NOBA Nordic Baltic contemporary art platform

Raul Meel

Raul Meel

Artist's country of origin: Estonia

Raul Meel (1941) is one of the most recognised Estonian avant-garde artists. He has been exhibiting since the beginning of the 1970s. Meel was one of the proponents of radical renewals in Estonian art that were not officially recognised during the Soviet period. Since his work erred from the approved directions in Estonian art, he was unable to accept many of the invitations from the West. He was accepted into the Estonian Artists Association only in 1987.

Meel is well-known as a pioneer of concrete poetry in Estonia, a printmaker, painter, sculptor, installation and fire performance artist, author of numerous artist books and a beekeeper – Meel is convinced that his experience with bees has pushed him forwards in his artistic practice. Thematically, Meel has continuously focused on the relationship between nature, technology, poetry and art, his art is an amalgam of visual art and literature, language, text, word, syllables and music, sound, voice, and phonemes. On the one hand, Meel’s work is characterised by aesthetic minimalism. On the other, Meel operates mainly as an artist of conceptual large-scale processes – this is how his extensive series are born, for example, the serigraphy series titled “Under the Sky” (Taeva all, 1973, 1992) is comprised of 3000 pages (63 × 65 cm each), which Meel has composed field ensembles (Raul Meel’s original term) of varying volume but of no more than 60 images.

Out of Meel’s typewriter drawings grew a system, functioning still today, used to generate and develop linguistic-phonetic and visual imagery. Meel’s image-poems can be viewed as textual experimentations, based on the standardised elements of typewriters. One of the most noteworthy examples of these typewritten poems/drawings (Raul Meel’s original terminology) is “hei hoi”, also reproduced in the Polish art magazine Projekt in 1972. From Meel’s early period of concrete poetry the most notable work, often featured in exhibitions, art publications and media, is “Singing Tree” (Laulev puu, serigraphy 63 × 65 cm, 1970; typewritten drawing, 21 × 29,7 cm, 1969).

The series of prints “Under the Sky” (1973, 1992), evoking a longing for freedom, is comprised of approximately 3000 pages and based on engineer-technical graphs and the blue, black and white colour combination, that is, the colours of the Estonian flag, banned during the Soviet era. Serigraphs “Windows and Landscapes” (1986–1992, up to 100 × 160 cm) are based on the motifs of contours of the map of Estonia, barred windows, and a blue, white and black colour combination. Occasionally Meel’s work addresses social and political issues, however, he is mainly guided by the purest essence of art and poetry, a more elitist logic of progression. Meel has created numerous Constructivist works, including “Fairy Tale of Little Blue Pants” (Muinasjutt Sinipüksikesest, 1979, ten acrylic paintings on canvas, from 100 × 103 cm), depicting a dialogue of structures. And also the eight-part series of paintings “Travelling into the Green” (Teekond rohelusse, 1979), depicting a slanted line moving from left to right, and the series of acrylic paintings “Enchantment and Spirit” (Võlu ja vaim, 1988, 106 × 131 cm each), where he has used hair, sauna, laundry, garment, boot and doormat brushes to apply paint to canvas.

Meel has also presented over 300 original artist books and albums in more than 50 languages. Mainly, these are works of concrete poetry and visual and sound poetry, among them “Real Names” (Päris nimed, 1968, 1970, 1988, 1996; in the prologue of the manuscript Meel used his original terms “evident poetry” and “typewritten drawings”), his autobiography “Conspectus of the Past” (Minevikukonspekt, 2002) and “The Chicken Flies” (Kana lendab, 2004). In the city of Schio, Italy in Palazzo Fogazzaro, a permanent exhibition of Raul Meel’s work (Sale Raul Meel, 85 m²) is set up, displaying his open archive – selected artist books and albums on a digital screen and offset and digital print books, alongside large serigraph and digital images on paper, framed and protected by glass. Meel’s book “Solomon’s Song of Songs” (2010, print-run 100) is part of Herzog August Bibliothek’s collection in Wolfenbüttel in Germany and has been recognised as one of the most original and beautiful books in the world.

Raul Meel is the only Estonian artist to belong among the winners of the award of top biennials international print art (1972). He has participated in over 600 group shows, the most notable among them are the satellite exhibition of the Venice Biennale “Printmaking today” (1972); Ljubljana Biennial of Graphic Arts (1971, 1975, 1977); Kraków Print Biennial (1972, 1974, 1978); “New Talents and Ideas of World of Art” in Boston, Massachusetts, USA; “Modern Masters of World Art” in Soul South Korea (1993); travelling exhibitions “Cartographers” (1997–1999); “Realities and Utopias” at the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum in New Jersey, USA (2000), “Fire in Modern Art” at Pedvāle Open Air Museum in Latvia; “Books of Great Beauty” at the Roger Raveel Museum in Belgium (2011); “The Desire for Freedom. Art in Europe since 1945” at the German Historical Museum in Berlin, Palazzo Reale in Milan, Kumu Art Museum in Tallinn and MOCAK in Kraków (2012–2013); 16th Tallinn Print Triennial (1989, 2014); as an honorary guest at the international biennale “Di carta paper made” in Schio, Italy (2015); the virtual museum “Faces of Europe” (2016–2017); “Techne” at the National Center for Contemporary Art in Moscow (2018); Baltic Book Art Biennale in Saint Petersburg (2018).

Of his over 100 solo exhibitions the most notable have taken place at the Art Museum of Estonia (1989); GKM Gallery in Malmö, Sweden (1989); Kuopio Art Museum in Finland (1992), Matisse Museum in Le Cateau-Cambrésis in France (with Leonhard Lapin, 1994); Tallinn Art Hall (1993, 1997; with Ilja & Emilia Kabakov, 2004); State Museum of Western European Art in Riga (1999); Oulu Museum of Art in Finland (2000); “Estonian dialogue in Henry Van de Velde’s Art Library” in Ghent, Belgium (2010); Kumu Art Museum (retrospective in 2014, in 2017 together with Ülo Sooster, Jüri Sobolev and Tõnis Vint); Pärnu Museum (2018).

He has received numerous art awards both in Estonia and internationally: Eduard Viiralt Award (1989), Kristjan Raud Art Prize (1989), Cultural Award of the Estonian Republic (1995, 1998), the Fourth Class Order of the White Star (2007), Estonian Culture Award for Lifetime Achievement (2015), Lifetime Achievement Award of the Visual and Applied Arts Endowment of Estonian Cultural Endowment (2015); among international awards, 4th and 3rd Prize at the Kraków Print Biennial (Poland) (1972), 2nd Prize at the Frechen Print Biennial (1974), Critics’ Choice Awards at the exhibition “World Art Competition: New Talents and Ideas” (1979), South Korea´s Ministry of Foreign Affairs´ award at the exhibition “Modern Masters of World Art” (1993), Gold Medal at Biennale Internationale Di Carta (2015), Grand Prix at Baltic Book Art Biennale in Saint Petersburg (2018).

Raul Meel’s works belong to museum and private collections all over the world.

Information from Estonian Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA)

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Singing Tree by Raul Meel
Singing Tree  
70 x 70 cm

Related exhibitions (current and upcoming) View past exhibitions

Protest Art: The Rebels of the Soviet Era

10.10.2021 - 31.12.2029

The Radvila Palace Museum of Art

Vilniaus gatvė 24, Vilnius, Lithuania

Opening hours: Tue-Sat 11:00 - 18:00 Sun 12:00 - 17:00

Permanent exhibition of the Viinistu Art Museum

13.08.2021 - 20.08.2025

Opening hours: Tue 11:00 - 18:00 Thu-Sun 11:00 - 18:00