Characterization

"Glimmer of the Spring", woodcut and gilding, 2016, 98 x 65 cm.

THE UNSEEN BECOMES VISIBLE IN FORESTS, ON LAKESHORES AND ALONG VILLAGE ROADS

Jaana Paulus is from Jämsä, which is about 50 kilometres from Jyväskylä. In the 1980s, Jyväskylä emerged as the most important centre for graphic art in Finland. This development was greatly influenced by the graphics workshop run by the local council, which organized courses in various methods of graphic art. Paulus took part in these courses between 1985 and 1987, during which time she was able to study all of the graphic art techniques.

Her time at the workshop left Paulus with a lasting interest in graphic art which became strengthened during her studies at the Lahti Institute of Fine Arts from 1987 to 1991. During this time she developed the qualities that are such a vital part of the graphic artist`s character: the ability to work in a sustained and multi-phase manner, and to be able to cope patiently with the passing of time. These characteristics became consolidated as she developed and matured, and had an ever-increasing influence on her work.

Paulus` final work for her graduation from the Lahti Institute of Fine Arts consisted of a series of colour woodcuts. This period of concentrating on creating an original work was for her as it has been for so many others the first stage of being an artist. It is a question of finding artistic self-understanding.

The remarkable thing is that Paulus` woodcuts continue to be executed in colour, like paintings, and they are usually large. She continues to carve all the print layers on the same plate; so, as the picture is completed, the plate is destroyed. There might even be several dozen print layers superimposed one on top of the other.

THE ASCENT OF THE WOODCUT TO THE FOREFRONT OF CONTEMPORARY GRAPHICS

The aforementioned technique for producing colour woodcuts was practised by many Finnish graphic artists in the early 1990s, despite the fact that this variation on the traditional method the single-plate technique had a history in Finnish graphic art of only a few years. Jaana Paulus was one of those at the cutting edge of this technical innovation.

In 1986, a specialist course in colour woodcuts was organized for artists at the graphics workshop in Jyväskylä. The teacher was the American graphic artist Karen Kunc, and it was precisely this single-plate colour woodcut technique that she taught. The course brought this method of colour woodcut to the forefrontof Finnish graphic art, since which time it has not lost its central position. Jaana Paulus did not attend this particular course, but she has nevertheless grown to become one of the principal representatives of this method in Finland, enabling it to flourish.

The 1980s marked a return to art of the old artistic genres as well as a strong emotional subjectivity. In graphic art there was a glorious leap from small works in black and white to a use of colour and dimension comparable to painting. Until then, colour had been a problem in graphic art, as for each new colour there had to be a new plate, which entailed the bother of extra work. For this reason, art teachers had often emphasized that extra colours should not be added without careful deliberation. The important thing was to aim for simplification and expediency.

The changes in graphic art which took place in the 1980s, and the flourishing period which soon followed, were based on the fact that artists wanted to proceed in totally the opposite direction: they preferred to add rather than reduce. With no regard for the wagging finger of tradition, artists also preferred to create big works rather than small or miniature ones.

The possibility of abundant colourism attracted not only graphic artists but also many painters. The increase in colour and scale was not, in graphic art, a one-sided hierarchical influence from painting. It was observed that there was still considerable untapped potential in the use of colour in woodcuts, and artists, endeavouring to give full reign to their own self-expression, started to tap into this.

THE COMPLETED IMAGE IS ALREADY IN THE MIND`S EYE

Jaana Paulus` graphics are colourful and look like paintings, but it appears that this is not her primary aim. First and foremost is the subject itself, and all the other elements merely serve to bring it to life. And it is doubtful that anybody, on seeing one of her woodcuts, would question this way of working: the subject matter of Paulus` prints has such a strong effect like a visual espresso.

The artist has said that the subject and image are already complete in her mind before she starts to work. She does not make preliminary sketches, nor does she draw the image in detail on the birch plywood. Swiftly and unhesitatingly she first draws an outline of the subject on the wood with a few strokes of charcoal, and then starts to carve the first print layer.

Paulus discovered that this individualistic way of working came naturally to her. As she works, she can give the colour a free hand and allow it to guide her until the end result corresponds to the image that already exists in her mind. Paulus` art is, in a spiritual way, dominated by emotion. It is expressive without being spontaneously outspoken.

One of the models for the expressionists at the beginning of the last century was medieval art, which the artists felt embodied an authenticity which had been lost in modern times.

The expressionists were interested in woodcut art, which had arrived in Europe in the 14th century. Jaana Paulus has forged a link to the historic chain of woodcut art by applying its long tradition to her own art. It is for this reason that the expressiveness of her woodcuts, rather than surging forth, always emerges in the context of a static structure. As if in affirmation of this, Paulus` 2003 work Wolf Bride even includes a medieval wood-sculpture.

Artists do not, as a rule, select their working methods according to an externally defined style format or model. Similarly, Jaana Paulus` art contains a variety of styles and a dazzling originality plus a charming mix of differing characteristics. Not only expressionism, but also symbolism and magic realism have a crucial role in her woodcuts. And already in the next print layer there is a sense of impressionist light in a spring landscape; and in the next, one is stopped short by the coarse reality of a human face.

