Mari Rantanen

Galerie Artek

Mari Rantanen’s new paintings (all works 1991) are a combination of Jackson Pollock splashes, Islamic ornamentation, Secession style, the digital clicking of computer games, and intentionally decorative, intertwined strands. Above the dense, color-filled layers float signs and figures of various sizes, some of which are cartoon-like enlargements of details in the background. Rantanen favors a hot, greenhouse-hued palette of oranges, yellows, turquoises, adding pigment to her paint to heighten their tactility and sensuality. She creates her paintings by combining two or more panels, the joints linking them into a unity that frequently seems contradictory and that hovers on the verge of chaos. In all their profusion and energy, Rantanen’s paintings prompt the question of what she wants to say when she spreads virtually the whole spectrum of postwar abstract painting before us, like a pack of cards.

“Language does not exist as such. There are only competitions between accents, slang, jargons and gibberish,” the Finnish poet Kari Aronpuro has observed. Rantanen suggests that the same applies to art. She sees the painterly qualities of different artists as “languages” or “alphabets,” which can be combined to create new, topical meanings. Even though Rantanen’s paintings can be reminiscent of clamorous bazaars, she is clearly working within Western culture, and within a small area of it—abstract art. She successfully demonstrates that abstraction is not at all as homogenous as some art historians have tried to prove; that painting is also made up of many competing structures, each of which has its own distinctive grammar and frame of reference.

This observation allows Rantanen to break with history and formalism, and to use painting as a tool for investigating the intricate relationship between the subject and her/his reality. The stratified nature of Rantanen’s paintings is made up of over-writings, in which the precision of the expression transcends the genre’s demand for purity. And when Rantanen’s paintings succeed, when she achieves even a momentary equilibrium between all the different elements, the resulting picture reveals both contradiction and heterogeneity. If these elements are seen as being part of a single culture, the paintings also give rise to the hope of a communication between cultures, which would be more democratic than the current model.

Timo Valjakka

Translated from the French by Michael Garner.