Tõnis Laanemaa – graphic artist and painter
The group of young artists called ANK-64 bears a resemblance to EKR (Group of Estonian Artists), and was also established in the modernism-keen decade. It lasted, despite the different individual traits of its members, for quite some time, gradually becoming a legend. It was not possible to register such a group in the 1960s, nor did it have a constitution, but the members were united in a certain closeness of aesthetic ideals. Compared to the previous generation, the ANK members, with their strikingly individual style and associative symbols-images, came closer to contemporary international art. The dominant trend in the latter was pop art, which expressed the mentality of urbanism, mass culture and the consumer era in a language influenced by advertising, comic strips, and the tabloid media. It was also affected by the radical manifestations of the early decades of the 20th namely collage and assemblage. Pop art had taken root in a different society from which young Estonian artists developed. Features typical of a Western society and way of life were only beginning to turn up here, and the postmodernist eclecticism and social context of pop art aesthetics became more comprehensible a bit later, which was reflected in the work of the group SOUP-69. The ANK-like reception of pop art was essentially aesthetic; searching for style was also influenced by the legacy of the past, namely Art Nouveau and rediscovering symbolism of the time, which blended with impulses received from the barely half-a-century-old surrealism as a reactivated modernist trend. Constructing your own “aesthetic universe”, as Elnara Taidre described the work of Tõnis Vint, characterised other ANK members as well. Tõnis Laanemaa also aspired towards this, although he was not as focused as some other young graphic artists. He studied graphic art at the State Art Institute from 1961 to 1966. His graduate work was a series of tourism posters. As early as in 1961 he was elected as Chairman of the Student Research Society. A year later he was replaced by Tõnis Vint. Through the Society, Laanemaa initiated student exhibitions in the Tartu University café and Tõravere Observatory. The student display in 1964 was the first of his numerous later exhibitions. The first individual exhibition at the Tallinn Art Salon took place in 1970, after which he was admitted to the Estonian Artists’ Association. He could be compared with the graphic artist Vello Vinn who did not belong to the ANK group. Both used the novel technique of etching in relief printing: Vinn – white lines against a black background (Crab, Cat), Laanemaa – red lines against a black or brown background (Spiral I-II). Vinn’s works displayed clarity of detail and rigid symmetry of composition that characterised his later style as well. These were in a tense relationship with the gloomy, ominous and anxiety-inducing emotional impact of his symbols. In Laanemaa’s etchings, the associative undercurrent could be perceived much more weakly, the emotional content was more on the surface, expressed directly via a dynamic confusion of lines where details tended to dissolve. This approach, that largely ignored details, was influenced by a wave of abstract work in Estonian art in the second half of the 1960s and early 1970s. The artist presented similar works (Flight, Youth, Archers, all 1971) also at the 2nd produced one of his most successful posters for that exhibition.
The posters he displayed at his exhibition in 1975, clearly show the artist’s skill in the field that however remained secondary in his overall work. The relief print etchings he presented at the 3rd Two Clouds, 1974) reflected the increasing general interest in the surrounding reality in its specificity, or to be more precise – in urbanising milieux, mainly expressed by the generation of young artists who followed ANK. In rapidly changing contemporary art, generations follow one another after much shorter intervals than is normally estimated in human life.
In Laanemaa’s case too, it mattered that he was a few years older than the other ANK members, as he studied at the Tartu Art School between 1952 and 1957 where he acquired some home truths about composition. The latter did not make him exceptional in ANK: there were, after all, compositions of Jüri Arrak or Enno Ootsing in the 1970s (born in 1936 and 1940, respectively). Against the general image of ANK, Laanemaa’s “social sensitivity” stood out, a fact also mentioned by Riin Kübarsepp (Riin Kübarsepp, Anne Untera. Tõnis Laanemaa. Tallinn 2009). Besides the etching Wheels depicting rolling car wheels and the sheet To the Country showing parachutists, mention should be made of works by other young artists of the time tackling rather similar topics: Tiit Pääsuke’s painting In the Forest with a Car (1973), Kaisa Puustak’s sheets Flight and Railway with a Cloud (1974) in vernis mou-aquatint technique.
Tallinn Print Triennial. He Triennial (Wheels, To the Country, Between In the 1970s, artists aspired for photographic impression not only in traditional techniques, but photographs were used more directly as well. Laanemaa, too, was taken with this trend. Photo etching At the Dog Show (1976) secured him – together with etchings Race and Clouds – a purchase award at the 4th and the graphic artists really made an effort for these forums in their specialty. Laanemaa took part in the 5th Artists and a Super-excavator (1977). His enthusiasm for experimenting faded in the 1980s, and he produced works in line etching with more modest ambitions, such as Dance Party on St John’s Eve (1983) based on linear rhythms), Sunday on Horses (1983), Organ Concert in St Nicholas Church on 25 August 1991 (1991) and views of Tallinn.
Earlier, Tõnis Laanemaa had already begun cultivating vedutas. Some of his etchings resembling old vedutas became very popular, such as View of Tallinn with St Olaf’s Church and View of Tallinn with St Nicholas Church (1972), which were also displayed at exhibitions of Estonian graphic art abroad. Urban views were much in demand and to some extent this is still the case today. After graduating from the Art Institute, Laanemaa worked as a designer at the workshop called Ars and the Directory of Leisure Parks. In 1992 he became a freelance artist and had to adapt to the new requirements, as traditional vedutas are no longer much cultivated. This inspired him to display his urban views in the Helleman Tower in Tallinn in 2009. In the new century he has been actively exhibiting all across Estonia, involving his students at his drawing and painting studio. Selections of works often depend on the venue. For example at the exhibition in the Narva Museum’s Art Gallery in 2008 he presented large-format sheets about nature in eastern Virumaa county (Here, on the Northern Coast, The Valaste Fir, 2004, drypoint, relief print), and photo prints of the Kreenholm factory (Old Kreenholm Factory, 2007).The latter are the most successful he has done in the increasingly popular technique. On the occasion of his 70th displayed both gravures and drawings at the National Library. Besides teaching at his drawing and painting studio, he draws a lot, especially nudes. The current vigorous expressive manner of drawing brings to mind the earlier drawings from his ANK-period; like with many older artists, he can also be characterised by un retour à la jeunesse – a return to youth. Laanemaa is very fond of French and even writes poems in that language. In June 2012, together with Küllike Pihlap, he organised an exhibition of photographic prints in Triennial in 1977. The triennials had a stimulating impact triennial as well, with two outstanding etchings, Architecture (1980) and Alatskivi Castle titled Estonian and French Castles, thus marking his 75th “A return to youth” is also expressed in recent frequent displays of his paintings. After all, the artist studied painting at the Tartu Art School and showed one painting – Clouds – at his first personal exhibition. The main motif running through his newer paintings (series Timespace, and others) is the female nude, depicted in a poster-like manner, in intensive basic colours. Paintings, just like drawings, reflect the impact of Neo-expressionism and Neo-pop, demonstrating the artist’s ability to welcome modern trends, just as he did in the period of ANK.