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Nanna Susi and the Art of Being Human

janne gallen-kallela-sirén

Nanna Susi and the Art of Being Human

’Years ago I made the decision that I would be a painter through my life. Each year I ask myself if this commitment still holds, if this still is my thing. The harder one’s work as an artist becomes, as the mind’s horizon narrows, the harder it becomes to see things anew. Surely I could do other things too. But there is not enough time for
experimenting with everything. I want to die as a painter. There is something honest about that.” -Nanna Susi, 2012
nanna susi is a passionate person. She is also a disciplined artist who seeks inspiration from her search for perfection and her ability as a painter to camouflage the multidimensional archi- tecture of her works in a vivacious expressionist guise. For Susi, painting is a field of display for the energies and currents that constitute life. Through pictorial means she seeks happiness, her- self and ultimately the evanescent meaning of life. She has formed a sacred union with her métier and over time this union has become stronger, deeper and more semantic.
susi’s art is today more dialogical and inquisitive than it was around the turn of the millen- nium. The wild and intuitive artist, who in 2000 was nominated as the Young Artist of the Year and who stepped to the forefront of Finnish visual creativity following her debut at the Tampere Art Museum that year, is no longer satisfied by merely subduing her canvasses with the ecstasy of colors. She wants more and also expects more from herself. She listens to her works and con- verses with them, sometimes by shouting, but also in whispers, coaxing her creations into verbal jousts aimed at teasing out new meanings from them. The rich conversational buzz between Susi and her works is a manifestation of her profound conviction: “The purpose of art is the same as the purpose of life. I have no other life. Everything is bound with my work as an artist. Like a cat circling a hot plate, I writhe around my painting. I try to eat myself from my own hand.”
when an intuitive artist dives ever deeper into the current of life, to places where language reigns, and engages the deeper structures of the art of painting, a risk arises that one might trip into a hermeneutic swamp, be bogged down by the fog of philosophy or borrowed mannerisms. This has not happened to Susi. Her works are endowed with ample mass and volume and their corporeality allows them to shine before us as profound sensory spaces. “I also like coincidences along the route,” the artist says, as if to emphasize the wild freedom of her art. Susi permits the painted surface to fence with words and the potential of dialogue, yet she never compels her paintings into the straightjackets of language or cliché. Her works call to and yet simultaneously repel us. It is this tension that provides the undercurrent of the show in the Helsinki Art Muse- um, entitled Underneath the Eyes by the artist.

the collaboration between the Helsinki Art Museum and Nanna Susi has been dialogical and creative from day one. Susi replied in the affirmative to my invitation to arrange a retros- pective exhibition of her works, but in the course of planning the show she discovered – through the actual work – a different way of presenting her oeuvre. In the space of one year, she painted the works now on show in which the expressiveness and thematics of her earlier work emerge in the form of a coherent and independent totality. From these new paintings there also emerges an image of a strong yet vulnerable personality, one that has previously been eclipsed by the cataracts of color and deeply textured layers of paint emanating from Susi’s mindscape. “A face emerges from behind the landscape,“ says the artist.
in the helsinki art museum and on the pages of this publication we meet a Nanna Susi who has rendered in paint the history of her art and also glimpses of what is yet to come. The deep canyons and the wrinkled skin of Susi’s canvases, their topography of color and shadow, the patina of life that radiates from them, become an inviting pillow for the weary mind. What one encounters is a joie de vivre and a sense of painterly honesty that is born only when an artist is truly impregnated by what she sees and senses under, in front of and behind her eyes. It takes a lot of courage to unwrap all this, to unmask oneself. Perhaps one of the functions of art and artists throughout the ages, a human purpose of epic proportions, has always been to teach us to be courageous in what we do and are. It is easier to step beyond one’s own comfort zone, towards the unknown, when one has visualized a terra incognita, seen it under one’s eyes.
on behalf of myself and the Helsinki Art Museum, I want to thank Nanna Susi for her cooperation and the opportunity to present her latest works to the public. Thanks are due to CEO Marjaana Toiminen from Bonnier Publications and to Dr. Kimmo Sarje for essays on Susi’s work. These texts offer fascinating clues for interpreting her pictures. Thanks for the graphic design of the book go to graphic designer Sami Valtere. A warm thank you is due also to Jussi Tiainen for the photographs of Susi’s works, and to Parvs Publishing, who, together with the Helsinki Art Museum, is the co-publisher of this book.
the nanna susi exhibition was curated and this book edited by curator Heli Harni from the Helsinki Art Museum. The greatest thanks for the realization of the show go to her. I also wish to thank Gallery Ama and its director, Virpi Wuori-Valtaoja, as well as Krista Mikkola, the long-term supporter of Nanna Susi and multitalented expert on contemporary art.
the main sponsor of the Helsinki Art Museum is HOK-Elanto, whose generous support has in part enabled the realization of the Nanna Susi exhibition. I want to thank HOK-Elanto for its support and efforts which promote the status of visual art in Finland today.

Janne Gallen-Kallela-Sirén, PHD
Director, Helsinki Art Museum

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