Henry Wuorila-Stenberg: Kaikki kääntyy lopulta hyväksi
Henry Wuorila-Stenberg’s third solo show at Helsinki Contemporary coincides with his 70th birthday. The exhibition consists of new oil paintings that he has worked on in recent years.
A central aspect of Wuorila-Stenberg’s working process is its firm rootedness in the artist’s own life. For some time now, he has contemplated the themes of ageing and the transience of life in his works. The existential questions that matter to him have given greater emphasis as time has passed. Present in these new works are reflections on death as part of what it is to be human and the idea that all that exists is conscious.
Visible in the exhibition are three key themes that Wuorila-Stenberg has worked on in series. One of them is the abstract paintings in saturated colours in which little eyes cluster together like flocks of birds. The artist sees these pictures as a metaphor for graves. But they are living graves – manifesting the faith and trust that everything around us is alive.
In the self-portraits in the exhibition, the viewer encounters the blunt, serious artist, but their title, Näissä lihoissa iloitsin (In this flesh have I rejoiced), can be read as reflecting humour and warmth. For Wuorila-Stenberg the self-portraits are an ongoing series to which he always returns when he is not doing other work. As a theme, it is always possible and present as a good excuse for making paintings. The painting gains space and freedom, and the results can be viewed with an open mind.
Constituting their own series are the reclining heads whose sensibility and presence range in tone from sombre to light. It is unclear where this theme – heads in different positions, with eyes closed or open and always ending at the neck – originates, rather, the works are part of a constantly changing, unfinished process. Painting and drawing heads is a daily routine in the studio, a meditative means of discovering ever-new gestures and actions in this same theme.
With the repetition I also want to free myself of notions such as that I am going somewhere in my painting, since I don’t think there is any journey. At best the painting opens up in the moment when the conditions for that opening up are propitious.
Henry Wuorila-Stenberg (b. 1949) studied art in Helsinki, Rome and West Berlin at the turn of the 1960s and 70s. During his more than 40-year career, he has actively participated in group shows and held numerous solo exhibitions. His works are in major public collections and in numerous corporate and private collections. He held teaching posts at the University of Art and Design Helsinki in 1984-1998 and as Professor of Painting and Head of the Painting Department at the Academy of Fine Arts Helsinki in 1998-2005. Wuorila-Stenberg received the Finland Prize in 1996 and the Pro-Finlandia medal in 2004. In 2013, his autobiography Hämärän näkijä (seer of shadows) was published by Like Publishing. His previous solo exhibition at Helsinki Contemporary was in 2016. Last year, Wuorila-Stenberg participated in The Phillips Collection’s Nordic Impressions exhibition of Nordic art in Washington and in the Manifesto of Stillness exhibition at Hyvinkää Art Museum, which closes on 24.2.2019.