A Rosy Sanctuary
People write about art all the time, nowadays perhaps more than ever. And yet, as its history has progressed, painting in particular has also moved away from words. Paintings once served as stories and allegories, which were actually easy to put into words. Certain colour tones, for example, have symbolized certain things, frequently associated with liturgical life. With the Modern, however, the pictorial has taken over from verbalization. Henri Matisse had already said: "A picture is a real organism or it is nothing."
Ipi Kärki has painted a lot from observation, but in a certain way, even when they are figurative, her works are never very strongly anchored in a specific place and time, although they have undergone their own birth in one. Rather, they have only just begun the process, and approached that maxim of Matisse's, moving away from particularity towards an autonomous region in art. "Light to me means colour, and colour arouses an interest in trying out various colour contrasts to express that light," Kärki once said, when describing the hermeneutic-circle-like interplay in whose vortices she is accustomed to working.
Now, there have been changes here, too, and Kärki's production appears to be undergoing a major shift. The canvases have become larger, some works, in their 'unfinishedness', leave the process itself more visible, and the birth of some works occurs in a more personal area, in things that have been lived and experienced, which are then transformed into images instead of impressions, via the apprehension of fundamental forces and structures that are deeper than the vibrations of a surface. The theologian Hans-Eckehard Bahr who has studied the relationship between art and Christianity has said: "When an artist enters into these new sources of subject matter, he may perhaps succeed in making connections that are considered self-evident questionable once again, and in approaching the human being from somewhere more profound, while, at the same time, once again seeing him as a unified whole." I suspect something of the sort is happening to Kärki, although there is probably nothing very religious about it.
The viewer does not often need to know very much about them, these processes via which an artwork comes into existence. At times, this may even be harmful, when turning the gaze too demonstratively in only one certain direction, or when offering far too narrow a framework of interpretation. Or in offering any framework of interpretation at all, since I am not at all convinced that, for example, artworks such as Kärki's paintings need any special, and in particular any verbally expressed interpretation. This applies on both a more general and a more individual level. When it says 'mother' in a painting, I don't need to set about finding out anything about Kärki's mother, but rather to set about thinking about my own mother, and about motherhood in general, and about the relationship between mothers and children, and to connect my thoughts with the emotional experience that the moments spent with the intensity of the painting in question produce. Or when there is a flower in a painting, I don't need to know its Latin name or geographical distribution, but to surrender to the power of enchantment, i.e. to that quite concrete power of enchantment, which, despite all the modern process of rationalization, still holds sway in a part of art. That applies – i.e. at least in some parts – for example, to experiencing Kärki's paintings, even though I happen to know something about Kärki's methods. I know something about the kind of end result that is to be expected when she paints 'wet on wet'. Something about the way she has developed a certain brush technique to produce on the painting surface, via the final brushstrokes, a certain shimmer. But now I also know, above all, something new about the way she sketches things out, and what changes have occurred in this.
Ipi Kärki is an artist with a long career behind her, and consequently she has a lot of material stored in long-term memory, but she is also an artist who dares to change and be curious. Many people are currently outsourcing their memories, via the computer, into the Internet world. Kärki has done quite the reverse. She has adopted a highly traditional, but already quite rare, smart-technology device, i.e. the notebook, in which she can write things down for memory, for instance, a scrap of poetry, a sentence, the germ of an idea, i.e. also a possible title for a forthcoming painting, or the start of a thought process that may grow into the subject matter of a painting, in that delicate process occurring between memory and consciousness, which Nicholas Carr, who has written about computer technology, has described: "What gives real memory its richness and its character, not to mention its mystery and fragility, is it contingency. It exists in time, changing as the body changes."
Contingency, too, can be cultivated. In fact, it is specifically the kind of thing to which an artist has a right, and from which there can develop, for instance, a responsibility. This is linked with the artist's freedom, which is not, however, always something self-evident.
But in order to leave breathing room for contingency and freedom, it is, nevertheless, necessary to remember things that can be linked together.
The Renaissance philosopher Erasmus of Rotterdam urged people to keep a notebook and write down things worth noting. According to Erasmus, these notes are "kinds of flowers", which, plucked from the pages of books, can be preserved in the pages of memory.
And if the painter does not have to remember exactly where and when a tree branch cast a certain shadow from which a painting began to emerge, accordingly, she does not even need to remember – and particularly not to tell others – who said, and in what book, that "in a dark time, the eye begins to see".
The painter does not necessarily need to tell us stories. The painter can, for example, try to sustain our ability to immerse ourselves in meditative thinking, which the philosopher Martin Heidegger, who studied art, too, considered to be the basis of our humanity.
Research has revealed that powerful emotional reactions help us store things in long-term memory. Such a reaction can undoubtedly be produced by an intense, powerful painting – just the sort of painting that constitutes Ipi Kärki's recent works.
As I think this, from somewhere, quite randomly a fragment of John Keats' poem pops into my head:
And in the midst of this wide quietness
A rosy sanctuary will I dress
With the wreath'd trellis of a working brain
And now, I suspect there is some brittle, secret purpose in this randomness, too. As though I could already better imagine some as yet unpainted painting by Ipi Kärki.
A Rosy Sanctuary -catalogue