Merja Salonen Di Giorgio is a Finnish painter with interest of traces of
life in cultural environment and also Grand Tour, layers of history. For
the past 20 years she has been working on oil on canvas and mixed media
on paper. She is also known for the environtal pieces in Helsinki: the
Garden and the Piers.
Merja Salonen Di Giorgio on taidemaalari ja kuvataiteilija. Häntä
kiinnostavat historian kerrostumat, ihmisen jättämät jäljet
kulttuuriymopäristössä sekä Grand Tour, suuri historiallinen opintomatka.
Päätekniikoita ovat öljy kankaalle sekä sekatekniikka paperille mutta myös
ympäristöteokset, joita ovat Helsingissä mm. Puutarha ja Laiturit.
Merja Salonen Di Giorgio è un´artista Finlandese laureata nel 1999 dall´
Università d´arte, ora Università Aalto per l´arte, design ed achitettura.
Nel suo lavoro artistico, lei è ispirata delle tracce della storia nel
ambiente, strati della storia e anche il Grand Tour. Le tecniche
principali usati sono olio su tela e technica mista sulla carta.
È nota anche per alcune opere su commissione a Helsinki;
Il Giardino e Il Molo.
Head of Exhibitions, National Museum of Finland in Helsinki, Finland
Artist Merja Salonen Di Giorgio was born in Tampere in 1973. She visited Italy for the first time in 1998 as part of her studies for her thesis, entitled: Helsinki in Florence and Florence in Helsinki, at The University of Art and Design. Salonen Di Giorgio´s project involved photographing fragments of walls in both Florence and Helsinki and then transferring the pictures from one city onto the bus stops and billboards of the other city. This project would influence the direction of Salonen Di Giorgio´s artistic career in a variety of different ways. Italy would become like a second home for the artist and the country´s landscape and culture would emerge as a recurring theme in her work. Similarly, the fragments of the city walls with their rugged, yet picturesque, patinated layers enclose encoded ´secret signs` of lived history and these ideas are repeated over and over again in her work. The ancient Romans had the concept of genius loci, meaning the ´spirit of place`, in that every location has its own individual spirit inherent in the nature of the atmosphere. To enable the viewer to experience this genius loci, Salonen Di Giorgio has empathetically replicated the same environmental atmosphere in her work. In her project Helsinki in Florence and Florence in Helsinki Salonen Di Giorgio explores the possibility as to whether a part of this genius loci could be transferred from one city to another and how her chosen medium of photographic fragments would impact on this transference. Salonen Di Giorgio has experimented with the idea of disconnected fragments of place in her piece The Pier, which is located in the Arabianranta district in Helsinki. The Pier (1.5x18m) is constructed from concrete and its dipping troughs and peaks combined with a roughened surface are reminiscent of a section of wave etched sand, torn from a beach. Salonen Di Giorgio´s other public art work Garden, located at the peristyle of the Radisson Blu Plaza hotel (Mikonkatu 23, Helsinki), again contains impressions from Italy. Salonen Di Giorgio wanted to recreate the same kind of feelings of astonishment that may have been felt in ancient Greece or Rome or even felt in modern-day Florence when, after the dust of the streets, one enters the oases of verdant, flowering inner courtyards laden with fruit trees. Salonen Di Giorgio´s concept was to bring organic forms and bright colours into the space to create a three-dimensional painting of which it would be difficult to say where it begins and where it will end. The starting point for the work is the vine sorrel plant (Cisuss trifoliata) that Salonen Di Giorgio has purified and modified into her own unique expression of “webbed aquatic feet” and which also features in her abstract works of art. In the piece, located in the courtyard of the hotel, the copper leaves glow against a background of ultramarine and the flaky gold aluminum