The Henna and Pertti Niemistö Art Foundation’s annual art award, the ARS FENNICA prize, was awarded in March 1998 to the painter Peter Frie (b. 1947). Frie, who lives in Southern Sweden, was chosen from a list of nine Nordic artists. The selection was made by the Director of Collections at London’s Tate Gallery, Jeremy Lewison. He has also written an essay for the catalogue published to accompany the exhibition.
The exhibition tour, which opened at Pori Art Museum on October 11, is the first broad survey of Peter Frie’s work to be shown in Finland or elsewhere. In his prize exhibition, Peter Frie is showing some completely new works, including landscapes painted in Finland last summer. Of his earlier works, we can see a selection of Norwegian landscapes from 1997 and some landscapes painted in Holland in 1995.
Peter Frie’s paintings are rooted in the long tradition of landscape painting, and especially in the way of depicting the landscape as a powerfully charged mood. The paintings manifest a powerful sense of place, but they are also have a metaphorical dimension, so that any overly explicit link with a certain place tends to become blurred. Frie does not reproduce views, but paints memories. “I do not paint landscapes in themselves, but project my own states of mind onto them: I depict a landscape that I would like to inhabit at the time the work is created,” Frie says.
Peter Frie frequently arranges his painted theme so that it is part of a white painted ground, leaving this ’empty’ space to act as a balancing factor that emphasises the landscape theme. “The large white areas flanking the depicted image permit a sense of expansion, like a screen behind which a continuation of the landscape will be revealed. They also have the capacity to concentrate the image, to intensify the spectator’s scrutiny and his emotional response”, is how Jeremy Lewison describes them in his essay.
The Director of collections of the Tate Gallery, Jeremy Lewison, who selected the award winner, made the following statement on his choice:
Judging the Ars Fennica prize has been both rewarding and taxing. Inheriting a shortlist of artists is potentially risky since the jurors could not have anticipated my interests. Furthermore, visiting the nine shortlisted artists has meant travelling to Reykjavik, Oslo Copenhagen, Helsingborg, Stockholm, Helsinki, Berlin, Turin and Pisa — an exhausting itinerary over a period of six weeks! I have found the experience fascinating and have come into contact with nine artists who have been welcoming and informative about their work. During the course of these visits I have also taken the time to try to inform myself, where possible, about the Scandinavian art scene in general, which has provided me with a context in which to judge the shortlisted artists. It seems clear to me that there is little that can be described as Scandinavian art as such; rather that artists in Scandinavia, as anywhere else, work in distinctively different ways which have little to do with nationality but sometimes quite a lot to do with locality. It is perhaps this which makes each one so distinct from the other and which makes it so difficult to choose a winner.
A decision has to be made, however, and I have decided to award the prize to Peter Frie. Working in the long established tradition of landscape painting, acknowledging his forebears Turner, Constable and Munch, Frie’s paintings are at once intimate and grand. His decision to insert the depicted landscape into a field of white paint disrupts the conventional reading of the genre as a window on the world and has a physiological effect upon the viewer. The bordering white canvases concentrate the image as well as allowing it to expand infinitely laterally. The landscape is transformed from a window into a gateway as the viewer is encouraged metaphorically to project his body into the painting. Viewing becomes a physical experience.
These are more than landscape paintings, however, for they express a strong sense of loss and mourning. Above all, they offer the viewer a distinctive and affective experience which encourages contemplation and inward reflection.