Efraim Allsalu. The Joy and Poetry of Life in Tough Times
Efraim Allsalu has been immortalised in Estonian art history thanks to his abundant oeuvre and unique form of expression. Allsalu was initially recognised for his great skill in depicting people; his picturesque experiments with light, colour and surface textures started to be praised by contemporary critics only in later years. His personal technique is characterised by sensitive use of colours and the uneven surface of the underpainting, which was achieved by dropping paint on it. The paintings are mostly full of joy; however, one can also find elements of irony and surrealism in them.
Even though the heyday of Allsalu’s work was from the 1960s to the 1980s – the period during which public attitudes were imbued with Soviet propaganda and free creative thinking was frowned upon – his works clearly show that he was a truly talented artist. Even in the case of works that deal with the topic of labour in a key typical of the era, we can sense the artist’s warm attitude towards the characters going about their business at a construction site or factory, and find wry humour inserted into the paintings (e.g. “Working People” 1967 and “Young People” 1968). In the pieces “Red Crane” (1967) and “Chess – the Royal Game” (1977), we witness Allsalu’s mastery of generalisation and the usage of symbolic images.
A noteworthy chapter in Allsalu’s oeuvre is comprised of expressive and unique character portraits of contemporary great minds. Living and working in the university town of Tartu, with its active culture and science scene, was a favourable environment for the formation of professional contacts and friendships. Authors, artists, actors, scientists and many other companions opened up to Allsalu as colourful personalities in the course of their long discussions. The paintings record such legendary Estonian cultural activists as the linguist Villem Ernits, the writer Aira Kaal, the actor Jaan Kiho, the artist Elmar Kits, the actor Leonhard Merzin, the actor and singer Helend Peep, and the actor Lembit Saarts.
In contrast to his visually forceful thematic paintings and portraits, Allsalu also created sensitive floral paintings and contemplative still lifes.
This exhibition continues the tradition of the Adamson-Eric Museum of introducing noteworthy Estonian artists from the 20th century, and is one of the largest overviews of the best works of Efraim Allsalu’s oeuvre in several decades.
The visuals of the exhibition are available in the digital collection of the Art Museum of Estonia.
Exhibition curator: Ülle Kruus
Exhibition design and graphic design: Inga Heamägi
Curator of the public and educational programmes: Liis Kibuspuu
Exhibition technician: Uve Untera
Conservators (works of art in the collection of the Art Museum of Estonia): Maris Klaas and Jelena Yurieva
The Art Museum of Estonia would like to thank the Tartu Art Museum and the University of Tartu Art Museum for pleasant cooperation
Efraim Allsalu. Working People . 1967. Art Museum of Estonia