Mägi’s painting “Veneetsia”
Reede, 25 Jaanuar 2019 19:00
Estonian Life No.4 2019 - Vincent Teetsov
In October 2017, La Galleria Nazionale in Rome organized the largest exhibition of Konrad Vilhelm Mägi's paintings outside of Estonia to date. Mägi is potentially the most famous Estonian painter, but there was more to this exhibit than the way it expanded the dialogue about his career internationally. It was significant in the way it placed his visual compositions among the broader European tradition of expressionism.
Mägi is known for having captured life's turmoil through paintings of landscapes and surroundings. Both of which had elements of 'nature.'He was an individualist, and this led him on a path to being a true expressionist painter. However, his work was not always set to one 'gear' of expression.
The first visual memories of youth are irrevocably stamped onto a human's psyche. From early childhood, these memories can be amplified with positivity, like a 'rose tinted glow.' Or at least an air of magic. But with increasing agency and responsibility, the palette with which we see our surroundings becomes more varied. We are left to guess what Mägi's early memories were, but paintings from his short career depict a tumultuous time, creating a parallel vision of the natural world that has a connection to the above mentioned youthful magic, but also a mysteriously tainted view of nature.
In essence, Konrad Mägi's own mind shaped the things he saw, and viewers are left to decide what to draw out of each scene.
While studying sculpture in St. Petersburg, he had been kicked out for engaging with the 1905 Russian Revolution. His passage after that, to the Åland Islands of Finland, reflects a move from impulsive decisions to a kind of peace and wisdom in nature. This feeling of peace was aided by the fact that he was making his first paintings. His painting “Motif from the Åland Islands” is noticeably static and calm, looking up at long clouds in the late afternoon as they move across tall, sparse coniferous trees. It's simple. Like the work of a formative artist, really.
His own story became more vividly illustrated around the time he was in Oslo from 1908 to 1910. He was on an adventure, exploring Europe. Simultaneously, he struggled to feed himself, facing financial difficulties and a social 'outsider' status. He did not speak Norwegian, which was one limitation. As investigated by Bart Pushaw, paintings of this period dip into colours and textures of desperation, like heavy yellows and ochre. There is a magnification of woodland textures and shapes, more distortion, and ultimately, more of what would characterize his body of work as it is understood today.
Eventually, he made his way back to southern Estonia, where he had grown up. Sometimes the mind is imprinted with trauma. This is what I can see most of in Mägi's art between 1912 (at around age 33) and 1914. At this point in his life, he sought alternative medical treatments for rheumatism and was drawn to the use of mud baths on the island of Saaremaa.
These paintings are colder, less fiery and desperate, also building to the ideal of a national visual style that Mägi and his contemporaries had been striving for. They are a testing ground in some ways. In this time of physical pain, the soaking-in of nature's deeper messages seems to have brought meaning, and even some healing, to Mägi.
Though he died only 11 years later, at the age of 46, his time back in the places of his youth re-invigorated his work-flow at least temporarily. His travels recommenced and led him across Italy in the early 1920s, with more painting-by-painting variations of mood.
Being displayed in Rome was an immense credit to his propensity to travel and reach out to new places as an artist. He experienced these places on a deep, existential level and delved into the mysteries of each, creating a kind of parallel reality. He offered a unique paradigm about both the Baltics and other lands and now has more standing among a community of memorable, emotive artists.
I don't want to read too much into his creations, but fluid, airy paintings like the one above, Veneetsia (Venice), make me optimistic that he could look through to the more hopeful side of nature and see that his art had conveyed a wealth of meaning to viewers.Vincent Teetsov