Rut Bryk


ceramic relief • 249 x 392 cm




Seldom does an artist experience such surprising changes to her career as those experienced by Rut Bryk (1916–1999)  in1943. The Arabia ceramic factory’s ceramicist Birger Kaipiainen tempted a lithographic artist to study faience painting. Kaipiainen had created his own Sgraffito technique, which Bryk applied to tiles she was designing. However, this change in artistic direction was not beyond reason. First, the image has to be engraved into the surface of a sheet of plaster of Paris, then a clay tile is pressed onto it, creating a ridged reverse impression of the carved image.

The enchanting world of miniature art offered by tiles soon drew her into using tiles to create an entire large work of art. At the Milan Triennial of 1951, Bryk’s design of a wall, constructed from tiles was awarded the Grand Prix, to greater acclaim than anyone from Finland in the world of ceramic art had received before. Bryk’s husband Tapio Wirkkala was the architect of the exhibition.

kuva © Kuvasto 2016. Photo: © Bank of Finland

Klaus Waris, when Governor of the Bank of Finland, had his office at the Bank’s Headquarters fitted with a fireplace designed by Rut Bryk in 1960, which has an overmantel decorated with rectangular tiles. This ceramic “patchwork” serves to form the desired geometric and abstract composition. Many of the designs on the tiles themselves are figurative. Together they form the image of a crow (the then-Governor’s name, Waris, translates from Finnish into ‘crow’).

The following time the Bank commissioned a piece from Bryk it was for a considerably larger work. This was a piece designed for the lobby of the modern new wing being built onto the head office, housing the national banknote printing works, in 1980. Thus “Tree” was created. It is an impressive almost four metres wide work, and beautifully enhances the pale tones of the lobby. However, “Tree” is not merely a wall decoration, rather it is an independent, subtle work of art. At this point in time Bryk had long used tiles decorated with clean geometric lines and her work drew its inspiration not only from design but also from constructivist paintings and her sculpting skills.

kuva © Kuvasto 2016. Photo: © Bank of Finland

“Tree’s” broken silhouette, like windswept leaves, are a reminder of the piled-up mathematical images of fractal patterns. Although the work does not have a mathematical background, the creative process is the same, where abstract meets reality rather than reality being met by reality. If the viewer shifts their perspective, the relief work becomes a map whose topography, when looked at from above, forms a landscape. 

The tree is a magnificent, everlasting image, used both to represent the mysteries of the world and as a symbol mankind’s hopes and dreams. This is a reminder, too, that Bryk’s early works included a depiction of the Biblical parable of Zacchaeus who climbed a tree. According to the Bank of Finland’s own folklore, Rut Bryk’s wonderful creation has become known as “the money tree”. Undoubtedly the artist didn’t have such a direct connotation in mind, but “Tree” is strong enough to easily carry this name too. The Bank’s nickname is a reminder that, unlike the common saying, money at least does grow on trees at the Bank of Finland.

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