© Kuvasto 2016. Photo: © Bank of Finland
From a distance, Helvi Hyvärinen’s (1906–1988) beautiful marble sculpture can appear to be completely abstract. On closer examination, its fine elliptical form is that of a sleeping bird, its head and neck tucked under its wing for protection. The sculpture is best viewed from above. Its natural shape and the sculpture’s pure lines encounter each other and no further explanation is required. “Night-time peace” breathes the calm of sleep, nature’s own recovery process.
Regardless, Hyvärinen’s works have a long history to them. For thousands of years, organic forms have been dressed in ornamentation and other decorative designs, but the great pioneer of modernist sculpture, Romanian-born Constantin Brâncusi (1876–1957) took simplification to a whole new level. He stripped back virtually all detail from the subject, whether a bird or some other animal. Similarly, Brâncusi’s most famous subject was his oval representation of the human head. His well-known piece, the abstract “Sculpture for the blind” (1916), of a long oval head in a sleeping position, is carved out of smooth marble. Thereby Brâncusi emphasised that sculpture was not art merely for the looking at, but also for touching. Similarly, Helvi Hyvärinen’s “Night-time peace” tempts the viewer to touch its smooth marble surface, even though the sighted are offered plenty of sensual stimulation with the apparent visual perception of the ‘softness’ of the stone surface.
When Helvi Hyvärinen began her career in the 1940s women sculptors were a rarity. In the 1960s Hyvärinen breathed new life into traditional animal-themed images and achieved success as the creator of many public works of art.