© Kuvasto 2016. Photo: © Bank of Finland
FROM BYZANTIUM TO MODERN TIMES
Ilkka Väätti (b. 1955) is an enthusiastic traveller. He transverses all the continents, but equally his travels plumb the depths of history and these trips happen in libraries.
Väätti found the inspiration for “Maria’s seat” in an illustrated book called Byzantium, which covered such subjects as the mosaics in the Greek Hosios Loukas monastery. The monastery is located in the Parnassos mountains and in the apex of the main church, painted within the half dome-shape is an image of the Madonna, Mother Mary with the Christ child on her lap. The Holy ones are seated on a throne, the front of which is decorated in white, yellow, red and blue tessellate mosaic. It is this very detail that Väätti developed into his work.
The artist describes the slow progress of his work, in his doctoral thesis “Mundus” begun in 2008:
“The base structure is hard to plan and achieve as it turns out looking like a washboard, with its nine shallow ridges. Together with a sculptor who is my workshop neighbour we bend soaked plywood into place. The base becomes too pliable, so in the autumn I add reinforcement to the backing. I only begin the process of making the bas-relief in October, half a year’s working period later. The work takes shape, becoming a unique combination of optical illusion and order. The layout of the colours is based on my expression of the harmonisation between an unusual grey and more familiar pure colours.”
Powerful colours frequently dominate Väätti’s paintings, however in ‘Maria’s seat’ there is a subtle rhythm and the contrasts in colour play a creative role. The viewer can enjoy the work for itself, without knowing its inspiration. We are reminded of the piece’s Byzantine background in that the visual power and appeal can be similar, regardless of its time. It is only the meanings we give a piece of art that change. For instance, in Byzantine art blue is seen as representing the Kingdom of Heaven, yellow refers to harmony and gold to God’s radiant light. Grey is not a popular colour and is the exception to the Byzantine colour tenet in Väätti’s work.