To See Near and Far
Painting, drawing and photography are inseparable aspects of Pirkko Rantatorikka’s art. Together they constitute surfaces, and if you look close enough, you see that the surfaces swarm with detail. Motifs interpenetrate and grow out of one another, and scales clash. Built almost in the manner of collages, the paintings are full of action. Yet, the events are not necessarily simultaneous, nor do they form continuous narratives – instead, the paintings point to distant places and times.
In her works, Rantatorikka depicts the structures and patterns of formation in society, the social foundations of life. Often her landscapes consist of abstracted schemata: historical maps of Europe, hinted-at urban spaces, layouts of buildings that resemble fortresses. They touch upon questions of how our life is regulated by spaces, and how different structures and systems both reproduce and are born out of power. Particularly in those made in the mid-1990s, Rantatorikka’s works capture views of the development of the European Union and the process of its unification. The issues raised by them now prove to be more topical than ever: What is European identity? What is it like to live in Europe? Who is allowed inside its borders, and who is to be excluded from the collective space? The views resembling satellite images and maps in the paintings hint at the construction of scale and perspective, but also at the potential of surveillance and control.
It is not always clear whether things can be better seen close up or from far away. How do we perceive a continent or a region or things that are familiar to us? In Rantatorikka’s series entitled On the History of Corporeality, an individual’s life is set against larger dimensions: the past and the present of cities, countries and continents. These encounters expose the components from which identities are constructed and how they unite the individual and the personal with universal and timeless influences. The changes and power hierarchies of the present always derive from the past, but history is often repetitive as well: change is permanent, and only its random components vary.
In her later works, Rantatorikka has turned her gaze from continents to cities, and from cities to buildings. The works are now populated by ever-smaller units, interiors, and details from the domestic sphere. In the large paintings, however, the scale of reality changes and loses its literal meaning, because within the pictorial space, images and texts possess an equal intensity; they are part of the indivisible surface of the work. In this sense, one can detect a similarity between these paintings and the Neo-Expressionist style born in the 1970s. Their common features are the density of the pictorial surface, its layers and the lavishness of the palette – Rantatorikka’s previously dark tones have slowly become brighter, evolving into tones of yellow, orange, blue and black.
Colour is the element that creates the space in Pirkko Rantatorikka’s paintings. In them colour is light and space – it is what determines the reality of the works. Rantatorikka previously painted with acrylic but in the 2000s replaced it with pigment ink. Creating a sense of lightness and transparency, the ink leaves the surface texture of the canvas in view without covering it over like acrylic or oil paint would do. Randomness plays a large role in the use of colour in the works, because no matter how careful she plans the piece, the artist can never know exactly how the ink will spread, and the translucent washes or tiny details that she executes in ink cannot be adjusted once they are made.
Pirkko Rantatorikka’s work is therefore bounded by the intractability of the medium but also by its dependence on seasons: works executed in the summer and winter are distinguished by their palette, as are the motifs. Without imitating anything they emerge from the world and create endless new ones.
translation Tomi Snellman