Thursday, January 18, 2018

SAUNA: DIVINE COMEDY exhibit by Onni Nordman opens at Finlandia University Gallery Jan. 18

The exhibit SAUNA: DIVINE COMEDY, by artist Onni Nordman, opens with a reception at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 18, at the Finlandia University Gallery in the Finnish American Heritage Center, Hancock. (Photos courtesy Finlandia University)

HANCOCK -- Finlandia University Gallery will present a series of artwork by Finnish-Canadian artist Onni Nordman. His exhibit titled SAUNA: DIVINE COMEDY will be on display at the Finlandia University Gallery, located in the Finnish American Heritage Center, Hancock, from Jan. 18 to Feb. 17, 2018.

An opening reception for the public will take place at the gallery from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 18, with an artist talk beginning at 7:20 p.m. The reception is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served.

Onni Nordman’s Sauna: Divine Comedy is a series of paintings that set Dante’s Commedia, the 14th century Italian narrative poem, in the sauna.

Finnish-Canadian artist Onni Nordman.

"The Commedia, for all its world-building, is also an interior drama," notes Nordman. "The sauna is a pressurized space coequally infernal, purgatorial, and paradisiacal, built on three levels, housing figures who are naked and vulnerable, as well as serene and exalted. The Sauna: Divine Comedy series has emerged as a continuing response to the possibilities of splicing together fertile ideas."

Dante’s Divine Comedy describes the poet’s travels through the nine circles of hell, seven terraces of Purgatory and journey to paradise. Rather than illustrate the Commedia poem, Nordman’s paintings use it as a matrix to tell a story with a cast of figures, all set in the heat of the sauna.

Sauna: Divine Comedy, Purgatorio No. 2.

Nordman’s creative process is fluid, moving quickly to manipulate the painted surface while the paint is still wet, but any given work can be the product of months of strategy. Colorful, textured and dynamic, Nordman’s paintings speak both on the surface and below the surface.

"My job as a painter is to find a pattern, to create abstract loveliness and order, to find a design with which to create a dynamic, satisfying flatness," says Nordman.

But his fluid working method is not without risk: "Failure is necessary. If you don’t fail, you’re not doing something organic. I’m sitting on a mountain of failures," Nordman says, almost impatiently, before adding, "But the good stuff I’m willing to stand with."

Onni Nordman currently lives on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, on the east coast of Canada. His home and studio are on the cliffs of South Bar, overlooking the mouth of Sydney Harbour, the watery highway to the Cabot Strait and Newfoundland.

Onni is the only child of Finnish immigrants Aulis and Toini Nordman. Aulis was born in Nuoramoinen, Sysmä, Toini in Sortavala, Rauta-Lahti. They came to Canada in 1951, were located to Cape Breton, the only Finnish speakers on the island. Onni’s first language was Finnish and says he and his parents learned English together. The Nordmans adapted to their new country while maintaining strong ties to family in Finland, proud of their heritage. Nordman’s exhibit at Finlandia is an extension of this pride.

"I am very interested in showing my work at Finlandia University as it represents the heart of Finnish culture in North America," says Nordman.

The Finlandia University Gallery is in the Finnish American Heritage Center, 435 Quincy Street, Hancock. Gallery hours are Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Thursdays 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturdays noon to 4 p.m. For more information, call 906-487-7500.

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