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Good company

Hedi Rosma (1/2021)

Hedi Rosma was in good company at a retrospective of Tiit Pääsuke, "Tiit Pääsuke. Nostalgialess".

24. X 2020–25. IV 2021
Tartu Art Museum
Curator: Joanna Hoffmann

My first memories of the artist Tiit Pääsuke are from the Estonian Academy of Arts (EAA). The new millennium had just begun, the long-awaited apocalypse had not eventuated, and Tiit Pääsuke had become the drawing teacher of all of us eager first-years. I remember his attitude, which was a combination of dignity and humility, a more intense presence than usual, both in class and in the "hello" said when passing on the stairs. Strangely, at the time he reminded me of "real artists" and of Paris, where I hadn't even been to yet. (And where, as I now found out at the exhibition, Pääsuke has never been either.) He was always interested and aware, despite probably having taught hundreds of students already.

"Everything is still ahead of them... faith and hope, and graduation seems so far away. [---] In order to teach them, I have to remember what it was like when I was a student, and be able to relate to them somehow. Otherwise, I wouldn't be able to teach. And if in a few years' time, a creator emerges in at least some of them, then I again have to be able to relate to that, to become that creator, another person. And at the same time, of course, remain myself."1

Indeed, what I remember most vividly from my drawing lessons is Pääsuke's look. A sincere, but always delicate and respectful interest in another person, in another way of being. But never to explain everything to the last detail, but to allow simply to exist and open up. The same gentle, aware presence was also noticeable years later, in the short televised interview that aired in connection with the opening of the joint exhibition2 by Tiit Pääsuke and Kris Lemsalu. "[I]t is precisely he who takes a step to meet the younger colleague halfway, rather than the other way round,"3 Tõnis Tatar noted in a review.

So. "It was good to be with Tiit Pääsuke: I didn't feel cramped, but on the contrary, I opened up like an oyster. The only thing that kept bothering me was that he didn't completely disclose what this art thing really is, and how it's done."4

The pain of coming home

Regarding the title of the exhibition, "Nostalgialess" (in Estonian: ("Nostalgiata"), Tiit Pääsuke has pointed out that it should be read with an emphasis on the middle a (nos-tal-gi'a-ta), and understood as a glorification of nostalgia, although the word also means "without nostalgia" in Estonian. Indeed, the leaning house of the Tartu Art Museum was a dormitory, for Tiit Pääsuke during his studies at Tartu Art School as well as several other music and art school boys.

"There is definitely nostalgia in that exhibition: there are works from my school days, and the exhibition hangs in the same rooms where I used to live back then. The whole town of Tartu is nostalgia for me; I lived there for five years before going to university in Tallinn,"5 Pääsuke has said. And has also given permission to read the title in the abessive case, exactly as the spelling in Estonian would suggest at first glance.

There is certainly something about returning. Also, wandering to the sources of the term "nostalgia", we can see two highly charged words: "homecoming" (Greek: nostos) and "pain" (Greek: algos). Thus, nostalgia could be construed as a kind of a pain of coming home. For me, Pääsuke is so clearly a figure of the present that his exhibition, although exhibited in his former hometown, is difficult to perceive as elegiac in any way. The pain of coming home is much more refined here, and lies in the world(s) of Pääsuke, which can no longer fit in the house of the past. The present is always too alive, too spacious, too imperceptible for it.

On several occasions, Pääsuke himself has expressed a certain puzzlement regarding the assemblage of his paintings for an exhibition. As a rule, he is not interested in finished works, or if he is, he considers these to be works in progress that can be continued at a suitable time. It is rumoured that quite a few of his works have ended up in the rubbish bin. Even in this, a certain blissful inability to step out of the present is manifest. For Pääsuke, art seems to be something that is never fully finished.

In light of this, curator Joanna Hoffmann's sincere attempt and dedication to somehow assemble the artist's life and oeuvre is even more admirable. It is a journey that begins with fresh paintings from 2020 and ends with schoolwork dating back more than half a century. These are exuberantly filled rooms, where, ideally, the intensively vibrating paintings could perhaps use a bit more air, but the exhibition experience does nevertheless not become suffocating at any point.

