On the beach / Kati
© Kuvasto 2016. Photo: © Bank of Finland
Angels and people
Born Ina Behrsen (1905–1985) in St Petersburg, Ina Colliander got her first contact with lithographic art before the Russian Revolution, when studying in a German boarding school. She studied art in Leningrad, 1922–1924. After moving to Finland she continued her studies at the Finnish School of Arts, as it was known. In the 1930s, along with her husband, the author Tito Colliander, she converted to the Russian Orthodox church, which had a powerful influence on her works.
Sometimes blue, sometimes red or brown, angels are the best known theme in Ina Colliander’s woodcuts. They are modern interpretations of iconic geometrically stylised imagery. Colliander bravely used large printing plates and opened the door to a reformation of lithography in post-war Finland. Her works have represented Finland at two separate Venice biennials, 1960 and 1964. Using the noble, light form of an angel, frequently depicted on a single printed background, has created such a public following that her success almost became a burden. Graphic artist Kati Bondestam, Ina Colliander’s daughter, has said that “mother started to grow slightly tired of the popularity her angels commanded and the repeated printing of the pictures”.
Angels have, to some extent, been overshadowed by the artist’s other works, an example of which is the seated figure on the beach, in the Bank of Finland’s collection. It was modelled by the artist’s daughter. Unlike in her other works, in this work Colliander engraved the outlines using a woodsman’s whittling knife, leaving the background in the same shade as the spaces inside the outlines of the figure. The grain of the wood has been left as a detail and gives the surface of the picture its lively texture.
Frankly, woodcut works had a romantic start in life: historically, the first woodcut drawings were made by the artist carving the images in relief on the wood surface. She didn’t touch those images. To find comparable examples, we should look to Akseli Gallen-Kallela and the German expressionists’ graphic works, although Henri Matisse’s later papercut works would do as well. The figure in ‟On the beach/Kati” is skilfully formed from triangular shapes and the lines of light and shade that are created by the image’s lines.
Artist Ina Colliander