est eng 2024/1 international special pages! See: Nils Ohlsen "Konrad Mägi and Die Brücke at the Baltic Sea – just a coincidence or a phenomenon?"


"Abstraction gave me the opportunity to paint"

Kaire Nurk (1/2024)

Kaire Nurk talked with artist Lola Liivat.


Kaire Nurk (KN): It was more than 20 years ago when we were in Werner Cafe to do an interview for this same magazine. You had just gone and moved to Tallinn – back to your hometown.


Lola Liivat (LL): You could say that 20 years ago – when I gave that interview – was essentially the last time Werner was the place to be. Werner isn't anymore what it used to be: a place of exile and escape for people who think differently.


KN: You have said: "Everything that has happened to me happened in Tartu." But what about Tallinn?


LL: I didn't change my approach in Tallinn either; I continued working with large-format paintings. In the meantime, there has been an increase of young abstractionists in Tallinn, and now there are plenty of galleries, too.


KN: Among the paintings from your Tartu period, you often mention "Poppies" (Moonid, 1957), "Nun" (Nunn, 1958), "Contra" (1960), "À la Kandinsky" (1960), "Abstraction (for A. Alliksaar. Posthumously)" (Abstraktsioon (A. Alliksaarele. Postuumselt), 1967), "My Coat of Arms" (Minu vapp, 1967), "Problem" (Probleem, 1969), "New Year's Eve" (Uusaasta öö, 1977), "For the Red Poppy" (Punasele moonile, 1978), "Can't Really Disappear" (Ei saa päriselt kaduda, 1978), and "Parzival " (1987), as well as works dedicated to Võru County.


LL: All the works you mentioned are like protest songs in my practice – they are all programmatic.


KN: "Poppies" (Moonid, 1957) was your first so-called abstract work. It was exhibited for the first time in 1998 and published in print alongside our previous interview. You've talked a lot about how it came about – the general circumstances, the inspiration and the principles of the Harry Colman method – but you've never discussed what it (or its message) is. While putting together the retrospective celebrating your 80th birthday, I discovered the cross and the blue, black and white of the tricolour.


LL: These specific colours and forms were dictated by an inner compulsion. I don't know what exactly I had there. I can't remember that moment in retrospect. It was a first and it was something special. It felt like liberation in (or maybe from) the mud of the Soviet Union. That's when I started to bear my own cross. How often do I remember it? More often, when I think back to that time, I think about my father, who starved to death – or was killed – in prison. With my praise for abstractionism, I could have followed him to Siberia. Abstraction gave me the opportunity to paint. I still believe in abstract work – it offers all the possibilities you could think of.


KN: You once talked about how you told Ilmar Malin that you also painted against the Soviet regime. And Malin was apparently surprised: "I am glad you said so! I wouldn't have guessed."


LL: That did surprise me! I asked myself if I had been hiding something. I thought people would hit on it more. I used blue, black and white in everything I painted during the Soviet era.


KN: The colour red was always there, too.


LL: The struggle cannot be expressed through only one side of the fight.


KN: Your late works include the profoundly ambivalent "Resistance of the Spirit" (Vaimu vastupanu, 2016), which was exhibited in its own alcove at Vaal Gallery. The 2018 retrospective of your work at the Tartu Art Museum was also named after this painting.


LL: I can't explain that. I shut out all thought when I'm painting. I painted the spirit's resistance. I would be happy if that spirit revealed itself to the viewer. Either it does, or it is uninterpretable. I painted the uninterpretable. It's not really philosophy, although there is a sense of it in there.


KN: Your work is still being exhibited today. Your "Rebellious Sea (Gurzuf)" (Mässav meri (Gurzuff), 1963) is on display in Tartu Art Museum – part of an exhibition of works from Margus Punab's collection – as are your abstract works "Victoria Regia" (1967), "My Window (My Sour)" (Minu aken (Minu Hapu), 1960) and "Protest Song" (Protestilaul, 1962), which are all featured in a retrospective of art from 1960s Tartu.


LL: Is this a change in art policy? In Soviet times, I was unknown. Even when Estonia regained its independence, I wasn't among the hundred best-known Estonian artists. The exhibition at Tartu Art Museum was a necessary step back in time for me – a return to the sixties. There was some good art back then. Everyone was a master in their own way.


KN: I am reminded of another trio from the Soviet era, when you, Ado Lill and Kaarel Kurismaa organised an abstractionism exhibition at Tartu Artists' House (1983). You exhibited a large (95x180 cm) and powerful painting, "Striving" (Pürgimus, 1983), in which a collage-like triangle sits on a diagonal atop a textured riot of colour in a way that is reminiscent of Malevich.


LL: It is easier to rebel in a group – the numbers demand attention. As an exhibition of three abstractionists, it was a big deal just because it took place in Soviet times. They were afraid that there was some message in abstractionism that no one should hear or see. Kaarel Kurismaa had been my student at Tartu Art School. I didn't have much contact with Ado Lill – he was introduced to me by a lawyer.

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