"There are dozens of works featured at exhibitions, and it's not possible to look at everything. But if you go up to a work that interests you, you will find more details, start contemplating them and you put together a story for yourself," says the artist himself.6


So, what is art anyway, and how is it done?

"People want explanations, and indeed there are explanations thought up for everything that exists in the world. And yet, real art begins where explanations become confusing, or there are no longer any words left, not even in other languages." This, one of several quotes from Pääsuke printed on the wall at the exhibition, is of key importance for me.

In other words, the unwillingness to analyse oneself and one's works is not just a stubborn whim. Pääsuke strongly believes in keeping some things secret. Largely thanks to that, his paintings are so expansive that there is space for the viewer. Space for effortless travelling... to lose and to find yourself. He does not give us a single "right" answer, but allows everyone to discover what the present has in store just for us.

"[F]or the viewer, what I feel or think is not that important. For the viewer, what is more important is the painting itself, what is happening in the picture, what it looks like. I have quite a lot of people in some of the paintings, and since they don't seem to bother each other there, feeling relatively all right, it most likely constitutes good company."7 It is obvious that beautiful animals also belong in Pääsuke's good company. Their big eyes and pink noses. "Frightening and cute, powerful and intelligent. We have to get used to them; there is no need to be afraid," a quote on the wall encourages the audience.

At the same time, I completely understand that the very same wide-open space in which one person can find "openness towards the Other"8 might leave someone else baffled. Pääsuke's paintings can also seem very cryptic and fragmentary.9 That is also allowed. "My paintings listen to what is being said in front of them, and a lot of stories have been told there at different times."10


Tiit Pääsuke
oil on canvas, 110 x 140 cm
Art Museum of Estonia
Photographer Stanislav Stepashko



To be reborn

The academy where we could attend Tiit Pääsuke's drawing lessons, where our own self-discoveries and meetings with kindred spirits were possible, no longer exists. The gaping hole in the cityscape of Tallinn where the EAA building used to be still seems intolerably callous and strange.

But perhaps it's better this way. Perhaps it's better not to take this world, this reality, too seriously. Perhaps it's right to be in the present, and to be born again in every moment. To rediscover all the time what life is. What art is (and how it's done).

Nevertheless, I'm genuinely glad that Tiit Pääsuke had a place to return to. I hope that the "Leaning House" of Tartu will remain standing for a long time. And that Pääsuke will not get tired.

"Tiit Pääsuke", 1983. Host Ando Keskküla, director Tiina Park. Estonian Public Broadcasting, video archive. See:

"Beauty and the Beast. Tiit Pääsuke and Kris Lemsalu". Curator: Tamara Luuk. Tallinn Art Hall, 19. III–1. V 2016.

Tõnis Tatar, A Bridge across Stormy Waters or an Experiment with a Viper and a Boletus. – KUNST.EE 2016, No 2, p 14.

Kaido Ole's comment. – Tamara Luuk, Autasu – Illusioonide kiituseks. – Sirp 16. II 2018.

Peeter Kormashov, Tiit Pääsuke: Olen hoidunud kõigest, millele annab silts külge panna. – Eesti Päevaleht 6. I 2021.


"Tiit Pääsuke", 1983.

Kiwa, Tiit Pääsuke lendab kõrgelt ja cool'ilt. – Postimees 1. XII 2020.

See, for example, Tõnis Tatar, Pääsukesest eelarvamuse ja nostalgiata. – Sirp 27. II 2020.

10 Maria Arusoo, Kunst sinu ümber. Armastatud maalikunstnik Tiit Pääsuke: "Ma tahaks ilu vastu võidelda!" – Postimees 24. X 2020.

Hedi Rosma is the Estonian editor for KUNST.EE and the editor of the programme "Plekktrumm" at the Estonian Public Broadcasting.

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