The Tang Dynasty was a golden period for music and dance. The training, quality control and development of these art forms were the responsibility of a court-based special ministry. However, Leena Luostarinen’s (1949–2013) painting does not make any comment about the cultural organisation behind the dance, as it has a much more personal content. The face of the dancer in red is of the artist herself, and that of the dancer in blue is of Luostarinen’s sister, Laura. Leena Luostarinen travelled extensively through Asia and was well-versed in Chinese art and history. The artist’s sketchbook is filled with impressions from her travels, many of which she developed as paintings. Luostarinen has certainly been aware that slight, long-sleeved dancers in clay are grave goods. As in Ancient Egypt, the Chinese elite were buried in a grave filled with goods to ensure that the good life they had on this side was continued on the other side. These goods were known as ‘Mingqi’ (spirit objects).

“Dancers on the bridge” has been painted using strong brush strokes and is composed symmetrically, which itself serves to emphasise the ritualistic and celebratory atmosphere. The dancers are not looking at each other, but they move together in a coordinated choreography. Separation and togetherness are shown in the one picture. The double portrait was painted in 2012 and forms part of her last series of works. There are many levels to the painting. The composition in terms of colour and decoration is the work of a highly skilled hand. The vigorous brush strokes make it easy to imagine the artist’s presence.

From the biographical perspective “Dancers on the bridge” is some kind of farewell to her sister, not necessarily consciously. The irony of life’s dance can be read in the same way as in the paintings of Edvard Munch.

Leena Luostarinen’s big solo exhibition was entitled “The tiger sketcher” and referred to the artist’s central theme of big cats, which became her alter ego. The exhibition was held in Helsinki’s Taidehalli (Helsinki Art Gallery) at the beginning of 2013 and, due to her deteriorating health, the exhibition remained her last.

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