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Photographer Heikki Rissanen

Reidar Särestöniemi

"I make these pictures, and I hope that they give people something better. In them I tell, like the artists used to say, about the world we have here. I think this Lapland is a region where people fight for their own lives and souls. "


Reidar Särestöniemi (1925–1981) is one of the most famous Finnish artists and the most important Lappish artist of his time. He was born as the youngest child to Alma and Matti Kaukonen, later Särestöniemi, in the Kaukonen village of Kittilä, a family of seven children. Särestöniemi began his art studies in 1947 as a private student of the artist Aale Hakava and the following year became a student at the Finnish Academy of Arts (1948-1952). He continued his art studies in Leningrad at the Ilya Repin Institute from 1956 to 1959. Särestöniemi's career as an artist took off in 1959 and 1960 with the first solo exhibitions held in Helsinki.

After his studies, Särestöniemi decided to settle on his homestead in Särestö, where he lived and worked in the old cheery of his childhood home. He built his first studio home in 1965. Different periods can be distinguished in Särestöniemi's production: the paintings and graphics of the 1950s differ from his best-known works, the large and colorful oil paintings of the 1960s and 1970s. His works show influences from the big names of European modernism to Russian art and prehistoric cave paintings. However, the most important source of inspiration was the northern arctic nature and the people with their stories. In Särestöniemi's paintings, spring flowers bloom wildly, the summer night's "never-setting" sun glows red and hoarfrost glistens in the winter day, or mustached bears and lynxes embrace each other and seals in love rest on the shore of the Arctic Ocean. Särestöniemi said that he studies nature but at the same time looks deep into himself. Often the animal figures depicted him himself. Colors are the most important element of Särestöniemi's work. He experimented with colors and explored the possibilities they offered throughout his career as an artist. 

In its time, Särestöniemi stirred up discussion both with its art and its colorful personality. The press characterized him as the Picasso of the North and the prince of colors. President Urho Kekkonen awarded Särestöniemi the title of professor in 1974. Reidar Särestöniemi died on 27 May 1981 at only 56 years old. 

Art historian Juha Ilvas evaluates Särestöniemi's influence on contemporary art: "In the ever-changing field of contemporary art, many of Reidar Särestöniemi's artistic solutions have only become common after his death. What shocked at one time is accepted today, what seemed like a curiosity yesterday can represent the mainstream of art today."

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