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Jüri Arrak. Green Light

Curator: Tamara Luuk

Jüri Arrak’s exhibition ‘Green Light’ is open at the Tallinn City Gallery from 23 August to 20 October. A selection of the artist’s works from the last five years is exhibited. You are invited to the opening on Thursday, 22 August at 6 p.m.!


“….And landscapes you should photograph, above all else the sky and the sea, as these are almost sprawling shapes.” [1]


This is how Ilmar Vene writes to Jüri Arrak in September 2000. By then, correspondence between the two men has already lasted for six years, during which it has become apparent that Arrak does not tackle simple landscapes in his art works. ‘Too easy,’ he says.


In Jüri Arrak’s compositions, landscape presents itself only occasionally and even then as a backdrop. In his mature era, he has painted ‘pure’ landscapes extremely rarely, but he has tried his hand at it during his apprentice years and on his earlier travels. He has not regarded these pictures well, nor has he really exhibited them. Some people, such as Arrak’s long-time pen-pal Ilmar Vene, or the curator of this exhibition, have encouraged the artist to respond to the challenge of depicting landscapes, both in their own way, both without result.


Preparing for the exhibition ‘Green Light’ also began with the intention to lessen the importance of a ‘sign person’ who had been revealing cosmic truths for years, and widen the selfless spirit of city and wild landscapes in Jüri Arrak’s new drawings. To direct attention towards the artist’s talent and skills, which are quietly but brilliantly very telling of his profession. Sadly, the curator’s hope and the artist’s efforts to meet it failed miserably, bringing as a result an admittance which Arrak worded nicely and without sadness as follows: ‘You can’t teach an old man new tricks.’

Finally, a selection was made from the drawings from the past five years. If the overall image turned out miscellaneous, the author of the pieces had some comforting words: ‘The connecting link between these drawings absolutely exists – me!’ And it sure is a true, even if unspoken, but still widely known fact that the man, who has made it as a freelance artist since 1969, whose oeuvre includes – in addition to painting, graphics, and drawings – illustrations, jewellery, medal, carpet, and film design, as well as numerous speeches and writings, is a phenomenon who should be allowed to carry a monologue.


Thus, it is so that the only landscapes with modest ambition but grand execution in this exhibition are studies in skill and vision which were made at different times on the Kola Peninsula and in the Carpathian Mountains, in Vietnam, and in France. A small selection, and, in addition, one big painting. They are full of valleys and rivers, castles and strongholds, exuding an air of expanse where the hand of the artist fixating on these images is trying to reach the grandiose views the eye beholds, and where the philosophy of the artist does not dictate the semantic field of the picture.


In the rest, the occasional vision of space is intruded by the well-known features of Jüri Arrak’s work: trunkmen, birds, and sign persons, prophetic faces, and kind of dramatic situations. Contingently, very contingently, one could also call the time-cracked faces of some of his latest works ‘landscapes’.


[1] Jüri Arrak, Ilmar Vene. Ilma naljata. Kirjavahetus 1994–2000, p. 469. Publishing house Ilmamaa 2017.