Juhana Blomstedt, sketch from Minneapolis series, 1972, gouache on paper, 33,5cm x 44,3cm (leaf). Finnish National Gallery /Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Juhana Blomstedt’s Art and Thought 1970–80

‘I always return equally humbly to the same: To give form, alright, but to what?’[1]


Emmi Halmesvirta, MA student, University of Helsinki

This article is published as a result of a three-month research internship at the Finnish National Gallery


My painting deals with astronomy, history, psychology, politics, culinary art, anatomy, obsessions, warfare, reproduction, erotica, gravity, diving, whirls, bobbins, velocities, atmosphere, animal and plant kingdoms, minerals, statistics, aesthetics, mathematics etc. phenomena and with such things. If my painting cannot convey my personal ‘pathos’, my sense of reality, I have failed.[2]

With this note from 1974 I want to start my endeavour to reveal how the artist Juhana Blomstedt’s (1937–2010) thinking has formed the core of my research during the internship period at the Finnish National Gallery. Blomstedt’s career spanned many decades from the late 1950s[3] until the 2000s. In this article I specifically focus on one decade in his career – the 1970s. I chose the 70s in order to study his development as an artist and thinker at an early and pivotal stage in his career. He had had his true artistic breakthrough in 1966.[4] Moreover, I wanted to study his use of the grid, which I knew he had experimented with, but how and to what purposes I had no idea. Curiously, in the 70s Blomstedt seems to have occupied an interface between a promising young artist and a mature artist, one who had grounded his place in artistic circles. This impression came to me via newspaper articles from 1973, as he was, on two separate occasions in that year, considered part of both the younger and the older generation of abstractionists.[5] This led me to think that this artist and his art are not easily categorised or defined, and this complexity is something I was interested in exploring further.

This article will explore the ways in which Juhana Blomstedt developed or changed his thinking during the 1970s and in order to do that it is necessary to consider his many occupations. Blomstedt was not only an artist, but also a professor, a theorist and writer. As a writer he was industrious, expressing his ideas concerning art, art theory and philosophy among other topics. From his abundant writings, letters and notes, it is clear that his manner of writing varied depending on the purpose and the audience for whom they were intended. His personal notebooks contain a blend of diary-like personal entries and art theory. As an artist Blomstedt worked full-time, taking on commissions for public works, collaborating with the prestigious Galerie Daniel Gervis in Paris from 1970 onwards[6], as well as participating in solo and group exhibitions in Finland and beyond. He also held a position as a visiting fine arts professor in the United States in 1971 and for a year taught at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. This was an opportunity which had opened up for Blomstedt thanks to his collaboration with Daniel Gervis.[7]

[1] ‘Yhtä nöyrästi palaan aina samaan: Antaa muoto, OK mutta mille? […].’ Juhana Blomstedt’s notebook, entry likely in January 1980. 6/3. Juhana Blomstedt Archive (JBA). Archive Collections (AC), Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki (FNG). The numbers before JBA refer to the numbers of the notebooks and files. All translations in this article are by the author.

[2] ‘Maalaukseni on tekemisissä astronomian, historian, psykologian, politiikan, keittiötaidon, anatomian, obsessioiden, sodankäynnin, lisääntymisen, erotiikan, painovoiman, sukeltamisen, hyrrien, kelojen, nopeuksien, atmosfäärin, eläin- ja kasvikunnan, mineraalien, statistiikan, estetiikan, matematiikan ym ilmiöiden ja asioiden kanssa. Ellei maalaukseni pysty välittämään persoonallista “paatostani”, todellisuudentunnettani, olen epäonnistunut.’ Juhana Blomstedt’s notebook, 8 July 1974. 5/3. JBA. AC, FNG.

[3] The curtain for the hall of the Finnish Adult Education Centre in Helsinki, from 1958, can be considered his first major commission.

[4] Ville Lukkarinen. ‘Juhana Blomstedt’, in Rakel Kallio, Veikko Kallio, Saara Salin & Helena Sederholm (eds.), Pinx. Maalaustaide Suomessa: Siveltimen vetoja. Porvoo: Weilin + Göös, 2003, (132–35) 133.

[5] During the same year, in 1973, he was called in two different exhibition reviews in one of them ‘our international constructivist representing the younger generation’, and then in the other ‘a constructivist of the older generation’. See Raimo Viitala. ‘Rakenteellista taidetta, taiteen rakenteellisuutta’, Tyrvään Sanomat, 24 February 1973 and Raimo Reinikainen. ‘Merkintöjä kuvataiteesta’, Kansan Uutiset, 11 February 1973.

[6] In 1970 Juhana Blomstedt had his first solo exhibition at the Daniel Gervis gallery, which kickstarted a long-lasting collaboration. See Timo Valjakka. ‘Elämäkerrallisia tietoja’ (Biography), in Timo Valjakka (ed.), Juhana Blomstedt. Helsinki: WSOY, 2007, (103–15) 106.

[7] Imy Douillard. ‘Elämää muovikuutiossa’, Eeva 2/1973.

Featured image: Juhana Blomstedt, sketch for Minneapolis series, 1972, gouache on paper, 33,5cm x 44,3cm (leaf). Finnish National Gallery /Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

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