Thursday, 3 November 2016

A 'romanised' Finn

Recently, I posted about the ongoing exhibition of Italian renaissance paintings at the National Museum of Finland in Helsinki (here). Today, I am introducing you to Hannu Palosuo, a Finnish artist whose renaissance-related show of contemporary paintings is on display at the pop-up event area at the back of the new museum shop there.

Like in Rafael's original painting, the face of the Christ blessing is that of the artist.

The exhibition is entitled History Never Sleeps (as for the Future, Listen:). You will immediately recognise these paintings were inspired by renaissance art. They show many familiar figures and poses, some of which are from the pieces of the ongoing renaissance exhibition of my previous post (for some comparison click here). The artist – who studied art history and painting in Rome and also lives there with his Italian partner – wanted to look into the fine line between renaissance paintings and modern advertisement imagery. What does it take to turn a painting of a saint into, say, a perfume advert? He leaves the answer for the viewer to decide. Bringing the piece to an everyday environment, such as above the museum lockers, certainly takes the connotations towards the worldly.

The wall of 18 paintings was an impressive sight, especially as it was located at the back of the museum shop. It reminded me of another striking wall with a series of paintings. I thought I had seen it in a local interior magazine and was sure I had saved that article. I finally traced it to a book on Finnish interiors in my collection. I find the below dining area with the 15 paintings of the series All the Chairs of my Life by, yes, the same artist Hannu Palosuo one of the most spectacular I’ve ever set my eyes on in a modern home. Later, when the owner moved to another apartment she placed the paintings on a wall painted in brick red. I’ve seen a photo of that dining room, too, and I love it even more than this one, naturally.

A spread of the book Suomalainen huone (The Finnish Room) by Leena Nokela and Katja Hagelstam.
Palosuo often paints in thematic series. At the beginning of his career, he painted lots of chairs: single chairs, several chairs, chairs standing or tumbled over. The chair was described as his alter ego. He gradually drifted towards other topics and more colour: flowers or chandeliers, furniture in colour with a shadow of a person, a bouquet or a person in colour with a shadow, children playing… His painting series include titles such as The Dream that Dares not to Tell its Name, Tomorrow Never Knows, Today is the Frightening Tomorrow of Yesterday, to mention a few.

When I browsed Palosuo on the internet I realised I’ve seen an exhibition with a few of his works at the art museum in Tampere a couple of years ago. I managed to find the below photo which is the only one I took there. I remember having been impressed by the colourful figure painted in a style resembling that used by some street artists, as if made in a hurry. It leads your thoughts to the hectic lifestyle of today. The feeling is further increases by the sharp shadow. This one belongs to the intriguing Obliterated Memory series that includes a number of paintings with colourful graffiti-like subjects accompanied by sharper shadows, sometimes of something completely different.

The paintings seem to be asking: which is more true, more meaningful if you like, the present moment or the memory? The more Palosuo’s art is shifting towards a perceivable message of some sort the more I like it because he makes it so elegantly. Or what do you think about his recent colourful paintings on jute coffee sacks depicting children, such as the one under this link from the No Life is Left Unfinished series? I find them cheerful and innocent but in this day and age they carry a deeply sad undertone.

Hannu Palosuo recently turned 50. The current Helsinki exhibition is part of the celebrations around both the anniversary and his 20 years as an artist. Today, he is one of the best known contemporary Finnish artists abroad, having participated exhibitions in numerous locations, mostly in Europe, Asia and the Americas. His grandfather’s investment – a promise to pay his rent if he started to study something while living in Rome – is thriving to a level neither of them probably couldn’t have imagined 25 years ago.

I am linking this post to ‘Paint Monthly’ on the Coastal Ripples blog.


  1. A fascinating post. Palosuo Is an intriguing modern artist. I am reminded of warhols soup cans. The blocks of different poses in groups intensifies the theme well. Loved the shadowy work of obliterated memories. Wonderful. Great how it was displayed above the lockers. Art everywhere. Many thanks for joining in this month. Barbara x

    1. You are most welcome! I thought this was a post worth writing, not that much because of the current exhibition but because of the artist and the way his art has evolved over the years. A fascinating character, indeed. He used to be a dressage rider on the national level in his younger years. Not an ordinary guy from the start.

  2. This is an interesting artist - I like the almost graphic quality of the paintings, much like illustration, and the way the paintings are grouped for comparison of likeness. x Karen

    1. I totally agree. It will be most interesting to follow what kind of themes and topics he will pursue next.