Painter draws on Vietnamese landscapes

Update: November, 03/2013 - 18:02

Finland's Creative Person of the Year Maritta Nurmi talks to Lan Dung about her upcoming solo exhibition in Ha Noi, which celebrates the 40th year of diplomatic relations between Viet Nam and Finland.

Finnish artist Maritta Nurmi, nominated as Creative Person of the Year 2013 by her country's embassy to Viet Nam, will hold a solo Ha Noi exhibition in November to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Viet Nam-Finland diplomatic relations.

Born in 1953, Nurmi studied biology and worked as a researcher before deciding to take a course at the Turku Arts Academy from 1989 to 1993.

After studying lacquer painting at the Ha Noi Fine Arts University in 1993, she returned to Viet Nam the following year and has remained here since.

She has held nearly 20 solo exhibitions in Finland, Viet Nam, Thailand, Sweden and the US. In addition, she has participated in over 30 group exhibitions across the world, taking in countries such as Finland, Viet Nam, Britain and the US.

Inner Sanctum: Please tell us about your latest exhibition? How many paintings will be introduced and what message do you want to send?

There are ten big paintings and several smaller ones on show in the latest exhibition. It is entitled Anima, a Latin word, which roughly means spirit and soul in English. I think it is the perfect name for my exhibition, because it is linked closely to animals.

Looking at the paintings in the exhibition, you will ask if they are real animals and who they are. Beetles Doo Dung, for example, shows scarab beetles rolling dung balls across the ground. In Egypt, they thought it must be a god because it looks like they are moving. Egyptian people see the same thing happening in the sky everyday. They think maybe there is a connection between dung balls and the sun.

Looking at Birds and No Bird, we think they may be messengers. Everytime I see birds coming to my balcony, I always feel very excited. I think about what they are trying to tell me and if there is any connection to my late father. Maybe he comes to say hello to me or something like that. I want to go deeper than simply painting real animals. They look like animals but are not exactly animals, instead they become anima.

The exhibition is mainly for me, like getting something out from within me. I think it has surprised me and many other people. I went to Nghi Tam Street to see stone dogs many times and take lots of photos of them. Then I asked myself why I would not paint them despite like the dogs very much.

Inner Sanctum: Why did you decide to study arts when working as a biologist?

After some years, I thought it might not be the best choice for me to be a biologist and I decided to go to an arts school. Colour is always important to me. Nobody in my family followed arts so it was an uncertain journey if I followed arts. However, studying there for four years, I realised that it was the right place for me.

I don't know why I am crazy with colours. I think it is in my nature. Now you see I don't have too many colours on my clothes, I'm almost in black and white, but I have been known to use every colour in my outfit. Sometimes I use lots, sometimes I use fewer, but everyone knows about my love of colours.

Inner Sanctum: You worked as a biologist for a few years. How do you apply your knowledge of science into art?

I do apply science into art, but not so much in this exhibition. I am also a chemist and I use chemicals to change the colours of metals, including silver and copper. I have used a lot of silver and copper before, but the paintings in the new exhibition mainly use aluminum.

When I was at my old house in Truong Dinh Street, I took advantage of Hanoian humidity to make silver become oxidised. I made a lot of these kinds of paintings in that house.

Inner Sanctum: What has kept you so long in Viet Nam? Is this because of art?

It is not really Vietnamese art, but it is Viet Nam as a whole that impressed me so much. 1990 was the first time I landed in Viet Nam - I saw rice fields spreading up to the skyline and I couldn't believe my eyes. You can still see the rice fields in my paintings now, displayed as patterns.

Asia is still so strange to me and makes me infinitely curious. I still cannot understand this country after nearly 20 years living here.

Viet Nam is so fascinating and everything has changed a lot, although the change is not always good. In Finland you hardly see change, but you can see a real movement here. You need a lot of energy for this though, because change is not always easy. New York and Ha Noi are totally different but they share one thing in common: this huge energy. Harmony and chaos exist at the same time in Viet Nam and I want to express this in my paintings.

In my opinion, the art scene is very interesting here in Viet Nam - much more developed and advanced than in neighbouring countries. When I first arrived, Vietnamese artists never went abroad. Step by step, this changed a little bit, and then more, and then a lot. They have obtained a lot of new ideas, impressions and exciting things that they had never seen before and they all came from abroad. The local artists want to change, they want to have new ideas and create something different from the past.

Inner Sanctum: Have you changed a lot in Viet Nam?

I have changed totally and my arts have changed totally too. When I first came to Viet Nam, my paintings were full of colour. However, step by step, the colour disappeared and the metals took over. I always started with colour, but something forced me to cover all my paintings with metals.

Inner Sanctum: What do you intend to do after the exhibition?

I will participate in an exhibition at the Goethe Institute with other female artists in March to celebrate International Women's Day. For that, I plan to do my work in Bat Trang pottery village.

I used to visit Bat Trang a lot, but that was a long time ago so I will have to learn again. I have some ideas now but I cannot reveal anything because they are still in development and a little bit unclear. — VNS