Exhibition view – Leena Nio, Missing Pieces, Galerie Forsblom | Image courtesy of Gallerie Forsblom

EXHIBITION REVIEW | Leena Nio’s Puzzling New Works

Artist | Leena Nio (b. 1982) graduated from the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts in 2010. The same year, she was awarded the Finnish Art Society’s Ducat Prize. Nio’s work is represented in major Finnish collections including the Sara Hildén Art Museum, Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Saastamoinen Foundation.

Exhibition | LEENA NIO Missing Pieces | Galerie Forsblom | 13 January – 5 February

Images | Courtesy of Galerie Forsblom

Puzzles and arrases – both solitary and time-consuming efforts – are often framed and  hanged on walls as expressions of victory, achievement and constructed aesthetics. Leena Nio’s works in her latest show at Galerie Forsblom bring a remarkable parallel  to this type of endeavor. Missing Pieces shift the viewer’s attention towards what is not there rather than what it is.

Nio plays with the concept of finished vs. unfinished work and what might determine one or the other. As a perfectionist herself, the artist finds it hard to determine the exact point when a painting is complete. She tends to continue and re-touch, try and re-try until she gets it right. For this particular exercise, she used no less than 20 meters of paper until she could fully master the technique that brought her vision to full blossom. Nio finally exhibits her paintings two years after she first started working on the concept.

Her resilience has indeed paid off. Nio’s skilled hand and patience gave way to the most engaging puzzle and arras illusions. Each of them is a meta-work: an image in another image. Seen from a couple of meters away, one can be certain they are the real thing – a real puzzle or a real arras, framed. Our eyes slowly reveal the truth, but Nio’s technique remains puzzling.

The trick lies in masking and perfect alignment. For the puzzle pieces, Nio first draws the shape of the individual pieces on paper. Then she hides her ink trail with masking fluid after which she proceeds to painting the image as a whole. It is only at the very end when Nio pulls away the mask that the final work is unveiled. The result is a 3D image that urges viewers to pick up the puzzle pieces in their hands, however impossible that might be. To obtain such an effect, there needs to be a perfect balance between the space and the ink lines. A genesis brought by the artist’s own skill, intuition and assiduous practice.

Determining which pieces are missing can be either random or well-planned. Marie’s eyes are bleached out with the simple removal of two puzzle blocks. The work is a reference to Queen Marie Antoinette, who has been accused of turning a blind eye to the needs of her people.

Nio’s self-portrait in the form of an incomplete arras is perhaps the most engaging work in the show. Loyal to her signature artistic expression and play with opposites, one cannot tell if the work is coming together or if it is falling apart. In fact, Nio says that ”it depends on the viewers – some see it as a creative act in progress, some as a sign of decay”. The interpretation of her work has an extra psychological layer. Could this reflect one’s level of optimism or pessimism, for instance?

Nio loves opposites and she goes on exploring them beyond the works themselves. Paintings that are extremely different in technique or imagery are strategically placed next to each other in the exhibition space. This simple arrangement gives room for multiple other juxtapositions: the deer arras Transformation III, an expression of the most intricate type of work, is situated next to a magnified paper Smiley face, painted in the most spread-out and diluted watercolors.

Although true to her own style, Nio’s artistic practice continues to evolve and develop.  The artist confesses that every time she starts working on a new show, she needs to create a challenge for herself: ”I need to make up a problem that I solve in the process. At the beginning I don’t know how to do this and then I figure it out”, she says.

Missing Pieces is a clear artistic victory and a brave step forward that showcases Nio’s skill in a captivating dimension.