© Kuvasto 2016. Photo: © Bank of Finland
The art historian Jaakko Puokka (1915–2004) compared Finnish post-war art with a 1930s civvy overcoat that is taken back into use once peace is reinstated, despite being thoroughly threadbare. Gradually however Finnish artists tried to mend the gap between national and international art.
It is not always easy being a reformer. The reactions to Sam Vanni’s semi-abstract painting “Mother and Child,” shown in 1949, was indifferent to say the least. The artist himself has described the situation: Many people criticised it and, to a man, declared that now Vanni had “smacked his hand into a cow pat.” Only ten years later, in 1962, Vanni was made a member of the Finnish Academy. That caused more than enough shaking of heads. In 1984 Vanni was invited to join the European Academy of Science, Art and Literature.
Vanni was not satisfied with simplifying what he saw. His abstract works are made of compositions whose most important building bricks are a range of geometric shapes and strongly emphasised lines. Vanni was keen on creating the impression of interesting spaces. He painted somewhat kinetically optically moving works that could be compared with Victor Vasarely’s constructivist oeuvres. However, Vanni frequently did not dress his works in such strict forms.
A free, even impulsive composition is the strength behind “Unnamed”. Using lines, the artist has cut the surface of his picture into a number of planes and forms, which give the optical illusion of moving as if blown by the wind. Perhaps the floating shapes on the right hand side of “Unnamed” are a reminder of the American sculptor Alexander Calder’s free-moving mobiles.
Abstract painters are often pressed to explain their works’ relationship with reality. Vanni does not deny the inspiration he gets from nature and emotions, but defends his use of an abstract approach as being his solution to overcoming the limitations of the two-dimensional canvas. The artist also likens his works to music. This can be seen in the title of the large work he created for the ‘Helsinki Workers’ House’ (Paasitorni): “Contrapunctist – Organising chaos” (1959–1960). It was the first time that Finland won a prize in an open competition covering paintings for public spaces.
Artist Sam Vanni