Erik Enroth

Tightrope walker

oil • 171 x 125 cm




Shameless and violent were the adjectives used to describe Erik Enroth’s (1917–1975) post-war paintings. However, Enroth did not paint violent subjects, rather he sought them out from the mundane in the world of work. He explained that he didn’t use models but preferred to wander through factories, slaughterhouses, junk yards and anywhere he could encounter the fabulous spectrum of life’s colours.

The public’s surprised reactions are mainly due to Enroth’s apparently uninhibited style. Enroth took full advantage of the full arsenal that cubism and expressionism had to offer. This gives rise to angular, edgy, intense movements and to compositions dominated by jarring colours. Enroth is said to have painted Finland’s first painting depicting a game of ice hockey.

In comparison with other subjects handled by Enroth, “Tightrope walker” can be called light. Still, the work is an extreme juxtaposition of light and shade as well as being filled with the power of the angles created by its geometric dissection. On top of this, the tightrope walker looks like the skeleton of a man dressed in black and it would appear that the eye of God is looking down from above. This then becomes a metaphor for the dance of life.

In the 1900s the circus became a favourite subject matter for modernists such as Picasso, as a source of romantic parallels with the life of an artist: Bohemian freedom, the pursuit of beauty, creativity and melancholy, impoverishment and low social status. It should also be remembered that the risks of working as an acrobat were very real.

The freedom to work as Enroth did, was backed by his marriage. In 1949 he wed Sara Hildén, a wealthy Tampere businesswoman and art collector, and thereby he was able to work without the worries of having to earn a living. The Sara Hildén Art Museum in Tampere contains the largest collection of individual paintings by Enroth. When they divorced, the artist took his ex-wife to court in what was referred to as an art visiting rights case. The process ended with an extension of the definition of copyright ownership, extending an artist’s possibilities, under certain conditions, to have access to their own works that are in another’s ownership.

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