The exhibition Northern Summer. Nude Paintings by Olev Subbi is being held at the Kuressaare Castle from 1 July to 1 August 2017. Paintings are from Enn Kunila’s private collection and from the Art Museum of Estonia
Olev Subbi (1930-2013) is Estonia’s most notable painter of nudes – and still this is only the first exhibition of Subbi’s nude paintings. His nudes have always been “present” at previous expositions among other displayed works, where idyllic childhood memories or abstract studies of colour set the tone, but no exhibition devoted to nudes alone has been held before.
For Subbi, nudes provided the chance to speak of a harmonious world, to talk about beauty and loveliness, which were the paramount values for him, and for the illustration or depiction of which he considered the naked female body to practically be the most suitable.
After his harsh Siberia years (which Subbi himself admittedly never described as suffering), Subbi sought harmony for the rest of his life, finding it mostly in nature, memories, nudes or – colours.
The maximum use of colour connects all of his works. Thus in the case of Subbi’s nudes, it is advisable to observe not only corporeality but also in what way the artist has used colours. Having set the focus of his art on colours, the fact that he paints nudes comes across as something even somewhat unexpected – because human skin does not exactly offer a particularly abundant colour palette. The human body is not the first object to think of if somebody happens to want to find an opportunity to discover and study colour combinations.
Yet for Olev Subbi, a challenge was worth something only if it seemed impossible – and so the human body is also one of the ways of approaching colours in his paintings.
Subbi rarely commented on his art. In his opinion, art had to speak for itself, but we can only agree that the nude was a symbol for Subbi. As a matter of fact, all objects in his paintings were symbols. The handle of a rake and a wagon symbolised the idyllic landscape of his childhood, yet more broadly idyll as such – yet even more broadly, belief in the possibility of the existence of a certain parallel world. This kind of parallel world existed only in Subbi’s paintings (or Subbi’s paintings were the only gateway into that world – be that however one wishes), and nudes were one element in this kind of parallel, ideal, universal, harmonic universe.
There is always a great and eternally unrealisable longing at the heart of Subbi’s art for a parallel world where everything is…ideal. Thus there is no reason to seek concreteness in his nude paintings, but rather always generalisation.
The naked female body was a metaphor of harmony for Subbi. If his wish was to paint harmony, then such an abstract concept cannot simply be “painted”. You have to find an image that would best express the given concept or yearning – and for Subbi, this was time and again the nude.
Curator of the exhibition and editor of the catalogue Eero Epner
Designer of the exhibition and catalogue Tiit Jürna