Past plans and future memories
Jenny Grönholm has either had long or very short gaps between displaying her works at exhibitions; regularity doesn’t seem to suit her. Her paintings too would seem undisciplined, headstrong and a little wild, if this overall impression wouldn’t be mitigated by the all-encompassing fluidity of their backgrounds where her characters both emerge from and disappear to. This exhibition, held a little over four years after Jenny’s graduation from the academy of arts, would allow her to be seen as a young emerging creator, yet her determined choice of artistic path from very early on has contradicted this. In her attitudes and decisions, Jenny has been an artist for quite a long time already.
Years of formation
Jenny Grönholm studied art at Helsinki Art High School, Västra Nylands Finland-Swedish Folk High School, then briefly in Suomenlinna, followed by the University for the Creative Arts in Canterbury… These were mostly a variety of short-term courses, which included ceramics, jewellery and performance art in addition to visual arts… When she arrived in Tallinn in 2011 as an Erasmus exchange student, she initially studied printmaking, followed by sculpture and installation. In parallel to school assignments, she consistently kept painting. She has said about Canterbury, where she started her bachelor’s project: “I didn’t like that I couldn’t be alone in the studio there.” On the other hand, the atmosphere in the Tallinn Knighthood House as well as in the sculpture workshop in Raja Street, which is reminiscent of a forge without the flaming heat, suited her very well.
“I got into the Estonian Academy of Arts almost by accident and I made the decision to come here on an impulse. The direction of my life has changed many times due to my impulsiveness, and the same principle also applies to my work. I don’t have a specific medium; I did study at the printmaking department, but I feel that one medium is not enough,”1 https://www.artun.ee/app/uploads/2017/10/JennyGro%CC%88nholm_graafika-1.pdf Jenny wrote in 2015, formulating her position as an artist.
Testing and experiments were an inherent part of her study years. Jenny too experimented, making prints of face masks and garments, experimenting with shaping poetry into images, and also dabbling in installation and film. School included a requirement – and still does – to verbally explain your artistic work, producing more or less coherent texts, which most artists have found very useful in their further artistic life. Jenny, however, doesn’t like putting things in words. In fact, her 2015 portfolio I found online is the only place where she consistently provides explanations for her work. However, she does occasionally describe events that relate to real life – sometimes imagined, sometimes actual occurrences – when introducing her later exhibitions in word.
In general, Jenny is a thoroughly traditional painter who, once having decided in favour of painting, does not tend to expand its territory in any way2 “It’s like the whole world is built for those who are good readers. Being dyslexic, I wanted to create a small world without words,” Jenny says about her works at the youth exhibition accompanying the 2014 Tallinn Print Triennial, Literacy – Illiteracy. See previous footnote., and whose “beautiful sad stories”3 A reference to the mixed media series Beautiful Sad Stories completed in the same year (2014); https://www.artun.ee/app/uploads/2017/10/JennyGro%CC%88nholm_graafika-1.pdf. are as sad as they are self-indulgent. Connections borne from emotional memory and visionary associations guide Jenny’s art-making even when their initial impulse comes from an experience received from outside.
During her studies, Jenny belonged to various circles of friends whose joint exhibitions were characterised by a rather likeable generational anonymity. The aim of their often seemingly random appearances in front of a wider audience was to highlight the common ground due to living in the same time, bringing together the observed situation and the constantly changing artistic media in a fleeting moment in time determined by the context. Jenny does not conceptualise the role art should play in her life or in life in general, because why dissect the self-evident?
The most recent joint exhibition of schoolmates Eva Mustonen, Jenny Grönholm and Madlen Hirtentreu, Idiots, was held at Hobusepea Gallery in 2019, two years after Jenny’s solo exhibition Shipwreck. Idiots wittily and aptly summed up the common concerns of “these women”: “They were stuck in the same tangle, a lifelong mess. Because for some reason they had become artists and now there was no relief for the situation. Completely independently, with their own hands, they had separated creation from the rest of the world. /…/ Attempts to combine everyday life with the creative process take on ever more tragicomical dimensions. All three artists seem to struggle with normal functioning.”4 https://www.eaa.ee/idioodid-hobusepea-galeriis
Indeed, the tangled relationship between life and art seems to be the source of troubles for all three of them – an inevitability difficult to escape. Life taking over and its waves crashing above your head when there is no meaningful balance seems like a widely shared predetermination that also dictates attention and relationships. For example, Jenny’s artistic preferences and influences do not outweigh the positive human aspects of her professors and friends. In her reminiscences of her favourite professors, Marko Mäetamm and Valeri Vinogradov, she does not mention their art. However, her small, lushly textured paintings made to try her hand and born from the sheer pleasure of surface treatment, are very much comparable to Vinogradov’s more refined approach to painted surfaces. If we were to look for possible examples from her time at the Academy of Arts, we can easily see parallels to the slightly esoteric triumphal cosmicity of Jaan Toomik’s paintings, although the associations in Jenny’s works always stem from everyday life and also return to it, as unexpected as they may seem.
