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Amplified presence

marjaana toiminen
Amplified presence

Most of us begin each day in the same way and end it just like the ones that went before. Brushing teeth, morning coffee, front door. That doesn’t apply just to the things we do. Most of the time we also think the same thoughts. According to brain scientists, our thinking is like a vinyl record
stuck in the same groove. The same goes for reality: most of what happens passes us by. We only notice a fraction of the things that come our way, mostly only those we already know.
m o s t o f u s avoid risk and tend towards routines, but not because life would be without surpri- ses. We must ignore surprises to survive. That is a capacity instilled in us by evolution. The mind is such a weak structure that it is unable to endure too many twists and turns or paradoxes.
There are exceptions of course. Nanna Susi is not like most of us, and her mind, if one could peek inside, is probably not etched into grooves by routine.
She must have endured more than a modest measure of loneliness, surprises, paradoxes and uncertainty, having stood in front of a white canvas for nearly thirty years, asking questions from paint without receiving any definite answers.
although susi paints every day from morning to night, conscientiously and systematically, her practice could not be further from repetitious. Year in, year out, Susi paints with fervour, as if her life depends on it, disregarding all other things, as if she were hurriedly hunting down the pictures. Her working day can begin with a hunch and end unpredictably. Any morning can take an odd turn and lead to surprises before the night.
She packs the thick sediments of colour with time, intentions, cigarette smoke, hesitation, joy and certainty, creating a dense mass. And what it is today will probably be different tomorrow.
when you look at the works, you can feel the tension. Presence and openness to unpre- dictability are akin to two hands stretching out from the canvas to grip the viewer.
In the painting God Saves His Ink a female figure is holding something deep red in her arms. Is it a bunch of roses or a lump of something bloodily horrible? It could be either.
In another painting, we just discern a woman shrouded in a thick, heavy darkness, holding a white gauzy pile in her arms. The face of the figure in Mother Brought Home Flowers is ominously dark red, as if she has been beaten up. She could just as well be on her way to a wedding or a funeral. 

“There’s a balance between happiness and horror in the pictures. That’s what life is like,” says Susi.
there are many possible realities layered in Susi’s paintings. The most recent works have perhaps even more layers than before. In them, Susi has abandoned the ornamentation familiar from her earlier work. No more crystal chandeliers, medallions, hearts and roses, and no more horses or swans.
They are replaced by gigantic close-ups of a face, portraits of a woman, painted with powerful, almost violent lashing strokes.
In another recent series, Susi has painted full-length pictures of a man on the edge of a forest. The man in the paintings is a dark figure standing in darkness, urinating in a lonely moment.
We see the men from the back, whereas Susi has painted the women from the front, to look the viewer straight in the eye from close up. There is a bottomless expression in their eyes, at times coy and mysterious, at times powerless and sad.
The hues of violet and red have yielded to deep blue, blue-green and grey. The palette resemb- les how the Finnish landscape looks for most of the year.
portraits of women, snapshots of men. The paintings are straightforward but not unam- biguous, candid but not without mystery.
The female portraits are the artist’s merciless, deep look into the self. The face is different in every painting; different sides of the same thing. The identity of the woman in the paintings is not static, although the loneliness around her does seem to be.
The man stands at a distance, mostly with his back to us. In the few male close-ups, all we see of the face is some of his beard. The most conspicuous element is the mark left on him by a woman, a kiss on the cheek.
“I do not want to be obsequious. Age has brought me confidence in myself and in colour,” Susi says.
the titles of the works are infused with Susi’s own real life. She says they are fragments from her own writings. Such titles as Light on Ground, Feet in Water and Be Careful add yet another dimension to the paintings, one more layer from the artist’s personal story.
Where most of us drift from day to day without noticing much of our environment, Susi seems to be painting a demonstration of distilled presence: this is what it feels like when you feel everything, when life is not muted or scaled down. The directness of Susi’s paintings is made of unashamed, unvarnished energy.
There is also gentleness and sensitivity in the paintings, even humour. Susi has a knack for percieving extremes of emotion in changing moments, disappointments and hopes, and to smile lopsidedly at their endless alternation, at the rawness of life.
The mood in Susi’s landscapes is different. The stands of firs and wind-swept copses have a permanence and a peace to them, resting places for the flitting mind. Yet The leaves of trees are ablaze with bright colours.

Marjaana Toiminen
CEO, Bonnier publications

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