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From Insanity to Idyll and Back Again

LARS ELTON

Translated by Vincent Patrick Reilly

As you cast a glance at Päivi Laakso’s new paintings, you might be shocked by the following statement: The simplest way to describe Päivi’s art would in fact be as the result of a rather crazy and undoubtedly sex-fixated artist’s untamed meeting with our culture’s taboos.
– Luckily, the truth is a little more complicated.

The world has never been exactly what it appears to be. From a unique visual world filled with penises spurting semen and mythological storybook figures in foam-rubber pastels, Päivi Laakso’s art has now moved on, to the idyllic.
     The idyll in Päivi’s newest paintings, however, is only on the surface, an almost monumental surface hiding something else, a secret the viewer is invited in to seek.
     I won’t try to pretend that this text comes anywhere near the truth about Päivi Laakso’s art, for reality is rarely singular, and art — particularly this artist — is much too complex.
     And thank goodness for that! For it is just this undefined richness, the inviting ambiguity, which makes Päivi’s art so exciting. Whether it’s felt markers or oil paint, drawings on porcelain or sculptures in all thinkable materials — there’s always a part of these works which opens itself only after the viewer has spent some time cracking through the surface.
     The new paintings refer back to the surrealist Henri Rousseau, a parallel that puts the paintings’ innocence in perspective.
     The likenesses lay in the lush vegetation, the stylized stroke, and the special, figurative expression. With both artists there is something under the surface, a careful, perhaps threatening symbolism, which pushes out through the vegetation.
     The first thing that strikes us in Päivi’s new paintings is the pure innocence and idyll. The naked bodies are desexualized; their eyes stare straight out at you. The curious and unthreatening first impression soon expands to house new levels of meaning, which turn the experience towards wonder, and a feeling of danger. Confrontation is just as present as openness.
     Now I in no way wish to constrain the viewer’s experience of the paintings. There are so many possibilities here — Why, for example, are the bodies decorated with plant and animal ornaments? What meaning do the baroque hairstyles have? Why is there never any interaction between these people, if it is indeed people being depicted?
     We find one clue in Päivi Laakso’s video about Garna, a lonely and isolated woman who makes a very special impression on the periphery of Oslo’s artistic scene. Despite the figure’s repulsive behavior, a very well disguised Päivi forms her character with love and respect. I experience Garna as an expression of a deep belief in the good that lays in the foundation of all people.
     The video represents another portal into what I experience Päivi Laakso’s visual world is about: a good dose craziness, zestful lust for life, and a never-ending wonder over life’s many mysteries. That’s surely enough. Positively enough.

LARS ELTON
Freelance journalist and art critic for the daily Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang

OBS: Copyright til denne tekst / artikkel tilhører Lars Elton. Den engelske oversett-else tilhører Vincent Reilly. Begge kan ikke kopires eller mangfoldiggjøres i noen form uten etter samtykke fra rettighetshaverne.
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Päivi Laakso  /  Catalog Text Haugar Vestfold Artist Center January 2003