Critics’ Picks

View of “Hannu Väisänen,” 2013.

View of “Hannu Väisänen,” 2013.


Hannu Väisänen

Galerie Forsblom | Helsinki
Yrjönkatu 22
February 8–March 10, 2013

There have been two major turning points in the artistic career of the Finnish artist Hannu Väisänen. One of these came in 1998, when he was invited to illustrate the Finnish national epic The Kalevala; the other came in 2004, when he published his first novel, Vanikan palat (Pieces of Crisp Bread). While working on The Kalevala, for which he traveled to West Africa, he also invented a new pictorial language. Since then he has published three more novels and his writing process seems to have purged him of any need to paint narratives.

Nowadays, a typical Väisänen painting appears to contain hundreds or perhaps thousands of blueberry-size balls resembling black pearls or outsize caviar. Väisänen uses these balls either as large, organic shapes that fill the canvas, or in smaller amounts that contrast with other shapes and images that are often of obscure origin. The imagery is an amalgam of abstract and figurative elements mixed with forms that bring to mind Tantric paintings from northern India. When there is color in his works, it is light, airy, and transparent. While looking at these modestly sized and lovingly made paintings, one cannot help but think of the hours, days, and weeks spent rendering the little black berries and their counterparts. Väisänen’s paintings also evoke medieval prayers and Buddhist mantras—as well as works by Gerhard Richter or Agnes Martin and their daily practice of painting. Overall, the show summons a time when nothing else has to be done, and when there’s no longer a need for a narrative.