leaves are juxtaposed against a brick wall. The brick wall itself has an unusually layered surface, from which it is possible to distinguish the scars left over from the removal of the building that used to be right next to it. Landscapes are often the subject of Salonen Di Giorgio´s paintings. These landscapes never contain people or animals; whilst a type of `emptiness´ and timelessness hovers in the atmosphere of these works. Nothing happens in these worlds. In Salonen Di Giorgio´s own words, ‘A painting is both a contained presence, a mark left by a moment in time, and a window’. In the manner of the Impressionists Salonen Di Giorgio attempts to capture a fleeting moment´s atmosphere in these paused moments in time – the cool shadows created by the trees in front of an Italian palace at noon on a hot summer´s day or archaeological ruins in a park, baking in the heat of the sun. These moments have been captured, committed to memory and will never return unchanged. A painting is a window into another world that lives only in the memory. In the series of oil paintings entitled Strange Paradise Salonen Di Giorgio makes a journey back in time to a past world, whose ruins have remained to serve as a mark on the memory. Individual paintings in the series include Grand Tour and Time Travel, among others. Grand Tour is a reference to the study tours undertaken by the British upper classes from the 1600´s to the 1800´s in mainland Europe. The purpose of these journeys was to expand the world view of the younger generation and provide the finishing touches to their level of sophistication and manners. These journeys could last for many years and the most popular Grand Tour destinations were Paris, Venice, Florence, Rome and Naples. In Naples they would visit Pompeii and the archaeological excavations of Herculaneum. During these journeys many of the travelers would buy paintings as souvenirs and landscapes were especially popular. Salonen Di Giorgio has chosen both Pompeii and Selinunte as her destinations in her Strange Paradise series. The first excavations to uncover the lost art treasures of Pompeii began in the 18th century. These excavations revealed one of the largest collections of Roman wall frescos and these styles of painting are now referred to as Pompeian styles, primarily due to these finds. Salonen Di Giorgio favours the so called third Pompeian style of ´ornamental fresco` (c. 27 BC – 40/50 AD). The most typical features of this style include the exact symmetry of the wall and the division both horizontally and vertically into monochrome fields which may or may not contain a small, near miniature central picture. Salonen Di Giorgio´s smallest central landscape records a perpetual summer – the heat of the south. The empty landscapes of ruins are at the same time both realistic and dreamlike. Salonen Di Giorgio´s views of Pompeii float as small, central images on the monochrome surface, as if a painting is within a painting. Her landscapes create the illusion of deep three dimensional spaces, but this is refuted by the flatness of the canvas surface. The background surface shows the brush strokes and the dimly visible layer of colour underneath which is the `wall surface´. Another of Salonen Di Giorgio´s ´strange paradises` is Selinunte, known as Selinos in ancient times, which is an old archaeologically significant city area, full of temples and pillared ruins on Sicily´s southern coast. Salonen usually depicts the ruins at a time when the sunlight is shimmering in the hot air. Salonen Di Giorgio´s paradises are strange, because they are memories of an alienated time that has not been visited, ‘a lost paradise’. However, rather than depicting a physical place, the artist reaches towards a state of mind. Un palazzo del quale si conoscessero tutte le stanze non era degno di essere abitato. “A house of which one knew every room wasn’t worth living in.” NOTE: from Archibald Colquhoun (trans.) The Leopard (London: Fontana, 1963) Tomasi di Lampedusa, Il Gattopardo, 1958, p. 128.)
