about my work
Urmo Raus' nature-permeated canvasesUrmo Raus paints nature, yet doesn't do so indiscriminately.
This talk examines the tension between nature and culture, which immediately makes Raus part of a distinguished tradition. But it isn't just nature in general that interests him: Raus concentrates on landscapes. The Romantic Age altered the role of landscape, which ever since then has operated as an independent theme in its own right. Not only is landscape a major theme for certain artists: nature itself is one of the roads leading to abstraction. Numerous modernist painters have discovered this, and many of these discoveries have served as a basis for the highly layered interpretations of Urmo Raus. And this has produced a series of unique canvases in a language of their own, created through a uniquely developed process.
The culture-nature paradox
Urmo Raus paints nature with great seriousness and total abandon. He has no choice, since the mission this Estonian artist has set himself is practically impossible. He tackles the theme of culture versus nature, which maintains something of a love-hate relationship, especially where aft is concerned. The tension between them is dependent on human intervention - one of the prerequisites of art. It is intriguing that nature has been chosen as a subject for art right from the very beginnings of cultural expression. The cave paintings of Lascaux and Altamira, for example, depict animals. Urmo Raus works directly in line with this tradition: by definition, neither he nor the cave painters of Lascaux can do anything more than represent nature. They cannot recreate it.
In Raus' work, of course/ nature is shown in a more modern and individualised way: we will never know the exact purpose of the prehistoric cave paintings, whereas we can find out from the artist himself this afternoon whether the following interpretation of his work is correct: namely, that in his paintings he strives to use all possible means to capture the essence of nature.
What urges man to depict nature? No written records survive from prehistoric times to provide an explanation, but the drawings themselves do offer some clues: they depict bulls, horses and imposing bison. On the other hand, I can't show you any rabbits, since they simply don't appear. Rabbits did of course exist, but presumably they weren't interesting enough to be represented.
By the simple fact of choosing only to paint the stronger, more powerful beasts, man has already turned nature slightly to his own hand. What more, man wouldn't be man if he didn't go a little further still: an ivory figure dated 28,000 BC shows a human body surmounted by a lion head (before the figure was restored, it was initially thought to be that of a bear). Man therefore also appropriates certain characteristics of nature. In order to accentuate specific desirable qualities of humankind which nature hasn't made sufficiently visible, the artist; simply combines various elements to create people with animal heads. It proved a successful concept, and has subsequently re-emerged in various cultures, as testified by a limestone figure from Mesopotamia which is' only' 5,000 years old. The muscles and posture clearly show that the lion was chosen to represent strength. And the fact that we still think in these terms and continue to invest animals with magical properties can be seen in a contemporary advertising campaign for the Paris metro.
Animals are more readily captured in art than that other natural phenomenon: landscape. Animals are perhaps 'easier' because they are closer to people. But even in landscapes, there is a similar development: the first known landscape (dating from around 6,000 BC) was clearly chosen out of a desire to express awe and respect. It's not a pleasant countryside with flower-filled meadows, but one of unapproachable power and menace: a volcano. In subsequent centuries, landscape was used in art primarily as a backdrop to mythical or biblical tableaux.
It was not until the Romantic Era that nature in the form of landscape acquired an independent meaning, Or, to put it another way: the divine no longer manifested itself through mythical figures but was now acknowledged in nature itself. The painters of Fontainebleau went outside with their easels and painted landscapes as they truly appeared, bathed in a golden, Arcadian glow' But whereas they were still recording nature as observers, giving us only a fleeting glimpse of the divine at most, a next step was actually to experience nature. The best-known example is that of Turner, who had himself bound to a ship's mast during a storm at sea so that he could appreciate the fury of nature for himself. What's more, the painting techniques that had been accepted up to this time, whereby attractive light effects were captured with photographic precision glinting off undulating water and throwing up flecks of foam under menacing clouds, was no longer enough. The experience of nature now called for unprecedentedly violent strokes of the brush to convey the sense of emotion on the canvas.
The work of Urmo Raus can be placed firmly in this tradition, since he has also 'lived' the landscape rather than simply tried to represent it naturalistically. However, his experience of the landscape - especially from a Dutch point of view; sorry Urmo! - was a little less spectacular than Turner's. He macle a bicycle tour through southern Estonia. This led to the series that forms the basis for the exhibition marking Gasunie's Estonian week. It is interesting to note that Raus' experiences have been translated into more or less abstract paintings - this is how he chooses to share his sense of the landscape with us.
The experience of the southern Estonian landscape is of course fundamentally different to that of the Netherlands. Not long after he'd made his home in The Hague, the dunes nearby acquired a special significance for Raus. He absorbed and penetrated this landscape, too, and but way he translates his experiences onto canvas is essentially different, I am therefore glad that we have been able to add two of the much greener paintings created in The Hague to the exhibition, since they make the southern Estonian series more distinctive. The Hague canvases normally hang in the Estonian embassy in The Hague, and we are most grateful to the ambassador for loaning them to us. There is also a third series,'Japanese flowers', which, while it can easily be recognised as being by Raus, nevertheless reflects another very different point of departure, with its red tints and more graphic 'feel'.
