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Rut Bryk Finnish Ceramics Part 1

September 2, 2019

Today I have a real treat for you in store, as I recently disovered the amazing work by Finnish Ceramist Rut Bryk (1916-1999). So rich is the body of her work, that I have not one, but two posts for you to be revealed over the next two weeks ! You lucky people lol

So relax, pour yourself a brew and enjoy.

She was born into an intellectual-artistic family. Her father Felix was an Austrian biologist who worked in Sweden. Her mother Aino was Finnish and came from a family of artists. The well-known national-romantic painter Pekka Halonen (1865-1933) was Aino’s cousin. During the summers the family spent in Finland on the shores of Lake Ladoga, Felix would catch insects as a hobby and for study, and Rut often came along to help. Many of the motifs in Rut’s work derive from the appreciation of living things she developed growing up in this family. This seeming idyllic, at the same time there was a dark side to her childhood. Her parents broke with social convention and divorced when she was still quite young. Around the same time her younger sister died, adding to her suffering. After the divorce she and her mother went to live in Finland. Rut attended and graduated as a graphic designer from the School of Arts and Crafts in Helsinki in 1939.

After graduating she worked in textile design. It was only after Kurt Ekholm (1907-1975), the Swedish-trained art director at Arabia Ceramics, hired her for the fact that her aptitude for sculptural and architectural forms was extrememly impressive.

She was almost a stranger to ceramics when she started experimenting with the raw material that was later to bring her world renown. Her early decorative wall plaques show a magic world of imaginative flowers and fairies dancing in the woods. The colouring is luminous and light. Her faience plaques have a strange and strong glow. Her painted plaques in faience display intense colours due to thick glazing. She also used glazing to enhance the depth dimension of the plaques. In the ”ceramic paintings” from the 1950s she uses delicate lines in relief to emphasise the motifs.

After defeat in World War II, Finland recovered rapidly as if by a miracle and Helsinki hosted the 1952 Olympics. Finland flourished in the mid-century. Finnish artists and designers in many disciplines were finding themselves winners at the art and design show, the Milan Triennale. It was a time of increasing awareness of their work.

In 1945, Rut married another artist, Tapio Wirkkala, a famed designer and sculptor renowned for his boundless skill and imagination. Tapio was a great supporter of his wife in all her creative endeavours. The couple shared a love of early Renaissance art, a passion that Rut inherited from her childhood home. On their first trip together they travelled to Italy, which over the years became important wellspring of creative inspiration and beloved place to work. Another cherished spot was their wilderness retreat in Lapland, where the couple spent every summer working on their art and enjoying family life.

In 1948 she gave birth to her son Sami and in 1954 to her daughter Maaria. With the two children to take care of in addition to her work, this was a very busy period in her life.  Tapio took the Grand Prix in Category 3 at the Triennale in Milan in 1951, Rut’s tiles were also awarded with the highest prize. The couple was established before the eyes of the top of the design world.

The new plaster molding technique was used to produce square tiles in which delicate colour schemes were confined to elevated contours. A successful work required several experiments. Colours for ceramic tiles did not appear until they were burned. She loved this technique, which to her was like a magic trick.

What’s interesting about this period is how the themes of religious faith and nature that ran through Rut’s work evolved in the direction of greater abstraction. Starting in the 1960s she created numerous works that incorporated a wide variety of motifs. These works began to go far beyond simple depictions of the image underlying the motifs. Her work from this period increasingly began to explore her inner world of imagination.

I love this Noah’s Ark.

Various Tree motifs.

Ships, bottles and even a ship inside a bottle.

A collection of heads with different colours and surface treatments.

Flowers in frames and decorative boxes.

Lead into more ideas about compartments and collections of items, objects and textures.

Rut’s imagery is an original combination of elements taken from the Byzantium, early renaissance, folk art and constructivism. Geometric basic forms were used as additional decoration in the idyllic everyday scenes of the ’40s and ’50s, but since the ’60s they have been employed as subjects in their own right.

Check back for part 2 of this post next Monday.

Many thanks to Hiroko Wakai, EMMA and Kunst Portal for some of the information in this post.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Deirdre O'Sullivan from Australia permalink
    September 3, 2019 12:56 pm

    That was brill, Craig! What a divinely talented artist. These Scandinavians certainly have artistic panache! I think my fave would have to be the plaque with the 3 birds pecking the ground. I’m guessing the rims around each figure and all the different shapes was done by squeezing semi liquid clay or slip through a syringe and outlining the shapes that way. It gives them a real definition and the rim would act like a barrier, so the pool of liquid glaze wouldn’t seep into the rest of the plaque.
    Now I’m keen to try this technique for myself! I reckon it would work really well as a technique for your lovely bird plaques too, Craig.

    • September 4, 2019 7:24 am

      Thank you Deidre, that’s a great idea. I must get around to trying it too. I’d just need to get the liquid clay consistency right.

  2. Katja permalink
    September 4, 2019 5:56 am

    Great post!
    What a wonderful mix of inspiration sources…

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