When Petri Ala-Maunus (b.1970) was younger and thought about what he would do as an artist, he decided to proceed via negation. Because landscape painting interested him the least, he decided to start painting landscapes, but in his own way.
When Petri Ala-Maunus (b.1970) was younger and thought about what he would do as an artist, he decided to proceed via negation. Because landscape painting interested him the least, he decided to start painting landscapes, but in his own way. During the 1990s, he became known for his skilful, often saccharine sunsets, which were created not only on canvases of different sizes, but also on almost any type of material, ranging from pizza boxes to maple leaves.
The sunsets are not just a matter of ironic play, of transposing the clichés of Sunday-market art to the framework of contemporary art. These serial works that resemble each other raise questions about the nature of the romantic landscape and about the human contribution to the meanings it contains.
Five years ago, Ala-Maunus went over to paintings without a trace of human presence. They are majestic views into a pre or post-human world, and astonishingly precisely executed. When we are faced with them it feels as though all the elements of Antiquity had been set loose at once.
The paintings are greatly indebted to the romantic landscape art that emerged at the Düsseldorf Academy in the 19th century. The Romantics favoured untouched, untamed nature, which they depicted in fine detail, dramatizing it as larger than human life, as simultaneously arousing both fear and awe. Similar aspirations can be detected in Ala- Maunus’ works.
Real-life mountains and waterfalls were not enough for the Romantics. Their works are composites, painted collages constructed in the studio. Ala-Maunus, too, assembles his paintings out of dozens of parts and details. They are simulations of the landscape in Jean Baudrillard’s sense – copies without an original. They are nameless places dating thousands of years from the present moment, but in which direction? Creation story and end of the world go hand in hand.
One of the challenges for the Düsseldorfers was to get their composite images to be coherent. One device for this was limiting the palette to a few kindred hues, somewhat in the same manner as in black-and-white photographs. Ala-Maunus, too, frequently bases his paintings on just three or four colours. But, unlike his predecessors, he reveals the fictive nature of the paintings by leaving passages in them that shatter the illusion. They remind us that this is a painting, a two-dimensional surface covered in paint.
The vast mountain ranges, the wildly foaming cascades and the dark-limbed fir trees are rendered almost as supernatural in Ala-Maunus’ paintings. Being from the countryside, he has both a living relationship with nature and a respect for skilled handicraft inherited from his home. He paints subjects that he likes and does so just as he wants, aiming for perfection. “If only I could do that even better,” he often thinks when facing a painting that he has just completed.arsfennica.fi
Timo Valjakka | Translation: Mike Garner