Landscape Near Elva

Olev Subbi Landscape Near Elva 1975 tempera, oil, canvas 55 × 70 cm

In Olev Subbi’s notes it is written that Landscape Near Elva was probably one of the first paintings to be taken outside the borders of the Soviet Union after completion. It hung in Sweden for decades before being returned to Estonia. While in the mid-1970s Subbi painted mostly large-scale paintings, Landscape Near Elva is an interesting exception. By no means a small work, it still seems an outlier among other works of art from that period. It has few details and no people, but a clear focus and a surprisingly mundane effect compared to the remaining magnificent fairy-tale pictures from the period, which the artist filled with southern architectural elements, archaic agricultural implements and dreamy nudes. Another surprising aspect is the treatment of the picture surface, since most of the painting was left empty and open, with only a few details here and there, whereas other works by the artist from the period are filled with dozens of minute details. It is rare in Subbi’s oeuvre to see so much of the sky because the artist’s horizons tend to be rather high as a rule, and the sky is normally compressed to a thin line somewhere far away.

However, there are some references that connect this painting organically to the rest of Subbi’s oeuvre. For the most part we have to look at single motifs. First of all, the signpost near Elva could be pointing the way to nearby Rannu, where Subbi spent most of his childhood summers. Traces of these summers in the form of ambience and details are often found in his works from the 1970s. It should also be pointed out that the signpost itself is era-specific, for such signs could be seen along roads in the 1930s, but no longer in the 1970s. Thus, the signpost takes us back, both geographically and metaphorically, to an era whose memories are often depicted in Subbi’s oeuvre.