Skip to content

Rut Bryk Finnish Ceramics Part 2

September 9, 2019

Welcome back to Part 2 of my post about Finnish Ceramist Rut Bryk. If you missed part 1 you can read it here.

The book above was published in conjunction with Rut Bryk’s centenary exhibition (2016) and produced by EMMA (Espoo Museum of Modern Art). Copies are still available here.

In the book. Harri Kalha, who befriended the artist as a young art student, tells Bryk’s story, combining art historical narrative with vivid, intimate details. He introduces us to a timid, publicity-shy experimenter who became a cosmopolitan modernist through her unshakeable faith in the power of art.

Her houses are a little religious, some apparently were almost half a metre in height !

The walls of the Venetian palace are swaying, and the architecture is asymmetrical, but the edges of the tile make the building a delightful whole. Imagination wakes up – what is happening inside the palace. Through the decorative windows gleams the light. The artist´s color scheme resembles the old stained-glass paintings of the churches.

You can better appreciate their scale from this image I found from the storage at the EMMA Museum.

Rut Bryk often portrayed home, buildings, home-related harmonic things. She also described sacred places, such as churches and chapels. The home can be thought of as a sacred place where beauty and creativity flourished. She showed that there was no clear boundary between art and life.

The house is probably one of the quietest object that does not move or change.

The house also closes on the noise of the outside world, and then returns the inhabitants to a state of silence. Closed spaces spark memories but can also help with forgetting and letting go. According to Sigmund Freud, the house reflects dreamers themselves on many different levels. A poorly-built house can tell about her/his own neglect, the closed shutters of the building signal the closure of the outside world, and the broken windows may leave the house to strangers and other people ideas to influence their own minds. The doors of the house also have their own meaning: the door opening outward tells about the need for opening out and the inwardly swinging door reveals the need to examine the interior.

Finding new rooms or secret passages from the house suggests finding new sides of themselves. Finding this before unknown potential is usually a pleasant and restorative experience. Dreaming is like a fairytale stage – whatever is possible.

The houses turned from 2D into 3D and became almost like cities.

Rut’s work grew in the 1960s as an architectural puzzle of countless small tiles. The colour effects continued to play an important role, but the nostalgic narrative of everyday life decended to geometric structuring. Increasingly large compositions were created from the jewel-like, deep-coloured, matt, and glossy tiles. They could be displayed in a variety of arrangements.

The detail and variety still make me gasp.

During her years at Arabia, Rut’s working method consisted of covering the floor of the 9th floor studio with tiles with the help of her assistant and then getting up on a tall platform to look down at them from above. Over and over again, the two of them would rearrange the tiles piece by piece, then go up and take another look from the platform to see if the arrangement was pleasing.

If the artist is to somehow be described, her attitude can be perceived as animistic, that is, “the rock, the houses, everything” was her soul, and reaching it was the main task of art, otherwise it is just about surface and shaping forms. Rut’s art is like borrowing from a fairy tale. The most important features of the fairy tale are crossing the border of animism in culture and nature, in the world of fairy tales, humans are in contact with natural elements that take on human qualities.

I imagine she enjoyed creating all these ceramic plaques and in using her skills as a colourist to make the end results positively shine.

Birds and butterflies were an important theme for Rut. Both represented the artist with the momentary movement of beauty. The bird and egg themes both symbolise the cycle of life. Her favorite bird was a crow, a more earthly symbol rather than a lofty one.

Here we see this rather tatty crow repeated over and over again.

Wonderful contrasts between the long rose panels and her wooden carving and Bird plaques below.

A sense of calm in some of these too.

Beautiful colours, forms and textures here.

Rut Bryk developed her own technique in 1948, making her one of the most celebrated Finnish ceramic artists of the 1950s. The new plaster molding technique was used to produce square tiles in which delicate color schemes were confined to elevated contours. Successful work required several experiments. Colours for ceramic tiles did not appear until they were burned. Rut loved this technique, which was like a magic trick. However, there was a long training period, during which she learnt how to develop and create a very pleasing colour palette.

The imperfection of the glazing and the rough surfaces gave depth. Rut was also fascinated by the ceramic effects created by chance. Over the course of the 1960s and 1970s, the motifs in her work slowly shifted from literal representations of plants, animals and religious themes toward much more abstract compositions inspired by her broad-ranging imagination. Minimal colour gave way to more attention to shape, texture and form.

