The Estonian painter and sculptor Kaido Ole enjoys the distraction of uncommon objects – of both simple and more complicated forms, and their playful functions. What might be found in the circus section of Hamleys toy shop is given a sort of surreal makeover in his paintings, as if boredom has struck the artist in adulthood and the stuff of youthful intrigue – such as things on wheels, ladders, balls and see-saws – might be recombined and transformed into a game of object mismatch. Everything is wonderfully unbalanced.
This exhibition of Ole’s newest paintings at Temnikova & Kasela – certainly the most active of the few contemporary commercial art spaces in Tallinn – was a not-uncommon showing of the established artist’s work in Estonia. In 2012, Ole showed at KUMU, the capital’s large, state-funded art institution: its shard-like, green, copper-clad building juts out of a limestone cliff in the Kadriorg district of the city. This new show, ‘…oh, and also…’ was framed as a continuation of the larger, earlier exhibition. Temnikova & Kasela manages to avoid the boxy, shadow-gap-fetishizing space of other commercial white cubes by leaving almost as much stark black pipework exposed as there is wall space available. Ole’s paintings hung above, below and around these conduits. This kind of casual, unassuming approach sums up the gallery’s programme. Curated by musician Alina Astrova, the space works with a group of Estonian artists from several generations, including the well-regarded Jan Toomik, as well as younger artists such as Edith Karlson and Kris Lemsalu.
A former teacher and now sometime TV presenter, Ole began producing art around the time Estonia gained its independence in 1991. He belongs to a generation of artists that, both stylistically and conceptually, influences a younger, and now much larger, group of practitioners in the country’s capital. In an interview on the artist’s website, Ole speaks of his simple lifestyle and the effect it has on his practice. By comparing the experience of sleeping in an iron bed in barracks, with, as he puts it, finding oneself conceptually among ‘exuberant scenery’ while making work, the artist offers a contrast between the way he lives and the way he creates. In Ole’s mind, artistic intentions are a distraction that can be switched off if need be; a gesture that might be employed by choice, at least, until, like a light switch, his romantic leanings are flicked back on again. Ole, represented by the circular shapes painted on his canvases, is a toing-and-froing unicyclist: one who can’t make up his mind where to go – but that hardly matters.
Perhaps as a means of highlighting this playful posturing, light features prominently in his paintings, from his early abstractions in 1990 to the more pared-down still lifes of the last three years. In the newer paintings on show at Temnikova & Kasela, light sources are painted as if positioned above or around the canvas, illuminating whatever strange blob or not-quite-geometric daub is depicted on wheels. In Small Still Life with Statue of Liberty (2013), a blue strip of material seems to meander toward the top of a beige canvas, trailing a piece of yellow string from a punched-out hole in its tip. Like a kid’s circus toy it balances in a mixed game of ‘look at my nonsense’ and gravitational precariousness. Still Life with Big Ego (2013) pictures the artist – hands in pockets, wearing a turtleneck – staring out of an observation tower. This structure has two wheels and won’t fall over; perhaps an irony-imbued defence mechanism for the artist’s own pride. In another work, a grimace-faced ball balances on the edge of a see-saw, and a huge flabellum fills the canvas, casting a long shadow: it almost feels like the large, grey fan on wheels might fall onto you, flicking the lights off again.