The technique used here is far more transparent than that of Turner, since the latter's aim was to highlight man's insignificance against the violence of nature. Raus has developed a unique technique which shall return to in just a moment. But first it should be said that not only are we being given a glimpse of Estonia in these works - one of the embassy staff said that 'Hataño' reminded him most strongly of his homeland - but we also have in Urmo Raus an untypical Estonian artist. Most artists working in Estonia are academy-trained. The Russian tradition, with its search for technical perfection, has certainly left its marks. Urmo himself spent a brief part of his life under the Soviet regime; and remarkably, this young artist can still clearly remember seeing colour photographs for the first time. But now that he is free of the academic yoke, Raus wants to express his own perception of the Estonian landscape and share it with us.
Yet Raus hasn't opted for the photographic route; after all, nature has so much more to tell us. How do you capture essence, after all? This is not a new question; in fact, it's the route to abstract aft. Take Paul Serusier, for example, who painted a landscape on a cigar box, encouraged by Gauguin to use colours he could feel rather than see. The work made an enormous impression on other artists and is still known today as'The Talisman'. Even more clearly, or at least in an even more structured way, Piet Mondriaan uses nature as a springboard when, for example, he chooses a tree as his subject. He approaches it almost as a study object, since it is not a portrait of a tree that is being recreated but the very essence of the tree. In an attempt to further penetrate that essence, the object is progressively reduced to a series of essential lines. The next step is historic: Mondriaan translates that essence into compositions which h.e reduces to horizontals and verticals, separating them from nature.
Raus is also looking for the essence/ but for him simply capturing the Idea of nature is not enough. The tale can be told more expansively - after all, the examples I've just mentioned were created at least a century ago, These days, nature can literally become pat of the painting. After all, nature has always traditionally been the supplier of artistic materials: wood and linen as carriers, ochres as pigment. So even though most artists now prefer to work with acrylic paints, Raus chooses natural pigments: 'what they used for the cave paintings'- thereby making this source important for him in another way. But of course he doesn't draw on stone; he uses linen. This is a characteristic aspect of Estonian history: following the ban on exports of US linen in the nineteenth century, Estonia was forced to start producing its own. Raus refers to this by choosing linen as his canvas. It's therefore no coincidence that the title of the exhibition is'Basic Elements'.
We can therefore also situate Raus in the 'materials art' tradition, where, rather than simply being used to tell a story, pigments and paint are the story themselves. In an extension to this, materials artists like Tàpies experiment with a whole range of materials which have no art history tradition: ash, feathers, wood - everything can be exploited.
Yet simply presenting the material as the story and experimenting with it is rather dated. For Raus, it is also not the whole story. He chooses materials that represent nature and therefore lets them contribute to the taie he has to tell.
The canvas itself also plays a bigger role. In the nineteenth century, perceptions of art changed. In 1890, two years after Serusier painted his'Talisman', Maurice Denis made his famous statement which brought the artist's consciousness to a meta-level:"Se rappeler qu'un tableau, avant d'être un cheval de bataille, une femme nue ou une quelconque anecdote est essentiellement une surface plane recouverte de couleurs and un certain ordre assemblées" ('Remember that a picture, before being a battle horse, a nude, an anecdote or whatnot, is essentially a flat surface covered with colours assembled in a certain order).
The at scene now shifts to America, taking us with it. Artists began developing and playing with the idea of the canvas as a flat surface. Even as early as Denis' pronouncement, they no longer wanted to deny the nature of the flat canvas by applying the "lie" of perspective to it. Abstract art imparted fresh ideas to a new generation of American artists, and this led to an even greater use of the flat surface. In the works of Barnett Newman, these surfaces are of such a size and intensity that whereas before, perspective situated space behind the canvas, it has now come to stand in front of it, causing viewers to walk around the painting rather than stand directly before it. This approach was developed further by Lucio Fontana, who, by making gashes in his canvases, Iiterally brought the space behind them into play.
Morris Louis is even more interesting in this regard, since he exploits the absorbent capacity of the canvas in the soak-stain technique he developed. In his work, paint spills across the canvas and soaks into it, so that like Urmo, the linen itself becomes part of the work. But whereas Morris Louis chiefly drags tracks of brightly-coloured acrylic paint across diagonally placed canvases, Urmo Raus takes a different line.
Raus prefers to use fine untreated linen (in the academic tradition canvases are usually treated with various layers after the Renaissance model) so that the paint can properly soak in. He adapts his paintings to human proportions - his human dimensions - so that they are always around the two meter mark - the exact width of his outstretched arms. He nails the un stretched canvas on the wall so that he can apply paint to it freely, The dimensions of the linen represent the maximum reach of his arms if he stands in the centre of the canvas. Looking at one of his works, "Kabo", from the back, it appears as though it's been painted with both hands simultaneously. Which again suggests parallels with the American Abstract Expressionists, since the gesture of painting is itself also part of the story. The link with Jack-the-Dripper, Jackson Pollock, is obvious. For Pollock, the very act of dripping paint onto the canvas was part of the work itself, except that his immense canvases were placed on the ground. Urmo Raus, by contrast, fixes his canvases to the wall and stands in front of them, so that ultimately it is a matter of discovering which is the top and bottom of the work. But the action itself is essential: all the "suppressed energy" involved in penetrating the atmosphere, the landscape, emerges in chaos, in a swirl of pigment and water, at the very moment of creation. Here, too, the action of painting forms part of a bigger story and is not a separate event'
When the painting is finished, it is fixed to a canvas stretcher, Perhaps it was this technique that gave rise to an effect which was similar to Baselitz' discovery that hanging the work upside-down was better than hanging it right side up. When Urmo saw the back of the canvases through which the paint had soaked, it was clear to him: this was the way they should be viewed.'I don't even touch the front of the canvas' he explains with a smile. But doubtless he will have refined his technique over the years and will have brought these effects under control: in other words, by now he will know how painting on one side of the canvas will make the other side look. His canvases are thus literally permeated by nature. The representation, the materials in all their aspects and the action of painting: everything contributes to the final effect; everything carries with it the energy of the earth. And for that reason, it is especially appropriate for Gasunie to stage an exhibition of Urmo Raus' work ...
