The probably most popular painter in Finland (based on the crowds at his exhibitions here) is Pekka Halonen (1865 – 1933). Among the painters of the Golden Age of art in Finland (around the turn of the 20th century) he is somewhat unusual. He was a boy from the countryside who didn’t quite fit in with the in-crowds at the time. Still, he was and is highly regarded as a painter of the Finnish landscape. One could even claim, he is the painter of the Finnish landscape.
For this still (rambling on) series on the different work-outs for the art of seeing, Halonen provides a good example how painters can be worthwhile study objects for photographers. And, indeed, there is a number of things one can learn about landscape art from Pekka Halonen. Especially about compositions, which are in his case often quite unusual. What impressed me most, though, when I first encountered his art was how he was depicting flow in nature. Let me explain…
Halonen’s output was quite prolific. He painted especially winter scenes in great numbers. Now, he had a rather big family to feed. But he also believed in making art available to the not-so-well-off and that meant he had to turn out pictures in great numbers in order to sell them more affordably. Therefore, there exists a good deal of material to study.
One thing immediately noticeable in his paintings is that nature seems “round” rather than spiky. Of course, snow helps but this holds true even for his summer pictures.
This certainly can be traced back to influences by Gauguin and japanese woodblock prints. But there is something else. Halonen was a nature mystic. Kind of a believer in the “Force” (you know, Yoda the Grand Master of the Jedi Order talking about the dark side). Therefore, his landscape paintings have been called religious, even if this religion would have been an eclectic mixture of many religions and a pagan thing.
I think it reflects, however, a deep insight into nature by Halonen. After all, there is this “Force” in nature. We call it energy. When we look at nature we observe basically a circulation, and almost endless recycling, of energy. This energy, however doesn’t just come from the sun to plants and from there up the food chain and again down to decomposition processes and so on. The flow of energy meets resistances. resistances like wind and water, movement of the Earth and Earth’s crust and through competition for energy resources by living things. These resistors make that the energy cycle (and the forms in nature) are not simply linear phenomena. Instead there are swirls and eddies, turbulence, irregularities, feedback loops and recursive fractals. In short all that what the physicists and Chaos Theory call non-linear systems. If we consider this, then actually the most spiky things (like mountain tops) are the result of a flow (of the Earth’s crust). Once we truly understand that indeed nature is flow and a process, and not something static, we will never look at it in the same way. This insight is a true eye-opener.
In an earlier post I mentioned how effective geometric elements in pictures and within the rectangular frame are. We find nothing like this in a Halonen painting. There, everything is swirly-wooshy and hardly any straight line in sight. In fact he provides prime examples how one can get away from strict geometry and how to compose solely from organic forms. There is, of course, geometry also in organic forms, but one of high-dimensionality. They are what happens if you take poor old Euclid and add some flow.
For me, Halonen is one of the most expressive painters of flow. Flow is so important to him that he even prioritizes it over realism. And this always made me wonder why he is actually that popular here. I think it is because his paintings may not be “realistic” (as in photorealistic) but they feel true. They seem to reflect nature in a truer sense then a merely realistic representation would. Which might mean that we all, deep down, are quite aware of, and perceive in nature, the presence of flow.