Otto Mäkilä
A Red Restless Spark
28 Jan – 29 May 2011
Turku Art Museum starts 2011 with an extensive exhibition presenting work by Otto Mäkilä (1904–1955) entitled Otto Mäkilä – A Red Restless Spark. The exhibition features all of Mäkilä’s iconic pieces, such as Poésie (1938) and They See What We Do Not See (1939) from the museum’s collections, but the 120 or so works on display also include paintings which have not been shown to the public for decades. In addition to works owned by the Turku Art Museum, the exhibition also features works on loan from 31 museums, public organisations and private collectors. The exhibition is curated by Mia Haltia.

Otto Mäkilä’s letters and aphorisms reveal a reflective artist who was both demanding and passionate about art. "All that I own is a red, restless spark – or to be much more exact, it owns me and it is burning me," the artist wrote in 1953. Mäkilä is regarded in Finnish art history as a surrealist. He himself never defined his art as surrealist, however, even though art critics in the 1940s began referring to him as the leading Finnish surrealist painter. Following the ideas of Edwin Lydén (1879–1956), Mäkilä thought that the essence of new, modern art was the expression of one’s own inner visions. In his paintings, Mäkilä kept returning to the same themes: man’s place in the world, the meaning and mystery of existence, and the inevitability of death. An essential feature in Mäkilä’s art is that he painted several versions of the same topic, and kept returning to the same themes even after many years.

The exhibition spans a period that starts in the late 1920s and ends with the last years of Mäkilä’s life, presenting the entire range of Mäkilä’s themes and his creative periods. The Finnish art world first became aware of Mäkilä in the 1920s through his vibrant portraits. That period of his career which is classified as surrealist begins in the early 1930s. A crucial factor for Mäkilä’s artistic maturity was the time he spent studying in Paris from 1930 to 1931 and several trips made elsewhere in Europe. The Second World War, in which Mäkilä participated in the capacity of a clerk and a messenger, took death and anxiety from a conceptual level to everyday reality. War experiences in Mäkilä’s work from the 1940s are rendered in a reduced and aestheticised, yet candid form. Ceaselessly searching for new things and challenging his own ideas, Mäkilä’s art took yet another new turn in the 1950s, interpreting the clash between man and the modernising society in the so-called ‘machine compositions’. Mäkilä dies in 1955 in the middle of a bold, innovative period, his career ending in a grand finale of completely abstract works.

Otto Mäkilä contributed both directly, through his art, and indirectly to the fact that Turku is to this day known as a city of visual art. The term ‘Turku School’ refers not only to the Turku Art School, but also to the distinctive brand of modernism whose main proponents were Edwin Lydén and Otto Mäkilä. Although the foundation for modernism in Turku was laid by Lydén, it was Mäkilä’s works that gave it a visible form which attracted attention both in Finland and internationally.

Turun taidemuseo, Aurakatu 26, 20100 Turku, Puh. 02 2627 100. © 2019