in Groningen, 2008
A view purified and renewed
The first works of Urmo Raus that I remember were small engravings obtained by the imprint of pieces of plexiglass which were pressed and burst under the press. Their colouring was black and grey run through with cracks, and which gave the impression of a controlled violence, an appeal to the viewer to concentrate on the twin event, the engraving and the breaking, but also on a kind of freezing of the external aspect.
I also remember paintings which were quite large without being excessively so, black and grey, monochrome, the size of one's outstretched arms, with canvas that was worn, made fragile and scored by the repetition of gestures, of scratches and writing. There was a kind of ancient surface, prehistoric, collecting innumerable gestures, the added value of repetition and persistence. And yet, despite the risk of primitivism, this painting was not at the level of graffiti, or of a primitive design transferred to canvas. I would suggest that it had a powerful autonomy and that its existence, which was neither a report nor the transposition of motives from without, was in contrast to the work certain painters who use graffiti, or pick up primitive motifs at the level of universal signs. No, here surface, gesture, colour, scoring and accidents of production were all profoundly contemporary, I would even say caught in the same temporality of production, and the perception involved, becomes a unified pictorial object. It is for that reason that while one could think of an investigation into archaic material, this archaic quality was in fact an immediate presence of something immemorial and profoundly personal at one and the same time, and by no means an investigation into primitivism or archaicism.
Over time and with growing maturity, these qualities of immediacy and unity have not only been preserved but made more profound and in his recent paintings Raus has something remarkably touching, moving, things which bear witness to the concomitance of a solid painting technique with a strong presence evincing feeling and experience of life. Put it this way, here we read into the painting a surprisingly large measure of professionalism with an authenticity as well as personality and feeling. This would seem to me to be quite rare and it is this which gives these paintings their unusual strength.
I do not wish here to enter into expansive reflections on our present age, still less on the situation painting finds itself today, in an age where the end of painting has been proclaimed; that would be straying from the subject. Nor do I have the time to do so. I would simply like to say that I often have the impression that one of the difficulties of the age, for artists but not for them alone, is the constant oscillation between spontaneity and skill, between authenticity and technical competence, between experience and reflection. There is a strong urge towards immediacy and authenticity ("be yourself" is the universal expression for this quest) but it rests against a background of a lucidity that is quite cynical with regard to the limits of authenticity, also against a background of mastery and too easy games of conscience and reflection. At heart, we know all too well how to "be ourselves" and we have conscience of disillusion of this constructed authenticity.
Hence, in art, the vacillations between expressive naiveté and the awareness of this naiveté, between natural immediacy and the next degree, i.e. the curious distance which affects the expressions and techniques of many artists who do not wish to be regarded as fools or stupid.
What seems to me to be particularly interesting in the work of Urmo Raus is that he avoids this contemporary attitude of mind and manages to furnish proof of naiveté accompanied by a non-naVve form of expression - and I weigh up, in order to underscore the fact, the apparent contradiction in what I am saying. In his work there also lies a great awareness of painting, of its forms, its history. He also evinces the cosmopolitan experience of a young European, something he has acquired over the course of his apprenticeship in Estonia, France, Germany and the Netherlands. He is, therefore, quite cognisant of what is happening there and of the problems which arise. He knows all the tricks used there, ones which are currently in fashion. And yet he remains himself.
He remains himself, that is to say he remain himself in the experience of various aspects of nature, of the epoch, of feelings; he also remains himself with regard to the idea of painting, of abstraction and its relations to visual, aural and existential experiences. The empty, grey, metallic photographs which Urmo Raus takes from nature are illuminating indications of such experiences.
In a commentary on his own painting, he has mentioned how certain experiences from the cold and silent North, how certain experiences in life, of the family, also play their part in his art. He repudiates nothing of the "content" of these experiences, but at the same time he wishes to remain aloof to these in his painting, hence his method of subtraction, exhaustion, abstraction in the true and original sense of the word, depriving his painting its picturesque quality.
In the eighteenth century, there was a period during which pictorial effects, as well as particular subjects suitable for painting (rocks, forests, fields of light and shade, and the way of painting, led to a predominance of the picturesque, an over-reliance on technique at the expense of authenticity. This can be found in art where the depiction of gardens was anti-natural and where the picturesque found its full expression: painting had, in a sense, departed from itself. The critics of the picturesque, on the other hand, highlighted strictly pictorial values and, when all is said and done, formal ones. In actual fact, the conflict between these two points of view has never come to any resolution and it would even seem as if one of the keys to the painting of Urmo Raus is situated firmly within the orbit of the pictorial, but not in mechanical opposition, not appealing to abstraction versus picturesque - more a return to subtraction, purification, exhaustion. This is why he scratches, removes, takes away. What remains after the subject has been removed, when what is picturesque has been eliminated, is the canvas. And the same regarding colour. Raus does not use non-colours or industrial colours, in contrast to a number of young artists who, they too, want to escape from the picturesque nature of colour, or from historical connotations which are too boldly highlighted and which would set them in a "Modern" tradition. He uses earth, natural pigments, ochres, greys, blues, the colours of slate, brick and granite, and for this reason his painting combines the elements of nature. His paintings have the colours of the mud of the streets, of melting snow, causeways in the rain or sleet or the transparency of the clarity of moonlight, cold night colours, the blueness of ice.
