“People and other creatures: Jaan Toomik”: interview with Raffaele Quattrone

The staff of Jaan Toomikat the Artra Gallerywith the curatorship of Raphael Quattrone it was one of the most interesting one-man shows in the gallery this season. Central to the artist’s research is the metaphysical and shamanic vision of the world. His work, mostly poetic and autobiographical, focuses on eternal themes such as: religion and spirituality, life and death, the cyclical processes of nature and existence with its limitations. All of Toomik’s work is marked by a strong self-irony, which in this case is traced back to age, power games, man’s selfishness to that “state of nature” which causes conflict between men. We talked about it with the curator Quattrone.

Jaan Toomik, Moonman, 2022. Acrylic on canvas, 150×120cm

Jaan Toomik is one of the most internationally known Estonian artists. His work has been exhibited in Italy on several occasions: the Venice Biennale in 2003, at the Sandretto Re Rebaudengo Foundation (2003 and 2008), “Instant Europe” at Villa Manin and “Progressive Nostalgia” at the Pecci Museum. His artistic activity and research seem to perfectly represent man’s existential and initiatory journey. Want to tell us about it?

I had the great pleasure of meeting Jaan Toomik thanks to the Artra Gallery, a mostly poetic naturalistic and autobiographical work, which focuses on eternal themes such as life and death, religion and spirituality, which link the human body to the processes cyclical in nature. In preparation for this exhibition I collected various material on Toomik and as I read up on his artistic activity this seemed to me a journey that reminded me of Dante’s journey from Hell to Heaven. A journey that represents the journey in the life of every man. An autobiographical journey in which we can recognize ourselves and which leads us to look in our intimacy, in the depths of our soul, in the dark forest in which we are lost and feel alone, in search of a guide, in search of the other.

Jaan Toomik, Father and son, 2022. Acrylic on canvas, 162×145 cm

Can you introduce us how the one-man show was structured?

The exhibition included some paintings, some made especially for the occasion, a sculpture and a series of video works for which Toomik is particularly known. The paintings created for the occasion reflected on climate change: we have an accidental entanglement of flying insects, which if we look at it with different eyes also becomes a scenario of death, where the insects seem squashed on the canvas. The color is a bright yellow which is decorative but attracts attention, it tells us that we must pay attention, that there is something important, that something important is happening to our planet and therefore to us, that we are doing something whose consequences are important for the future of all of us. There is a dramatic decline in insect numbers and diversity. The causes are many, most of human origin, as in the case of the impact of light pollution on fireflies or fertilizers on butterflies, or the advance of urbanization, deforestation and, above all, the change in the use of soils and climate change. Another body of work on display alludes to human selfishness, for which men fight each other to survive. And from Cain and Abel to the current war between Russia and Ukraine the story is endless. In this series made with spray cans that accentuate the expressiveness of the action, the intensity, the passion, the instinct, there are men (the “male power”) who fight among themselves and this fight also becomes “viral” ” thanks to sharing on social media (in one of the paintings a terse man films the scene with a cell phone). Also very particular was the video that can also be linked to this series where the artist is seen fighting with another man, naked in the snow.

Jaan Toomik, Untitled fighters, 2022. Acrylic on canvas, 158×201 cm. Courtesy the artist and Galleria Artra

A work in particular that has impressed visitors (and collectors)?

A work that I have not mentioned before is “Ritual” which depicts a nocturnal act carried out by a sleepy character whose body rises while fulfilling a physiological need. When you reach a certain age, a certain maturity, there are inevitable actions that can no longer be ignored. We are effectively ourselves, with our strengths and weaknesses, we no longer have to conquer anything, we are satisfied and for this reason we have no limits, we no longer want to put something off until tomorrow, we are no longer afraid to really say what we think, to do what we we want and live what would be natural to live as it should be lived, that is, as a ritual. There is a particular irony in all of Toomik’s work which in this case is traced back to age.

Jaan Toomik, Ritual, 2021. Ceramic, plastic, metal, colour, wood. Courtesy the artist and Galleria Artra

How can we as curators support artists, create a more equitable art world and promote social growth within the system?

I have always thought that the curator’s work should be at the service of the artist. It is necessary to take care of relations with the public, collectors and gallery owners, and support their communication. Artists need the curator for these aspects, as the first public, first interlocutor, first comparison and this bond, artist-curator, must be a bond that lasts over time, a lasting bond that does not end after an exhibition. It must be a relationship of mutual trust, of loyalty, if you want of friendship. Whether this then leads to social growth in/of the system I do not know. It’s a vision, if you want romantic, if you want naive, but true of relationships. We need real and concrete relationships in the art world as well as in everyday life.

Jaan Toomik, Flies, 2022. Acrylic on canvas, 80×120 cm. Courtesy the artist and Galleria Artra

“People and other creatures: Jaan Toomik”: interview with Raffaele Quattrone