Sicily and romantic ruins feature in Salonen Di Giorgio´s other paintings too. Sicilian Tomasi di Lampedusa´s novel Il Gattopardo or The Leopard (published in 1958) has served as an inspirational starting point for part of Salonen Di Giorgio´s series of paintings. The novel is based on the author´s grandfather, a Lampedusa Prince, and his life at the end of the nineteenth century. Salonen Di Giorgio was fascinated by the novel´s description of the Risorgimento period when Italy was unified. The novel is set in an imaginary palace called Salina, close to Palermo. Salonen Di Giorgio´s paintings of the family´s palace, for example Casa del Gattopardo IX, are framed with the volute ornament typical of Ionic columns. In the painting the palace glows pale in the darkness, hiding the family´s secrets and riddles. Trees darkly shade this silent palace but the imagination can conjure up the sound of the garden´s crickets. The building in its antiquity and dereliction is more interesting than in the age when it was new. Its empty rooms, many of which are no longer habitable, leave space for the imagination. As well as repeating the theme of the Ionic volute columns, Salonen Di Giorgio´s paintings also portray two other forms, that of a fan and a circle. The folding fan, seen as a sector of a circle, is displayed sometimes furled and sometimes unfurled. This is representing hidden or revealed romantic views, the landscape of Italy, cloud formations, cracked walls and rose and lemon orchards. The fan series is entitled Epilog, which is a reference to an epilogue or dramatic finale. Salonen Di Giorgio´s Epilog is the end of a story. The passage of the story one can decide for oneself. In Salonen Di Giorgio´s paintings the square of the painted canvas contains a painted circle that resembles the tiny lens of a telescope used for reflecting and capturing the landscape. These landscapes can range from romantic lake scenery to modern-day factory buildings. Leonardo da Vinci advised in his writings entitled Trattato della Pittura (Treatise on Painting) that an artist can develop his ingegno (imagination) by examining cloud formations or stains on the walls. Stains and various forms of symbolic signs are presented in Salonen Di Giorgio´s series Traveller´s stories from The Arabian Nights, where the artist plays with various techniques. Her works of art often have a realistic starting point, such as an onion dome, even though this may transform into an abstract, indicative form. Handmade translucent paper made of a mixture of cotton and linen is used as a base for her work in this series of paintings. The paper´s uneven edges are reminiscent of ancient fragile pieces of papyrus. The works include gold leaf and sand-like surfaces that resemble rough wall surface. Stains, symbols, ornamental fragments and strong colours are like small details plucked from a journey and recorded in the artist´s memory. Salonen Di Giorgio´s exploration of cloud formations are inspired by volcanoes, or images of war from newspapers. Examples of this include the burning tanks of the Libyan war, factory chimneys or the settling dusk of the evening seen from a car window. However, the point is not the realistic event that has created the cloud but the form and colour of the cloud or smoke formation. Even though the painting may have evolved from a tragic event, Salonen Di Giorgio´s rounded brush strokes make the smoke plumes, above all, aesthetically pleasing. The Fortezza series (Fortress) has been achieved by using the medium of sanguine and mixed media. The series has views of Suomenlinna, Sveaborg, immortalised in the drawings of three Swedes: Adolf Erik Geete, Elias Martin and Augustin Ehrensvärd in the 1700´s. Salonen Di Giorgio´s rounded or oval works resemble, both in size and technique, a small sketchbook that may have been carried in the pockets of these artists of the 18th century, for both sketching and making notes. Salonen Di Giorgio´s generously sketched details depict both the buildings and scenery of the fortress. The surface of the paintings looks worn as though they have been dragged and battered, which obscures their true age – are they from today or memories from the past? Salonen Di Giorgio´s paintings are constantly evolving as she experiments with various techniques and themes, though she often returns to the same themes again and again. Her work is influenced by synesthesia, mixed senses. She sees scents and music; a melody or a fragrance is transmitted as a vibration or a sense of atmosphere in her work. Walter Benjamin´s theory of mimesis (imitation), particularly seen in children, is the ability to empathize and adapt to another world, to engage creatively with something or someone. The state of mimesis allows the imagination to work on a fantasy level acting as the conscious and the unconscious, between dream and reality. Fantasy is a way of approaching reality, not escaping it. (Neil Leach, “Walter Benjamin, mimesis and the dreamworld of photography”, pages 30-32. In the work entitled Intersections: Architectural Histories and Critical Theories. By Iain Borden & Jane Rendell. Routledge, 2000.) Creation is analogous with discovery. The artist does not necessarily try to produce new realities, but rather to understand what already exists. Salonen Di Giorgiohas retained a childlike ability to empathize with the subject. She is like an explorer, for all of her paintings are, in a way, a kind of travel story. Travel – imagined or real – is the longing for the unknown, a country and a time that no longer exists.