Urmo Raus examines the scarcity of effects, but not on account of a poverty of vision. He examines limited numbers of effects, concentrated ones, ones which can call attention to themselves remain in the memory, setting the memory at rest. He rejects symbolism, even when simple forms such as rosettes, chords, diaphragms, bubbles and halos are present on the surface to effect differences and to produce an extended visual field. In this painting there is something approaching an attempt to cleanse ones eyes, to deprive perceptual apparatus saturated with images, making it a faculty of attention and of reception. There is no room for further attention and reception, nor is there an aim, an indication of other worlds. This painting is neither religious or in any way sacred. It does not sacrifice the laws of art, and of the eye, but addresses itself to concrete experience and a pared down
If there exists today a base upon which painting can continue to be reclaimed and defended, it is with the rules of concentration and with visual reception. This is somewhat analogous to the rules of poetry or music, defending us against the slogans of politics or advertising, against prepacked formul
For mood muzak or entertainment, making lifts more bearable to ride in. Urmo Raus belongs to those painters, poets and musicians who help us to rediscover free perception where we find again a moment of purity of feeling.
Paris, June 2, 2004
Un regard lavé et rendu neuf
Les premiers travaux d'Urmo Raus dont je me souviens, c'étaient des gravures de petit format obtenues à partir de l'empreinte de morceaux de plexiglas attaqués et éclatés par la presse, avec des couleurs noires et grises parcourues de lignes brisées, ce qui donnait une impression de violence contenue tout en appelant l'attention à se concentrer sur un double événement, celui de la gravure et celui de la brisure, mais aussi sur une sorte de gel, de refroidissement de l'apparence.
Je me souviens aussi de peintures assez grandes sans être démesurées, noires ou grises, monochromes, larges comme l'ouverture des bras, dont la toile était usée, fragilisée et entamée par la répétition des gestes, des griffures et des écritures. Il y avait là comme une surface archaïque, préhistorique, recueillant des gestes innombrables, une usure de la répétition et de l'acharnement. Pourtant, malgré les risques de primitivisme, cette peinture n'était pas de l'ordre du graffiti ou du dessin primitif transposé sur toile. Je veux dire qu'elle avait une forte autonomie et son existence propre, que ce n'était pas un report ou une transposition de motifs extérieurs à la différence de certaines peintures qui utilisent le graffiti ou reprennent des motifs primitifs dans le registre de signes de l'humanité. Non, ici, la surface, le geste, la couleur, les griffures et accidents du travail, tout cela était profondément contemporain, je veux dire pris dans la même temporalité de production et de perception, pris dans le même geste, réuni dans un objet pictural unifié. C'est pour cela que, même si on pouvait penser à quelque recherche d'archaïsme, cet archaïsme était en fait présence immédiate de quelque chose d'à la fois immémorial et profondément personnel, pas une recherche de primitivisme et d'archaïsme.
Avec le temps et la maturation, ces qualités d'immédiateté et d'unité se sont non seulement conservées mais approfondies et les peintures récentes de Raus ont ceci de remarquable et de touchant, d'émouvant, qu'elles témoignent de la réunion d'un grand savoir-faire de peintre et d'une présence forte du sentiment et du vécu. Pour ainsi dire, on y lit le mélange surprenant d'un grand professionnalisme et d'une authenticité aussi bien de la personnalité que du sentiment. C'est, il me semble, assez rare et c'est ce qui fait la force inhabituelle de ces peintures.
Je ne veux pas me lancer dans de grandes réflexions sur l'époque contemporaine et encore moins sur la situation de la peinture à l'âge de la fin de la peinture, ce serait déplacé et je n'aurais pas le temps. Je veux seulement dire que j'ai souvent l'impression qu'une des difficultés de l'époque, pour les artistes mais pas uniquement pour eux, est de continuellement osciller entre la spontanéité et le savoir-faire, entre l'authenticité et la compétence technique, entre le vécu et la réflexion. Il y a un fort désir d'immédiateté et d'authenticité ("soyez vous-même" est l'expression universelle de cette quête) mais sur le fond d'une lucidité plutôt cynique quant aux limites de l'authenticité et sur le fond aussi d'une maîtrise consommée et même trop habile des jeux de la conscience et de la réflexion. Au fond nous savons tous si bien comment "être nous-même" que, du coup, nous avons une conscience assez désabusée de cette authenticité construite.
De là, en art, ces hésitations entre la naïveté expressive et la conscience de cette naïveté, entre l'immédiateté naturelle et le second degré ; de là la curieuse distance qui affecte les expressions et les techniques chez beaucoup d'artistes qui ne veulent surtout pas paraître dupes ni stupides.
