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NOBA Nordic Baltic contemporary art platform

Anna Retulainen's latest exhibition is called Encounters (Kohtaamisia). Her new series of works consists of ten paintings of equal size (160x200), which initially appear to be more or less abstract, but on closer inspection reveal themselves to be figurative works depicting various spaces. Knowing the artist’s way of working, it is evident that these spatial encounters have occurred between her and her models. The external appearance of the paintings varies, since, at times, their surface is as if covered by a monochrome gauze and, at times, the view has become clear, when the mood and content of the space seem to be revealed.

We recognize Retulainen’s works, even if they can differ widely. Sometimes, there is a lot of paint, even a sedimentary mass. While, occasionally, she has polished and scratched off almost all the pigments and the painting ground is visible. A Retulainen painting can be almost monochrome or like a rainbow projected by a prism. Time and again, the colours and shapes together create a meaningful encounter that can be like a miniature chamber play or a spectacular musical.

Encounters is also a title that epitomizes the artist’s entire way of working. Retulainen encounters issues, objects, places and spaces. After an encounter, she investigates it carefully, then paints her own experiences and memories. The “subject” of the painting and the artist’s interpretation of it are comparable to a musical score and a musical performance, respectively. A musical score can be read in various ways and nor does it resonate except for those with a coherent understanding of it. While a musical performance can range across all things between heaven and earth, it is always an experience for those who are unable to read the score, too.

In the encounter between the artwork and the art public a lot happens that can help viewers learn a variety of things about themselves and their capacity for envisaging them. I feel like I recognize the books in Retulainen’s paintings. Perhaps they interest both her and me. What else? In one painting there appears to be a human being on the floor? Could this be the artist herself? The new paintings contain quite many figurative forms, but they take time, since her works are not quickly exhausted, rather it is more that meanings emerge from them as if from a small, but seemingly bottomless pond, and from which more and more are bubbling up to the surface.

Recently, Anna Retulainen’s professional encounters have been significant and in a sense also surprizing, since her working process has expanded, for instance, into portrait painting, and she has also taken part in a film project. Her works have been acquired to be the only contemporary artworks in the Presidential Palace. Retulainen has painted a portrait of the Governor of the Bank of Finland, Erkki Liikanen, and taught Laura Birn, who plays the main character in Helene, a film directed by Antti J. Jokinen, how to paint, with Retulainen thoroughly exploring and immersing herself in Schjerfbeck’s art for the project. It is actually easy to notice that as an artist she is expanding her expression into new areas, regularly stepping outside her own comfort zone.

Encounters shows how Anna Retulainen creates tableaux vivants in painting form. When looking into them we can voyage into the past, present or future. We can be here or elsewhere. A painting is a site where colour, light and forms unfold majestically, as if creating a world. She takes viewers into the metaphysics of seeing, into a space where the experiences of looking, sensing, knowing and feeling are not distinct from each other. She takes us out of the oceanic moment and state towards the rudiments of seeing, and onto the first rungs of the ladder of understanding. In Encounters I see, as if for the first time, because I am looking at a vision created by Anna Retulainen.

Juha-Heikki Tihinen, PhD

Gallery name: Helsinki Contemporary

Address: Bulevardi 10, Helsinki

Opening hours: Tue-Fri 12:00 - 18:00, Sat-Sun 12:00 - 16:00

Open: 07.02.2020 - 08.03.2020