Artists neither spell out titles nor do they divide up their work as art historians tend to do. They start from the image that they have in their mind, and in its realization there are no stylistic barriers. The realization of the image is only possible when its creator is conscious of an unlimited freedom. Jaana Paulus` figurative expression has an intensive relationship to the content, so it is outrageous to try to distinguish content from form. When her print is finished, it has become as close as possible to the image in her mind. In the same way, form and content have merged into one another and can begin to tell of life as a fascinating mystery.

THE FASCINATING MYSTERY OF LIFE

In the series of woodcuts she created for her graduation from art school, Jaana Paulus took as her central theme the atrocities that were taking place daily in her own immediate environment as well as elsewhere in the world. Indeed, her work continues to include references to modern social problems such as displacement and homelessness.

Paulus has lived in the countryside for years. The place where she lives has also had its influence on the world of her subject matter, in addition to the information coming from the modern world. This is why a contemporary artist can be an aesthete in a town and a social critic in the country. However, the countryside has changed, or at least it has given Paulus the right as an artist to interpret the world from a new perspective. As such, she can be associated with the continuance of the tradition of Finnish symbolism which began at the end of the 19th century, when nature and its mythology inspired artists in all fields of art.

I live in the country, surrounded by forests and fields. The influence of these natural surroundings often results in my putting into my works things that happen in the Finnish countryside. In addition to human figures, I also use animals, birds, plants and colours as symbols in situations where I am portraying human survival, wrote Jaana Paulus in 2005, in the information leaflet for her exhibition at the Duetto Gallery.

In the woodcuts she has created in Hiisi, Pertteli, her images are expressed in the same context, through the landscape: In my latest works it is often evening-time or there is some tranquil water. Pictures come into my mind when I am walking in forests and along lakeshores, at peace in my own anarchistic space. How short a time we spend there, even though the forests and nature myths are so close to us, are an ordinary part of our everyday lives.

In Jaana Paulus` artworks a figure is presented as the focal point. As such, the landscape or nature surrounding the figures might be seen to be of secondary importance, merely a background. However, this distinction between the figure and the less important background scenery does not seem justified, since the artist has in fact walked through the landscape portrayed in the picture, and it is this which has kindled within her the images that are later transferred to the woodcut. In this sense, it is the landscape which is the centre of her art, and the figures are just passing through. The immediate surroundings are the stage for the fascinating mystery of life and so warrant more than just a preoccupied glance.

For Jaana Paulus it is important to live in gently rolling open countryside. The rustic environment which is also a cultural backdrop was the landscape of her childhood and, even though she might have moved away to live elsewhere, she has turned to her relationship with it again and again. This landscape can therefore be interpreted as being the landscape of her mind and her world, in which she also feels attuned to the anarchistic liberty of the artist. It is precisely the result of this familiarity that we can see in Paulus` images: the surrounding nature starts to reward the artist`s allegiance by revealing to her the deeper meanings, the myths, which lie beneath the visible reality. Using symbolism, the artist portrays her own experiences.

On the Road of Järventausta, from 2002, is a crystallization of the above description. The portrayal of the idea of death with its present-day negative image may arouse repellence. However, Paulus does not mean to present death as something terrible which parts us from the wholeness of life. The figure is not presented in a melancholy sense as a symbol of vanity, exhaustion and the passing of life. Death appears as part of the natural cycle of nature.

In this woodcut, death has just passed by a woman on a country road. From the way she is dressed, the woman could be interpreted as being a female embodiment of nature. The skeletal figure lopes off while the woman walks straight towards the viewer. A pair of wings belonging to one or other of the figures lies mysteriously on the ground. Subsequent to the preceding encounter, it is now the viewer`s turn to come face-to-face with the woman, who seems to be about to relate what has just happened to her.

A powerful composition of this type acts as a stimulant to the viewer. Rather than offering a solution to the mystery concealed within the visible reality of the picture, the artist leaves it up to the viewer to draw his own conclusion.

ROWERS ON LAKE KEITELE

As Jaana Paulus` art approaches a personal perspective, so does it move away from symbolism. Her art can also be defined in terms of magic realism. Magic realism means that the mythical world is partly drawn into visible physical reality. The powerful force of magic realism is particularly identifiable in Latin American art.

Jaana Paulus` 2005 woodcut The Rowers can be taken as an example of magic realism in contemporary Finnish art. Its subject matter is based on the artist`s childhood memories. In the picture she is on a rowing trip in Kuhalan lahti in Viitasaari with her late beloved grandmother. The tarred wooden boat smelled nice and it was good to be with grandma in the middle of the tranquil lake. The boat, the bridge and grandma no longer exist, but whenever I go to the shore of Kuhalan lahti there they all are, says Paulus. From the point of view of magic realism, the quote`s most important sentence is `there they all are`.

Jaana Paulus` mother was born in Tuulensuu, near the lake and countryside depicted in this work. The place now houses the artists residence named after Arvo Kananen, a patron of the arts from Viitasaari where Paulus worked in 2003, after an absence of many years. The theme for The Rowers originated there, but was only turned into a woodcut after two years of maturing.

Her beloved grandmother was a wonderful story-teller, and many of her stories have become the subject matter for Jaana Paulus` art. Her stories formed the basis for The Companion, A Sunday Afternoon Chat, Autumnal Spring, and War Widows. In each of the works it is possible to recognize the extent to which true stories have a direct and personal relationship to the magical realism in her art.

Hannu Castrén