Ce qui me semble tellement intéressant chez Urmo Raus, c'est qu'il échappe à cette condition de l'esprit contemporain en parvenant je ne sais comment à faire preuve d'une naïveté et d'une expressivité non naïves – et je mesure, pour la souligner, la contradiction apparente de ce que je dis. Il y a chez lui une grande conscience de la peinture, de ses formes, de son histoire. Il y a chez lui aussi une expérience cosmopolitique de jeune européen, acquise au cours de ses voyages et de ses apprentissages entre l'Estonie, la France, l'Allemagne, la Hollande. Il est donc tout à fait "au courant" de ce qui se fait et de l'état des problématiques. Il connaît toutes les recettes de ce qui se fait et qui est à la mode. Et pourtant il reste lui-même.
Rester lui-même, cela veut dire rester lui-même dans la fidélité à certaines expériences de la nature, de l'âge, des sentiments ; c'est aussi rester lui-même par rapport à l'idée de la peinture, de l'abstraction et des relations qu'elle a avec des expériences visuelles, auditives, existentielles. A cet égard, les photographies vides, grises, métalliques, que prend Urmo Raus de la nature donnent des indications éclairantes sur ces expériences.
Il a dit récemment dans un commentaire de sa peinture comment certaines expériences du paysage nordique froid et silencieux, comment certaines expériences de la vie, de la famille tiennent aussi une place dans son art. Il ne renie rien de ce "contenu" des expériences, mais il veut en même temps les mettre à distance dans sa peinture. De là une démarche de soustraction, d'exténuation, d'abstraction au sens propre et originel, qui ôte à la peinture son pittoresque.
Il y eut une période durant le XVIIIe siècle où les effets picturaux, aussi bien en termes de sujets particulièrement favorables pour la peinture (les rochers, les forêts, les zones de clair-obscur) que de manières de peindre, ont conduit à une prédominance du pittoresque par excès de savoir-faire et manque d'authenticité. C'est dans l'art anti-naturel des jardins que ce pittoresque a trouvé sa pleine réalisation et son aboutissement : la peinture est en quelque sorte sortie d'elle-même. Les critiques du pittoresque ont, à l'opposé, tout de suite mis en avant les valeurs strictement picturales et, au bout du compte, formelles de la peinture. En fait le combat entre les uns et les autres n'a jamais pris fin et il semble même une des composantes clef du débat et de la pensée sur la peinture. Urmo Raus se situe clairement du côté du pictural, mais pas en une opposition mécanique, pas en faisant appel à l'abstraction contre le pittoresque – plutôt en recourant à la soustraction, à la purification, à l'exténuation. C'est pourquoi il gratte, enlève, ôte. La toile est ce qui reste quand on a épuisé le sujet, quand on a éliminé le pittoresque. De même pour la couleur, Raus n'utilise pas des non-couleurs ou des couleurs industrielles, à la différence de nombreux jeunes artistes qui veulent eux-aussi échapper au pittoresque de la couleur ou aux connotations historiques trop marquées qu'elle peut avoir et qui les inscrit aussitôt dans une tradition "moderne". Il utilise des terres, des pigments naturels, couleurs ocres, grises, bleutées, couleurs d'ardoise, de brique ou de granite, et c'est pour cela que sa peinture rejoint naturellement les éléments et la nature. Sa peinture a les couleurs des boues des chemins, de la fonte des neiges, des chaussées sous la pluie ou le grésil, ou bien la transparence de la clarté de la lune, des lumières froides de la nuit, de la glace bleutée.
Urmo Raus recherche le peu des effets, mais pas sous la forme de la pauvreté. Il recherche des effets en nombre limités, concentrés, qui peuvent soutenir l'attention et même la retenir, l'immobiliser. Il récuse le symbolisme, même quand des formes simples (rosace, corde, diaphragme, bulles, halos) occupent la surface pour y faire voir des différences, pour produire un champ visuel tendu. Il y a dans cette peinture quelque chose comme un effort pour laver les yeux, pour débarrasser l'appareil perceptif saturé d'images, lui rendre la faculté d'attention et de recueillement. Pour autant, il n'y a place que pour l'attention et le recueillement, sans visée ni indication d'un au-delà. Cette peinture n'est pas religieuse ni sacrée. Elle ne sacrifie pas les droits de l'art et de l'œil mais s'adresse à l'expérience sensible et esthétique nue.
S'il y a aujourd'hui une base sur laquelle la peinture peut continuer à être revendiquée et défendue, c'est bien celle des droits à la concentration et au recueillement visuel. Il y a là quelque chose d'analogue aux droits de la poésie ou de la musique à nous défendre des slogans publicitaires ou politiques, des formules toutes faites ou de la musique d'ambiance et de divertissement pour rendre les ascenseurs plus accueillants. Urmo Raus fait partie de ces peintres, poètes et musiciens qui nous font redécouvrir une perception libre dans laquelle nous retrouvons un moment la pureté du sentiment d'exister.
Paris le 2 juin 2004.Jaan Kaplinski
Eesti luuletaja Paul-Eerik Rummo on kirjutanud:
Siin olen sündinud, tasasel maal, siit on mu rahu ja tasakaal.
Nii võib kirjutada keegi, kes on pärit Harjumaalt või Lääne-Eestist. Kuid nii ei saa kirjutada inimene, kes on sündinud-kasvanud Eesti kaguosas – Võrumaal, Lõuna-Tartumaal või Mulgimaal.