Becoming a painter
Artistic influences and generational aspects aside, Jenny Grönholm’s master’s project of 12 paintings when graduating from the sculpture and installation department left no room for doubt about what was to come next. With her decision to become a painter, she had once and for all ventured out from the protective wing of the comrade-like collective of her teachers and fellow students and taken a solitary path.
Alongside her commitments in life, she has put together three solo exhibition sized displays in the past three years: at Rüki Gallery in Viljandi in 2021, at Huuto Gallery in Helsinki in the summer of 2022 and at Tallinn City Gallery in early 2023. The fact that the solo exhibitions of the very serious, essentially self-taught painter are on thin ice is a good sign, rather than anything else. The subjects she deals with are varied, seemingly following random trains of thought; strong works alternate with weaker ones. For an outsider, the paintings that make up Jenny’s exhibition mosaic are most strongly united by their atmosphere and muted, predominantly brownish colours – something called the “studio sauce” by artists who turned to open-air painting in the 19th century.
Jenny’s paintings do not emit light, but rather an enchanting glow, an inviting earthy dimness that balances the images born from the artist’s introspection and the real world that connects with it. Forming an all-encompassing background, it is quite untextured, formed by the converging or diverging movement of brush strokes. Characters emerge from the background and return to it. In the dimness of the studio, rather than the changing light, Jenny deals with losing and finding herself again, summarising this in our conversation with “I like to be in the painting”.
Jenny’s works do not develop a dialogue with any manifestations of life or art that would go beyond her as an artist and address the world around us. The indeterminacy of time in her background landscapes and figures makes it impossible to compare them with the ever-changing field of art. The progression needed for living life slips into her works that have stood the test of time in their own way: past plans and future memories intertwine and become inseparable in Jenny’s work.
“The remaining items eventually blended in with our own items. The same happens to memories. They get mixed up with each other and, in the end, our minds are filled with obscure, disconnected and often irrelevant haunting situations,” Jenny writes in the accompanying text to her Past Plans5 Jenny Grönholm’s solo exhibition Past Plans at the Huuto Gallery in Helsinki in 2022; https://www.galleriahuuto.fi/jenny-gronholm/?lang=en exhibition. Future Memories promises the same: encounters in the reality of no man’s time.
Where is art going?
The dreamy realism of the subject and depiction style of Jenny’s paintings is unpretentious and traditional, but steers past reality, heading towards eternity. The overlapping images in the artist’s memory are frozen in the time capsule of the painting: perfect, like a photograph emerging from the developing liquid. Associations and imagination set everything in motion again, but not on the impulse of the image, rather from the trains of thought moving freely in the minds of the creator and the viewer.
In her charmingly Finnish way of speaking, Jenny gives me an idea of how her imagination shapes memories and creates associations: “When I moved to Tallinn, back then I could still see stray dogs in the cityscape every day, which was fascinating in a way, but also scared me a little. With the development of the city, they suddenly disappeared. For me, this is a picture looking towards a lost world. However, when I painted it, I actually thought about the time when Jass and I once hopped on the wrong train in Barcelona and got lost in the suburbs in the middle of the night. We found ourselves in wasteland, where homeless people lived, but when I painted the scene, people turned into stray dogs.” That’s how Jenny describes her brilliant painting Pack, completed in 2019.
In a half-turn, recognisable only by his characteristic posture, her partner in life, Jass stands on the foreground. In front of him, deeper in the picture, a pack of dogs is concentrated. Three years later, Jenny captured a picture of herself with a horse representing her best friend, as a counterpart of Pack, in a way. Animals are equal to humans, if not more important, in her hierarchy of figures. In any case, they belong together – emotionally and inseparably.
Jenny mostly depicts people as faceless and anonymous and their houses as robust and simple cuboids, as is characteristic of the rustic pragmatism of the North that avoids embellishment. The ability to notice the unity of animals, nature and man, the “hands in soil” mentality of a farmer, rather than a noble or sophisticated way of thinking – all this is present in her pictures. Blurring the individual facial features, she brings before us the basic and simple way of being that is characteristic of country people, like an archetype of life that we have forgotten.
There is one thing that seems to be both a source of the suggestiveness of Jenny’s art and an obstacle standing in its way. Looking into the future through memories that have become eternal, it is the artist herself, not the painting, that becomes the medium of her beautiful sad stories. I understand that if it were the other way around, it would be different stories told in a different time. However, I am not sure whether or not it would be even possible to bring a balance between these two differently interpreted media in Jenny Grönholm’s work.