Andy Behlen: Artist from Finland calls Schulenburg home during winter months, s. 1

Picture by Andy Behlen, text under picture: “Inka-Maaria Jurvanen displays an unfinished piece of artwork from a three-part collection she calls History as a Concept. Jurvanen enjoys the winter sunlight available here versus her native Finland. She will stay in Schulenburg until the spring.”

“The sun shines only about six hours a day in south Finland this time of year, even less farther north. After it rises, the light that makes it through the cloudy Nordic skies casts only a dull, grey blanket over the landscape.
To escape this inconvenient geography, Inka-Maaria Jurvanen, an artist from Helsinki, Finland, has wintered in Schulenburg for the last two years. The Sticker interviewed Jurvanen last Friday at her temporary studio.

“They say everything is bigger in Texas,” she said. “But the sky is huge here. It just goes on and on. I know it’s the same sky in Finland, but here it doesn’t feel like that. It goes on and on here, and all around you. The blue color and the wildflowers – it’s just amazing. I can sit in the yard and look at it for hours.”

Jurvanen draws with pencil on plywood. She uses grain in the plywood to add texture. She only occasionally uses color; when she does, it is only a splash or two, usually earth tones.
“Colors and painting aren’t my thing,” she said. “Light and shadow are what I’m interested in. It took me a long time to figure out how to use pencil the way that it makes sense to me. I’m, of course, not the first person to draw on plywood. It gives the drawing depth and tone. The structure of wood is really organic. It’s really different than if you draw on paper.”

Some of Jurvanen’s drawings are quite large. One such piece is named “Kastamaton,” which means “unbaptized” or “unchristened” in Finnish. The drawing covers some eight feet by six feet. It incorporates 35 smaller slabs of plywood, each one a drawing in itself. The wood in each panel has a slightly different tone and grain that renders a cubist effect to the overall image.
“For us as humans, we feel the need to define things and put them in their places,” she said. “The way it seems to me, these things don’t really stay in the places where we put them. There’s a never-ending conflict between us and the world. So the boxes that I use symbolize the way we want to think or how we wish the world was.”
Each of the boxes contains its own image – a farmhouse, a pine tree, a man standing on a rock, a light fixture hanging from a ceiling. There is nothing extraordinarily strange or illogical about any one of the individual images. But when assembled together, the pieces create a surrealistic landscape.
The man on the rock casts a shadow to the left while the farmhouse casts a shadow to the right. Upon close inspection, the shadow of the farmhouse appears to have a chimney puffing smoke, but there is no chimney on the farmhouse itself. The hanging light fixture sits above a three in the sky attached to nothing.

The world does not always turn out to be the way we expect it. Some parts of it might make sense, but the big picture rarely does. Jurvanen expresses this outlook in her art.
“I combine things that really don’t fit together,” she said. “There’s something familiar in them but there’s also something you don’t understand. The question I’m trying to portray is, ‘How do you deal with the fact that you don’t know what that is?’ Can you leave it be and have no need to define it, or does it haunt you until you make a word for it or put it in some box.”

In much of her work, part of the picture is in focus while the rest is somewhat hazy and obscure. Her pencil and plywood drawings appear at times like a wide aperture photograph. This technique expresses another part of her worldview:
“You can’t see the whole picture all at once, “ she said. “You have to go around it. It comes alive in some way. You can’t define the whole thing.”

It goes without saying that Jurvanen’s drawings have a nonsensical quality. But for her, talking about art is even more nonsensical.
“When you apply for art exhibitions in Finland, you have to write down something about your art,” she explained. “But for me, that’s really difficult. It creates a lot of this nonsense art-talk. It just goes around the subject. It doesn’t get to the point. It’d be better if we just stick to the pictures and let someone else write about it if they want to.”

The rules of logical discourse don’t apply to Jurvanen’s art. On the one hand, Jurvanen claims that writing about art leads to nonsense art-talk. On the other, she explains that each drawing begins with writing.
A stack of multi-colored pocket notebooks lie strewn across a table in her makeshift winter studio in Schulenburg. Each one contains throngs of Finnish text lining the pages. Diagrams and sketches fill up the margins.
“It’s a two-way street,” she said. “Before I start drawing, I write and read a lot. I write this mass of words and text. From that, somehow the sketch emerges, and then I draw.”

While she is in town, Jurvanen is working on a three-piece drawing project she calls “History as a Concept.”
“What I’m trying to think about is, What is history?” she said. What makes history in the big scale, and that compared to my own history, which is basically memory. This leads to questions like, ‘Do I remember anything correctly? Am I the same person now that I was 20 years ago?”
If she finishes it, she hopes to show the project at an exhibition somewhere in Schulenburg before leaving town in the spring.

Jurvanen said she appreciates people’s friendliness in Schulenburg. She sometimes walks down Kessler Avenue to the Schulenburg Public Library. More than once along the way, she said, drivers have stopped to ask if she needs a ride.
“In Europe they say that Americans’ friendliness is inauthentic,” she said. “But I don’t think so. I think the people here are genuinely friendly.”

Since coming to Texas, she has become infatuated with an unlikely bird.
“One thing that’s really incredible is the buzzards,” she said. “I know people don’t like them because they do what they do. But for me they are just so elegant in the way they fly. They are so big! We don’t have those kinds of big birds in Finland.”

To see Jurvanen’s work, visit her website at Click on the links below the “Gallery” menu to view the pictures. Much of the site is written in Finnish, but Jurvanen might prefer visitors who can’t read the descriptions.

“You should leave them alone and not try to explain them through and through,” she says of her drawings.
Just stick to the pictures.”