Ceramic artist Rut Bryk’s (1916-1999) exhibition The Magic Box 26.1.-13.5.2018 at Turku Art Museum.  The exhibition has been named after one of the smallest works of the exhibition, a palm- sized tile puzzle, but the whole exhibition is just as a magic box. Art historian Harri Kalha has written a wonderful and in-depth book about Rut Bryk – Art of Life (2016). Kalha had the honor of knowing an artist who was commonly described as shy and unsociable. She did not entertain the cameras, but preferred bilateral, in-depth discussions with a few people. Rut Bryk was alive at night, refusing to open the personal meanings of her works. Art was for her because of art.

“I have never analyzed my own thoughts and feelings in such matters – everything is happening in a way that is not knowingly, it seems to me. People have instincts that are absolutely impossible to explain”

If the artist is to somehow be described, her attitude can be described as animistic, that is, “the rock, the houses, everything” was soul, and reaching it was the main task of art, otherwise it is just about surface and shaping forms. Bryk´s art is like borrowing from a fairy tale. The most important features of the fairy tales are cross-border animism of culture and nature: in the world of fairy tales, humans are in contact with natural elements that gain human qualities.

The instantaneous movement of beauty

Birds and butterflies were an important theme for Rut Bryk. According to Kalha, both represented the artist the momentary movement of beauty. The bird also joined the egg theme, which symbolizes the cycle of life. Bryk´s favorite bird was a crow that symbolized more earthly than a lofty one.

Rut Bryk developed her own technique in 1948, making her one of the most celebrated Finnish ceramic artists of the 1950s. International success began at the Triennale di Milano exhibition in 1951: Bryk´s tiles were awarded with the highest prize. The new plaster molding technique was used to produce square tiles in which delicate color schemes were confined to elevated contours. A successful work required several experiments. Colors for ceramic tiles did not appear until they were burned. Bryk loved this technique, which was like a magic trick. However, there was a long training on the back, which taught the development of a color palette. Pure glasses were in themselves unsanitary. They changed to the magical beauty just after careful work. An outline that continued through objects and intermingled them together or overlapped joined Cubism. In Cubist art, objects are scattered, analyzed, and re-assembled in a reduced form. The artist depicts the subject instead of one solid point of view at the same time from many angles in trying to present it as perfectly as possible. Often the surfaces intersect at each other in the corners where the depth cannot be detected. The background and objects or character intrude into each other, creating an ambiguous hollow space that is characteristic of Cubism.

The imperfection of the glazing and the rough surfaces gave depth. Bryk was also fascinated by the ceramic effects created by chance. Birds of soft rosy color were present at the Milan exhibition, where her work was awarded Grand Prix.

Birds 1950 (Faience)

Quiet house

Rut Bryk often portrayed home, buildings, home-related harmonic things. She also described sacred places, such as churches and chapels. The home can be thought of as a sacred place where beauty and creativity flourished. Bryk showed that there was no clear boundary between art and life.

Venetian palace 1953 (Faience)

The walls of the Venetian palace are swaying, and the architecture is asymmetrical, but the edges of the tile make the building a delightful whole. Imagination wakes up – what is happening inside the palace. Through the decorative rose windows gleams the light. The artist´s color scheme resembles the old stained-glass paintings of the churches. The house is probably one of the quietest object that does not move or change.

The house also closes the wake of the outside world, and then returns to the state of silence. Closed spaces spark memories but can also help forgetting. According to Sigmund Freud, the house reflects dreamers themselves on many different levels. A poorly-built house can tell about her/his own neglect, the closed shutters of the building signal the closure of the outside world, and the broken windows may leave the house to strangers and other people ideas to influence their own minds. The doors of the house also have their own meaning: the door opening outward tells about the need for opening out and the inwardly swinging door reveals the need to examine the interior.

Finding new rooms or secret passages from the house suggests finding new sides of themselves. Finding this before unknown potential is usually a pleasant and restorative experience. Dream is like a fairytale stage – whatever is possible.

Toward Abstraction

The City (1958) is the first example of a pursuit to abstraction. This art work is rare, as it spreads horizontally. Module forms also work seamlessly apart. There are plenty of natural decorative in the tiles depicting city streets. There are bulges and pits in the tiles.

Bryk´s works grew in the 1960s as an architectural puzzle of countless small tiles. The color effects continued to play an important role, but the nostalgic narrative of everyday life had to go down to geometric structuring. Increasingly large compositions were created from the jewel-like, deep-colored, matt, and glossy tiles.

The City, 1958 (Faience), photo by Mirja-Riitta Sjöholm

As the colors gradually fade in the 1970´s and 1980´s, it was left an ascetic atmosphere, a kind of minimalism enriched with endless nuances. The shimmering light and shadow effects on the relief surfaces create images of immaterially or continuous movement and three-dimensionality. The last stage is the lyrical, light and shape-focused art. At the end, there are still a mellow light – white glazing tiles with only a carefully set tint of color. The works of Bryk embrace inner light, just as within them would come an eternal fire. In the 60´s, the essence of color-bearing light began to change. The rectangular tiles turned into three-dimensional considerations – the image became a living organism. The images of lightness and heaviness alternate. Strict geometry returns to organic. Nature guided sight and artistic imaging. Harri Kalha invites Bryk´s style into a tactical landscape architecture – organic constructivism. The path to abstraction was found on the one hand through architecture and on the other hand through ornamentation. Rut Bryk succeeded in eliminating the view that ceramics is a “prissy” handicraft and pointing out that the art works function as modern visual art and in space.

Sun and Rain, 1970 (Faience), photo by Mirja-Riitta Sjöhöm

And then the light began to talk: I am the light which covers the eyes from what life broke…
Bo Carpelan, 1986


Mirja-Riitta / Kunstportal


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