Silja Rantanen’s (b. 1955) career is characterised by her willingness to move away from the familiar themes and techniques, ones that she has employed with great success, in order to find a new perspective, approach, or challenge. She is fearless. When it comes to art, Silja Rantanen will only work on her own terms. She will not agree to compromise and always prefers to take the unbeaten path.
I was a little shocked when Silja Rantanen told me that she was about to leave the world of oil painting behind and to start working on mosaic art. Would this mean that she was going to turn her back on painting altogether? Abandon everything she knows so well, all the things we love and admire? Certainly not! How wonderful it is to be proven wrong!
When Rantanen started to use Venetian smalto mosaic in her practice, she was not taking a turn into an obscure path, but rather stepping on a highway that has been paved with mosaic for 6,000 years, leading from Mesopotamia to Greece, via Roman and Byzantine art to Modernism. Furthermore, it is not the case that she has abandoned painting, because these works – which admittedly comprise glass tiles set on mortar – are in fact paintings!
Rantanen’s works bathe in light and colour, just like the loveliest of paintings. The artist’s precence is obvious, even if there are no brush strokes to be seen. Indeed, Rantanen has said that it is not possible to receive assistance in the production of these works; everything must be done by the artist. Each piece of tessera, each mosaic tile, its size, shape, and place must be planned with care, all the while paying close attention to the entire work and its details. Furthermore, correcting mistakes in a work like this is incredibly tedious.
The fact that these works are entirely figurative and abstract is also characteristic of Rantanen’s artistic practice. In many of the works, Rantanen goes back to her beloved Venice and portrays the reflections of the buildings facing the canals. Many works, like the ones by Monet, describe the same view under different lighting conditions. Rantanen has always been interested in man-made culture, and only rarely, if ever, has she been thematically inspired by nature. The present works break new ground in this respect as well: the smalto mosaics provide us with a view to a stubble field, a meadow full of primulas, and fresh fields of grass adorned with red flowers – all divinely beautiful.
Integrating art into architecture is one of the leading ideas in Silja Rantanen’s practice, and she has produced a number of commissioned public works in Finland, Sweden, and Germany. Mosaic works are almost always regarded as architectural elements, and this is probably one of the reasons why Rantanen has become interested in this particular art form.
Silja Rantanen is one of our most renowned artists. She is the recipient of several significant art awards, as well as the Pro Finlandia medal, and she is also Commander of the Order of the Lion of Finland. Rantanen has represented Finland at the Venice Biennale, and she has been named Artist of the Year at the Helsinki Festival. She has been an Artist Professor, and has worked as Professor at the Kungliga Konsthögskolan in Stockholm and the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki. In 2011, Sara Hildén Art Museum organised a retrospective of Rantanen’s works. Her doctoral thesis was approved at the Academy of Fine Arts of the University of the Arts Helsinki in 2014.
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