Olen ise elanud paarkümmend aastat peamiselt Tartu- ja Võrumaa piiril ja minu aias ei ole õieti ühtegi tasast kohta, on raske leida paika, kuhu panna püsti telk ja rattasõiduks on hädapärast vaja mitme käiguga ratast, kui ei taha igal tõusul sadulast maha astuda ja jalgsi ülemäge kõndida. Siin on loodus otsekui kuhjaga teinud tagasi selle, mida läänes ja põhjas puudu jäi: siin on orgusid, künkaid, mägesid, siin on järvi ja järvekesi, soid ja rabasid. Siin ei kehti ka teise Eesti kirjaniku, Friedebert Tuglase novelli „Viimne tervitus“ kangelase mõtted oma kodumaa looduse geomeetrilisest rangusest ka korrapärast. Ei ole seda looduses, ei ole inimestes. Küngaste ja järvede vahel vingerdavad teed, võsased järsakud, metsa vahelt äkki paistma hakkavad jõeäärsed kaljud – taevaskojad, maanteelt enne Tartust Võrru jõudmist paistma hakkav Haanja sinetav kuplistik, Koiva-äärsed puisniidud hõbepajude ja künnapuudega, Värska luited ja Piusa koopad – see mõjub eksootiliselt nii põhjaeestlasele kui lääne-eurooplasele. Eksootilist leiab ka inimestes, nende keeles ja kommetes. Siin võib tallinlane üllatusega kogeda, et ta ei saa mittekuimidagi aru vanemate inimeste keelest – Eesti kagunurgas on veel elujõus võru ja setu keeled, milles nüüd ilmub isegi ajakirjandust ja kirjandust. Setud kannavad pidulikel puhkudel veel rahvariideid, mille juurde naistel kuulub uhke suur sõlg ja laulavad vanu laule, mille poeetikas elab edasi muistne traditsioon, oletatavasti vanem skaldide ja bardide omast.
Olen palju mõelnud selle üle, kas inimese, eriti loova inimese psüühikat mõjutab teda ümbritsev visuaalne kasvukeskkond, need seinad, tänavad, metsad, jõed, pilved, puud ja põõsad, mis teda lapsepõlves ümbritsevad. Olen mõelnud, et taigas elavate rahvaste ornamendi nurgeline „geomeetrilisus“ võib olla mingil moel seotud sellega, et nende ümbruses domineerisid korrapärase võraga okaspuud – kuused, nulud, lehised ja männid. Lehtmetsade rahvaste ornament näib olevat ümaram.
Tasasevõitu Põhja-Eesti kirjanikkude seast tõuseb esile tõsine ja järjekindel töömees Tammsaare, kelle elutööks on tosinkond köidet realistlikku proosat. Või teine suur proosakirjanik Vilde. Kagu-Eesti küngasmaade vaimu esindavad aga teistsugused kirjanikud. Nii lüürilise proosa ja esseistika meister Tuglas, lüüriline ja erootiline sotsialist Ast, Nipernaadi ja nipernaadluse kirjandusse tooja Gailit, meie algupärase fantastika suurmeister Jaik, Eesti esimene müstiline luuletaja Enno ja koduromantiliste piltpostikaarti-luuletuste looja Kangro, kellel niisamuti on nõrkus mütoloogia ja müstika vastu.
Mütoloogia ja müstika, niisamuti kui erootika, kuulub siinsete maastikute juurde. Künkaid ja orgusid olla siin ju kujundanud Vanakuri ise, lootes, et teelised niiviisi ei jäta mäkke ronides või orgu laskudes tema nime nimetamata. Läti piiril olev Kagu-Eesti kant kannab lausa Paganamaa nime, mine tea kas sellepärast, et nimetatu siin oma maastikujunduses erilisse hoogu sattus või hoopis sellepärast, et siin metsade ja mägede peidus elasid viimased Eestimaa paganad. Siinsetes soo- ja metsajärvedes on nüüdki midagi salapärast, mis ühtaegu meelitab ja heidutab. Siin võib kohata kummalisi olevusi, kolle, tonte või siis Pokusid, tarnamättaid, kes tulevad inimeste juurde oma õigust otsima ja kelle elust on meile pajatanud kunstnik ja kirjanik Edgar Valter.
Nii Lääne-Euroopa kui Hiina kunst ei ole sündinud tasasel maal ja tal on sinna sattudes olnud kohanemis- ja kodunemisraskusi. Maalisid veel Madalmaade kunstnikudki vahel oma piltidele kaljumägesid... Meie kunsti kodumaa, kodukeskkond on ikkagi Itaalia ja Prantsusmaa, sealses maastikus, sealses valguses on ta tunnud end kõige paremini, saavutanud kõige rohkem. Pole siis ime, et ka Põhja-Eesti tasastel maadel pole kunstnikud sageli leidnud oma nägemust. Kagu- ja Lõuna-Eesti küngasmaadel on seda kergem leida, seal on kunstnikutel olnud kergem luua. See, mis võõrale võib mõjuda eksootilisena, on kunstnikule sageli just omane ja kodune. On need siis tumedalt helkivad järvesilmad orupõhjas, mäekuplite ebamaine sina kauguses või hommikuses Pühajärves peegelduvad puud ja pilved. Siin sündinud kunstniku ja siin sündinud kunsti tunneb ära. Kagu-Eesti kunstnikud on Mägi, Pärsimägi, Ormisson. Ning neil aegadel, kui meie kunstnikud enam ja veel ei pääsnud Pariisi või Caprile maalima Ile de France'i sumedaid septembrimaastikke või Vahemere müütilist sina, leidsid nad Eesti kagunurgas midagi, mis seda mõnel määral asendas. Võibolla on Võrumaa metsades ja soodes elavad vaimud ja vaimukesed lähedalt sugulases Seine'i äärsetes tihnikutes ja Campania nõlvadel elavatega. Ja võibolla on kagueestlaste vaimsuses midagi, mis tegi impressionistide ja fauve'ide vaimsuse neile lähedasemaks kui põhjaeestlastele. Võibolla on Pariisist tulnul kergem tunda end loojana Haanjamaal või Pühajärve ääres kui Põltsamaa või Paide tõsistel-tasastel maadel. Võibolla. Olen küsinud endalt ja lugejalt palju küsimusi, millele ei saa anda lõplikke vastuseid. Aga tõsiselt võetav kunst ongi kunst küsida – kõigepäält iseendalt – küsimusi, millele sageli vastuseid polegi. Nii jääb kunst lahti, jääb avatuks, sisaldades vastamata küsimusi ja leidmata võimalusi. Nagu maastikud, mille kohal on alati avatud taevas, lõpmatus.
