Sinikka Kurkinen – through the power of colour and shape

Sinikka Kurkinen: Liike sinisellä. 1964.

June 10th – Oct 9th 2023

Imatra-based artist Sinikka Kurkinen (born 1935) has followed her own uncompromising path in visual arts for decades. Apart from her studies in Helsinki and a few years spent in France and Spain in the 1950s and 1960s, Kurkinen has lived in Imatra her whole life.

Regardless of whether the starting point is more abstract or figurative, her works have always been based on a strong interaction of colour and shape. From the perspective of art history, several of the works feature elements of the concrete painting tradition, but Kurkinen has broken its boundaries, creating a language all of her own in terms of colours and shapes and a visual expression based on it.

When you look at a work by Sinikka Kurkinen, you can experience it as a purely non-representational (concrete) painting consisting of different colours and shapes. However, when another work by her is displayed beside the first one, you notice that the similar non-representational shapes are floating like curtains in the wind. Sometimes the viewer seems to come across a non-representational painting within a representational painting and sometimes to encounter representational elements in a non-representational painting. In this sense, the works are not purely representational or non-representational, but abstract. We can think of the shapes and colours of the paintings as forming a kind of ‘Sinikka’s World’, abstracted from the various material phenomena of ‘our world’ and the related visual perceptions. Every painting is thus an opportunity to peek into Sinikka’s world. Many of the works feature motion brought about by the interaction of colours and shapes. On the other hand, they also form links to music. In addition, the titles of the works sometimes introduce new linguistic levels and humour to the works, as in Eräs punainen ja soikeat seuralaiset (One Red and Oval Companions) (2018, Imatra Art Museum’s collection).

In 2022, Sinikka Kurkinen’s works were extensively presented by Kohta Kunsthalle in Helsinki. At the time, Kurkinen was highlighted as a complete unknown and the exhibition text stated that she might be “the most significant Finnish artist you have not yet heard of.” However, Kurkinen is well known in South Karelia, and her works are included in the region’s various art collections.

The extent and quality of Kurkinen’s work is partly illustrated by the fact that this exhibition in Lappeenranta does not contain any of the same works as the selection on display in Helsinki last year. The works in this exhibition are compiled from the collections of Lappeenranta Art Museum, Imatra Art Museum and Sinikka Kurkinen. Some works from private collections are also included. The retrospective exhibition presents Kurkinen’s works from eight different decades. The most recent paintings are from 2023. In addition to paintings, the exhibition features lead glass works and painted columns. The curator of the exhibition is Mikko Pirinen.