Some pieces make me think of Mary Blair’s designs for Disneyland.

But then Rut had a design style all of her own.

She created many mosaics for public spaces in government institutions, hospitals and corporate headquarters. ‘City in the Sun’ (1975), a ceramic wall relief that covers a large expanse in the lobby of Helsinki City Hall, is beloved by many local citizens.

“Ice Flow” (1987-91), a ceramic wall relief that covers a large expanse of wall in the Official Residence of the President of Finland, depicts the nature and miracles that people may or may not encounter during their life on earth. The scale fills the people who look at it with disbelief, leading both to surprise and a sense of awe and respect.

She created Ice Flow just before the death of her husband. “Making that piece gave my mother the strength to keep on living,” thinks Maaria (her daughter). “If that is so, it’s the greatest tribute to my father.”

Or simply “Tree” which is located at the Bank of Finland. The scale of these installations in themselves are breathtaking and Rut’s attention to detail is truely astounding.

When it comes to how Rut worked, the essentials were: How many pieces, and pieces of what sizes, are needed? What patterns are to be created? What is the extent of the variation in color needed? What about variations in texture? What glazes will work together best? Are 100 patterns needed, or 200? Rut’s work centered not just on preparing the materials. Tending to mundane details may seems the opposite of creative, but the humdrum tasks of actually checking each individual piece and figuring out how the pieces go together was nothing if not essential. But more than that, creating a harmonious composition means using your body, arms and hands in a roundabout process of trial and error. Each attempt requires unflagging effort and a dispassionate eye. In the end the reward is the realization of the image the artist created in her mind.

Her later works have an aura about them that arrests those who view them. The thousands of tightly interlocking ceramic pieces that come together to make up a carefully planned composition concentrate the viewer. It is similar to the experience of a concertgoer who has arrived late and is swept up by the music the minute the door to the concert hall opens. There is an overwhelming feeling that comes with the experience of seeing one of Rut’s later works where her expressiveness is at its most powerful.

Another well-known set of ceramics by Rut is the tableware she designed in collaboration with her husband Tapio Wirkkala for the German porcelain manufacturer Rosenthal. Their tableware design radiates a tranquility that transcends the fact it is intended for repeated daily use. Again we see themes of trees and houses arise but in a flatter more illustrative form.

One of my all time favourite pieces of Rut’s work is her ceramic lion.

No wonder he’s supporting a King of the Jungle crown. I do think he’s quite splendidly regal.

I hope you’ve enjoyed visiting my site this week and looking through the work of this amazing ceramist with me. If you have, please let me know, just drop me a simple comment to say what you’ve enjoyed or what you might like to see more of on Fishinkblog. Your comments and feedback are so important, however small they all help to make this a shared experience.

For more information on Rut Bryk, visit the Wirkkala – Bryk Foundation and the Espoo Museum of Modern Art (EMMA). There’s a touring exhibition in Japan

RUT BRYK : Touch of a butterfly

and here are more of the tour dates and venues.

2019 7 Sep – 20 Oct. Itami City Museum of Art
2020 25 Apr. – 5 Jul. Museum of Modern Ceramic Art, Gifu
2020 18 Jul. – 6 Sep. Kurume City Art Museum
2020 10 Oct. – 6 Dec. The Niigata Bandaijima Art Museum

I so wish it was a little nearer for me to travel and see her work first hand ! If anyone in Japan does go, please leave me your thoughts afterwards.

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

6 Comments leave one →
  1. September 9, 2019 7:38 pm

    so lovely! thank you thank you thank you!

    • September 9, 2019 10:28 pm

      Cheers Cyndy, my pleasure my pleasure my pleasure lol

  2. Jennifer Mullan permalink
    September 10, 2019 7:42 am

    Absolutely loved it especially todays
    Thank you

  3. September 10, 2019 10:05 am

    Thanks for letting me know Jennifer.

  4. September 12, 2019 1:08 am

    Just an explosion of color, pattern. I noticed a bit of Moorish influence in the ceramic houses… I really love all of her work here, would love to own some of her tiles! This has given me some ideas for some free-form quilt patterns/designs.

    • September 12, 2019 6:55 am

      Thanks Joy, there’s so much to take in isn’t there. Pattern, texture, colour, it’s all a feast for the eyes lol

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: