Juhani Palmu – The Most French of the Finnish Painters

by Christian Grente

 

Juhani Palmu is undoubtedly one of the best-known Finnish artists in France. His work presents an invitation to an extended visit of this marvellous country and its people, who have succeeded in combining a high quality of life with preservation of the artistic heritage.

 

Indeed, Palmu carries on a tradition established by his predecessors, for many Finnish artists before him drew inspiration from Paris, and exhibited their works there. Palmu’s artistic idiom bears witness to seminal moments in his life, landmarks marking the principal stages of his artistic development, although he may not have been aware of this at the time.

 

Palmu’s graphic skill and the judicious way in which he adapts his palette in order to highlight a crucial detail in a work while preserving its harmony intact, have the effect of confronting the viewer with a story, a fairytale. When first encountering his work, one instinctively thinks: ‘‘Once upon a time...’’ A succession of images passes by, peopled with imaginary characters in ever more lifelike scenes. One after another, the little villages with their wooden houses painted in warm colours come to life, as their inhabitants heartily invite us to share their moments of silence and tranquillity, for although cold is their constant companion for long months on end, their hearts are generous and convivial. Maintaining an intimate tone, the artist makes a point of keeping open a path that enables us to share his feeling for those jealously guarded immense forests in which we can admire the rhythm of the seasons; for the tiny rural hamlets with only a few scattered houses, washed by the light of the moon or the sun, which gaze solemnly on the scene; for the empty, snow-covered landscapes in which the tracks left by some vehicle on a winding road represent the only sign of human life – for the human being is of vital importance in this world. Palmu observes his fellow human beings with passion and respect. Indeed, when he paints people, he does not make portraits of them; he paints their souls by seizing on a posture, a gesture, a detail that reveals their inner world. He also likes to evoke the ample figure of a woman, contrasting those intoxicatingly seductive curves crying out to be caressed with the strict, straight lines of the home or furniture. The forms are cleverly blended; the first level, evoking the full richness of femininity, can barely be distinguished from the second, which is equally important because it shelters the woman, protecting her from all external aggression. This union proves that we are dealing with an artist who wishes to protect, and to communicate with simple images that happiness is easy to grasp, that love is near if only one knows where to look for it. Only a generous man with an honest way of thinking can thus credibly allow us to enter his universe, an environment ennobled by creation.

 

The richness of Juhani Palmu’s art lies in the way that it cuts through all the upheavals of our era; it is timeless to the point of suggesting to our memory a reference to the past, but also to the present and the future, for ultimately what it represents is related to the Finnish soul, its values and customs; in a word, to everything that is characteristic of Palmu’s country, which he successfully persuades us to love. Like an ambassador, he conveys the poetry of his native country to France and, indeed, to the four corners of the earth. To cap the viewer’s pleasure, Palmu expresses himself with equal facility in all of the many media that he cultivates – painting, lithography and sculpture.

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Juhani Palmu, Galleria Strindberg