2005, kataloogi " Lõuna-Eesti maastikud" eesõna
The Memory and Materiality of Painting
Urmo Raus’s Paintings at the Tallinn Art Hall until December 14th.
Urmo Raus’s paintings seem to be speaking, and not only because his exhibition seemed to reveal some earlier period of Leonhard Lapin, some more modernist time period than the art of the last few decades. And yet, I would not call his works a reversal or a return to some definite stage in the past. Raus’s presence in today’s Estonian art – and especially the so-called visual culture scene – is a necessary stabilizer. In a situation where, in order to attract attention, one must offer as much as possible to as many as possible, assault all the channels and senses, the courage, even arrogance, to offer nothing more than non-pictorial gray canvases, and to do so on such a large scale, covering the entire exhibition surface on the upper floor of the Tallinn Art Hall, seems almost cathartic.
Compared to the previous ripped canvases, the paintings in this exhibition are more whole, with only small gashes and holes. And the prior uncompromising grey has now been mixed with muted shades of color. What stands out in the case of these sparse images is their twofold nature or continuity – two globes or kidneys that are side-by-side or merged together along one side, something resembling a tangled bunch of rope, streaks that cover the entire surface of the picture, etc. These pictures seem too ascetic for the emotional or literary approach that often accompanies abstract paintings, and are too immediate for a more conceptual approach. Even a certain feeling of protest develops: these paintings do not fit into any symbolism, do not express anything, although their physical presence is demanding and irrefutable.
Raus moves somewhere in the periphery, removing layer by layer, almost everything that has given painting its meaning, imagery, color, expressiveness, sensitive brush, etc. and then relents somewhat and does not allow the canvas to decompose totally. The scarcity of meaning coming from inside (or really from the surface of) the painting is also not balanced by any external, contextual framework. Raus is quite alone in today’s Estonian art scene and does not speak to any current event. This consistent renunciation turns its back on the challenging implications and emphatic self-awareness of postmodern painting. If upon cursory observation and against the surrounding background of pictorial trends, this renunciation seems to indicate the lack of something, actually it seems that that attention is being directed at the presence of something.
The meaning of paint and canvas in Raus’s works does not develop from how these tools are employed, or as an accompanying or additional value of something. The entire painting process (as it turns out from Raus’s descriptions of his work methods in interviews) is directed at the material as an equal opponent and not as a passive substance that requires inciting. A finely executed gesture of a creative genius alone is not enough to conquer the substance; rather the role of the artist is flexibility and adapting the random scratch to the direction of the paint flow and the opportunity to grasp onto them, to use them.
After the rapid dematerialization of art, the relationship between painting and its tools been more hesitant, arrogant, distanced. Apparently this is the reason why Raus’s sensitivity seems like a reversal, or even a re-materialization. Yet when viewing the works, one still perceives more of an abstract archaism than obvious preferences based on art history. This is the deepest layer, the physical being, primary energy that can be found in every painting ever painted, which has now been left without its superstructure. The canvas is stretched, the small cracks are still rough, the paint elemental, not applied or enriched, the images in a kind of embryonic state. If ripped canvases can be seen as post-pictorial, as having undergone some act of destruction, then these seem to be pre-pictorial. At times, Raus’s paintings seem to be located on one side of the fence where maturity, formality, and completion lie, and at other times on the other side; they are pictures before and after meanings. These canvases do not remember alternations, the changers in the grand tradition of painting, but continuity.
If Raus’s paintings are reminiscent of anything concrete, then is the view through a microscope. The relationship with one’s tools in the narrower (paint and canvas) and broader (painting art) sense seems to be that of a natural scientist rather than of a poet or philosopher. Raus does not deal with what something means, but examines what it is comprised of. What is left, after removing almost everything else? What are the minimum requisites of a painting, what are the paint and canvas, which has been allowed to express so much through the ages, but always something other than itself?
