Color the Emotion

Pick a few colors and create without stiffness.

What to Do When You Admire an Artist

This post is about art, admiration, and spirituality and enabled by Arts Promotion Centre Finland. This is the ninth blog post of the project; see the first one herethe second one herethe third one herethe fourth one herethe fifth one herethe sixth one here, the seventh one here, and the eighth one here!

This week, I finished the last oil painting of the new series. It’s pretty large – about 27.5 x 35.5 inches – and I think it completes the series well because it’s the most dynamic of the seven.

Paradise of Wild Ones, oil on canvas, Paivi Eerola, 2021.
Paradise of Wild Ones – Villien paratiisi, oil on canvas, 70 x 90 cm

My goal in the series was to express spirituality through abstract art. The plan was to explore Wassily Kandinsky’s idea about releasing the inner sound of the shapes and get inspired by art from the 16th to 18th centuries. This last painting is a salute to my favorite artist: Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640).

Going Deeper – The Experience of Working with a Grant

Sadly, my three-month period of working with the grant is now coming to an end. During that, I painted a series of seven oil paintings, wrote several blog posts and weekly emails, plus a fictive essay in Finnish that that will hopefully get published somewhere. I still have the summarizing report to write and several paintings to varnish, but all the main work is done.

During the past months, my little studio has been filled with paintings. Every morning, before anything, I have gone there to both worry about the project and to enjoy the kind of excitement that only uncompleted work can give.

Oil painting in progress.

Despite the theme of spirituality, I haven’t lit any candles, meditated, or prayed. But I have slowed things down and taken time to question without forcing out the answer. At the same time, a clear schedule and content plan have brought structure to my days. I am grateful for the opportunity of doing this kind of deep work.

Painting abstractions and small details. By Paivi Eerola.

Many times when we create art, we hurry. A part of it is that we want to see the piece finished, but there’s more too. Art can make us feel uncomfortable and bring up memories we would rather want to leave behind. But making art can also point out stiffness, clumsiness, and differences between who we are and the artist we admire.

When You Admire an Artist – Rubens for Example!

Dear Peter Paul Rubens, I want to paint like you. I want to master the curvy lines, the soft transitions from one shade to another, the effortless flow in the composition, and something that I can’t name but that makes my heart beat faster every time I see one of your masterpieces.

With masterpieces, I mean paintings like “Four Continents” or “Four Rivers of Paradise” – this artwork has two alternative titles.

Four Rivers of Paradise by Paul Peter Rubens.
The Four Rivers of Paradise by Peter Paul Rubens, ca. 1615

Experts used to think that the painting had four continents and four rivers. Europe is the woman on the left, and her partner is the river Danube. Africa is the black woman, and her man is the Nile. The woman in the center back represents America, and her man is Rio de la Plata. The woman on the right is Asia, and her man is the Ganges. However, there’s a competing interpretation of the river figures. They may represent the four great rivers of the ancient East/paradise: the Euphrates, the Tigris, the Gihon, and the Pishon.

Rubens was born in an era where a shape could not be freed in the way we now can. He had to build a representation layer that people could explain and understand in a specific way. We humans have a strong need to label things. For example, when people see my work, they immediately begin to describe what they see.

But my paintings can produce many interpretations because I try to make shapes so that they raise several different kinds of associations. When painting, I focus more on how the shapes and colors interact with each other, not on one interpretation of what they represent.

Painting abstract shapes. How to paint when you admire an artist.

Rubens didn’t have the luxury to leave the shapes abstract – it would not be treated as a completed painting in the 17th century.

Tiger and child - A detail of Peter Paul Rubens's painting Four Continents.

And still, his expression has such a sense of mystery that it draws me in and forms a spiritual connection with humankind.

Creating with Hurry vs. Taking Time to Imagine

Recently, I have started to feel that it’s ok that I am not Rubens, Kandinsky, or any other admirable artist. By taking time for imagination, I still can feel a connection with them.

A detail of an oil painting by Paivi Eerola. How to paint when you admire an artist, like Paivi admires Rubens.

Rather than trying to reproduce what my favorite artists have created, I imagine that my little studio is a time capsule where they hang around. My sensitivity for them can get mixed with the rest of my imagination, and produce my kind of work, still supported by them.

In the studio of Paivi Eerola.

The core of art is that we are free to imagine. We are allowed to break the limits of time, explore the inner world, and go beyond literal ideas and explanations.

A detail of an oil painting "Paradise of Wild Ones" by Paivi Eerola. Read more about how to create when you admire an artist and want to paint like her/him.

This journey has taught me that it is possible to live with wild thoughts no matter what direction they take. Like a rare animal, a thought can be shy and fast, and thus, require sitting before the trust is formed.

I started the project with the definition of spirituality, but now the greatest lesson seems to be to let go of any single definition and find more, no matter what the subject is.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this post. Who do you admire, for example, if not anything else!

4 thoughts on “What to Do When You Admire an Artist

  1. I admire almost all: this series, your paintings, your sincerity, your teaching ability, your openness, your willingness to shift perspectives – and I could go on but … Almost all? What is there that I don’t so much admire as notice with affection? Above you wrote, “it’s ok that I am not Rubens, Kandinsky, or any other admirable artist”. I don’t admire – but I do half-smile, and shake my head – that you seem not to consider yourself admirable. As Robert Burns wrote in the Scots language, about egotism and affectation (definitely not your problem!), “O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us / To see oursels as ithers see us! ” (“Oh, would some Power give us the gift / To see ourselves as others see us!”)

  2. Another important post from you Päivi!

    Imagination is the key, I believe, when creating art. And yes, sometimes one gets impatient and wants the image to appear quickly and, as you say, slowing down can bring in the “shadow” that we would rather not invite. I have had some difficulties regarding my son’s death recently and would rather stay away from some of those thoughts than face them… But like it or not, this was a part of my life that I still need to come to terms with. I plan on using some of his childhood art and combining it with my own.

    I have difficulty in “letting go” even though I’ve taken a couple of courses that emphasize just that aspect. Slow and meticulous seems too often to be my ‘style’ even when I don’t want it. I like your thoughts on this Päivi, and admire your branching out into new territory. And actually, I believe that spirituality embraces it completely. The spirit does not want us to be bogged down in old, tired ways. It says: go out, have adventures, explore new aspects of yourself–grow!

    As for my favourite artist–when I was in my 20’s and ‘really’ discovered Van Gogh and some of his contemporaries like Cezanne, Gauguin, and Toulouse Lautrec–these were my favourites. But then I discovered Paul Klee. It was his “Mystical City Scene” on the front of a little book on mysticism that drew me in. Over the years I became more and more inspired, fascinated and intrigued; so now, perhaps it is he more than any other artist who ‘speaks’ to me. I am not forgetting the wonderful Kandinsky, of course, and must go back to those lessons.

    Thank you for the opportunities you give us to think about these topics and put them into use artistically! I look forward to becoming more aware of my “shy and fast thoughts” in my own artistic endeavours! Happy New Year!

    1. What a great comment, there’s so much here! First, combining your art with your son’s would be a wonderful tribute where art will be in the process, not only in the result.

      Letting go is a gradual process and for me. Just making a mess hadn’t fully freed up the mind, many times vice versa. Instead, it has helped that a carefully created detailed piece of art can have mysterious elements that can be interpreted in several ways.

      Happy New Year!

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