19 December 2003 Sirp
About a Threadbare Painting
Urmo Raus’s latest solo exhibition in Estonia at the Vaal Gallery included three acrylic canvases, three monotypes and five drypoints on organic glass. The diploma from the École Nationale des Beaux Arts de Paris, which the newspapers loved to talk about in connection with the exhibition, was not on display. In his paintings, Raus has left the interpreter freedom and not provided a single guideline. We have arrived at a situation “in which the smallest gesture by the artists unleashes an avalanche of meaning.” While viewing Urmo Raus’s paintings, I was reminded of a quote by Johannes Saar about the main reason for the impactfulness of Jaan Toomik’s works. The connection is not incidental: both Toomik’s and Raus’s art are the results of sketchy gestures. Their works have a contemporary structure that jealously guards its cultural construction. I discover myself sometimes attributing natural origins to such art. Also the works of both artists can be characterized as the art of silence. The nullification of the media’s uninterrupted stream of eroticized signs provides the motivation for the creation of Raus’s paintings. A moment of silence is like a set of parentheses between which one can complete the thinking of one’s lost thoughts. In the uniformly spectacular hustle and bustle of society, the sovereignty of the paintings becomes an intensive experience. Toomik and Raus therefore continue to maintain a semiotic hunger strike. Energy must not be wasted on small talk. Compared to Toomik, Raus keeps his self-expressive supply of gestures more strictly in check. Raus keeps the art of painting in check.
“What would be the essence of a pair of trousers (if it has one)? Certainly not that carefully prepared and rectilinear object found on the racks of department stores; rather the ball of cloth dropped on the floor by the negligent hand of a young boy when he undresses tired, lazy and indifferent. The essence of an object has something to do with the way it turns into trash. It is not necessarily what remains after the object has been used, it’s rather what is thrown away in use. And so it is with Twombly’s writings.” This is how Roland Barthes described the writing on Cy Twombly’s paintings. And standing in front of Urmo Raus’s paintings almost twenty years later, I am repeating and adapting Barthes’s statement: “The essence of the art of painting is somewhat related to its destruction.” On these canvases we can see the obsession that has remained hidden throughout the history of painting – the traces of a hand that is skinning the canvas.
If some poetry has given up on dealing with that which is most typical of poetry – images, the sound of speech and words – then before its nullification, it clings to that which could be called the obsession of physical presence. Urmo Raus’s works also do no speak or depict. Like poetry holds onto paper, Raus’s paintings hold onto the canvas, and conventions help them remain there.
The calm presence of the works alludes to their completion. The process notifies and prioritizes, but in its details remains inaccessible to the viewer that is looking from frame to frame – the activity is overshadowed by the paintings. Unlike the creative logic of Abstract Expressionism, the artist also is overshadowed by the work. Namely, Raus does not celebrate the gestures that would declare the uniqueness of the creator’s presence, his cosmic freedom in regard to the created work. During the long work process, he separates the tragic theme of the painting from the basic materials. And as the tension increases and intensifies arriving at the end result, the artist has already left the arena.
Aufhebung as the leitmotif of Raus’s music
In Estonian painting, the Supilinn door series by Sven Saag is an earlier counterpart to Raus’s work. Each of the doors, which have been manually removed from their hinges by the artist, can be characterized as a nostalgically rambling sound bite, with the wistful patina of the teeming memories that are deposited in old objects and personal possessions. A sound background would also be needed for visualizing Raus’ paintings, because melancholy cannot be forced to answer us word for word. Raus’s palette is noticeably fresher than Saag’s. He creates the mood in his paintings with the help of subtle and cool coloring – rainy grey and snowy blue, and other closely related shades of color. The paintings are suited to Wim Mertens’s … no! actually Steve Reich’s early music. But I guess this is different for everyone.
It is difficult to think of a more worn out comparison than the synthetic parallel between the tonality of coloring and a musical sound image – but I could not find a fresher way of characterizing the being of Raus’s paintings. Raus’s character is too true to tradition for this.
Instead, it is important to mention that main motif of Raus’s music distances him from Saag – a nostalgic melancholy with a personal dimension (Wim Mertens) is present in Raus’s works only as a total negation of everything that is personal-sentimental, Aufhebung (Steve Reich).
Semioclasm in Raus’s work
It is not unwarranted to think that grimaces, improper words or some uncontrolled memory were initially painted on these canvases, which the artist decided to totally scrape off with admirable persistence. This would provide an explanation for the silent tension that has resulted. One can imagine that the scraping of the salacious illusionist deceit of the image or scribbling as the being the initial impetus for the violent creative act. Aggression as an idée fixe against the presented signs – semioclasm – appears perfectly at the point where art has been taken so close to its demise that the viewer is able to feel like a participant in the story of its birth.
The artist does not require a miscarried image to have been previously spread on the canvas, in other to sweep it away in the subsequent creative act of destruction. If it genuinely exists anywhere, it is in the head of the artist, but probably at a much deeper level that the weather reports of the conscious. The general hostility against a figurative, chatty visuality is fed by the societal monotony that is becoming ever more theatrical; from time to time, something in me also yearns for the fast that appears like a promise in Raus’s paintings.
Imagine the Art of Painting for a moment, as if it had been embodied in the historical consciousness as it appears in Urmo Raus’s works. To me, it seems to be an old, weird woman, a schizo, who, in the middle of the day, examines the pores on her cheeks, and out of curiosity, keeps tearing the scab off a slowly healing wound, as if with the help of the mirror, this tired, worn-out pain could confirm her unity with her ego. And similarly to some serious cases of schizophrenia, when the regression of the personality is irreversible, all that the Art of Painting requires is its own company. By communicating with it during its lucid moments, the psychology of the former star is revealed to us. But all this is being written about in general art texts.
Paraphrasing Paul Virilio’s train of thought in the essay “The Origin of Forms”, one might ask, if we think about it more precisely, what has the golden age of painting, classical modernism, produced that is more unique and special than the expression of nothingness, absence. And this is clearly what Raus’s painting production is.
Sirp 18 August 1998