Leonhard Lapin

10 Aug - 03 Sep 2006


"There is a great deal in the minimal, a point contains everything." Leonhard Lapin has followed this early principle of the concretists in his art, in which intellectual content, an apt language of signs and incisive social comment radiate from a centre in an ever-widening circle. His numerous series of works constitute an integrated philosophical span of development. This independent thinker could not be manipulated in the crude role games of performances in political history.
But despite his comprehensive oeuvre, Lapin clearly works in themes. He treats them thoroughly, carefully evaluating their opportunities while at the same time a new theme is emerging. The present exhibition is based on two geometric forms of representation. One is the most widespread ornament of our era, the bar code system required by trade, which provides the necessary information about products. The other is the sixty-four square chessboard serving as the basic surface of his new paintings. These worldwide mathematical systems of signs provide Lapin the opportunity and framework for working intuitively. A mute language is given form in visual art, launching sensual emotions in the viewer's mind.
Lapin's pseudonym Albert Trapeezh is worth mentioning in this connection. Over the years, he has published several anthologies of poetry under this name. Many of the texts are reminiscent of the principles of Dada, being based on the visual forms of typography and the musical nuances of speech. This genre is complementary to the communication of his visual language. An example is a verse from "Poeem häälele" (A Poem for the Voice) from 1984:


Lapin started to work in series in 1971 with a theme that he called "Sowjet-Pop". In these prints blood oozes from wounds in a finger pointing upwards. In the 1970s, his large series of prints studied the interaction of machines and man, arriving at structurally infinite cosmic visions. These works, and "Series of Signs", "Processes" and "Geometric Tales" have become classics in their own right as examples of the new Estonian avant-garde movement. The refined elegance of these works does not erode the impact of the message.
The material of the "Rhythms in the Sphere" series are barrel staves, the bottom planks of wooden tubs and driftwood. It was on these serial "arte povera" objects that he painted geometric symbols typical of suprematism, or attached sunrises or other space visions on them in gold leaf. Everyday material was given an aura of sanctity.
References to the thinking of Kasimir Malevich are a characteristic feature of Lapin's art. In the 1990s he painted objects completely white (a television set, still-life type installations with bottles, glasses, potato mashers etc.). Malevich's work and thinking entailed the concept of the artist discovering "his own colours" by way of purification through work; painting has to be a spiritual state. Like Malevich, Lapin sought, with his white works, to purge himself of the "dirt" of the colours of his previous works. When seeing colours in white through different kinds of lighting or in reflections, we can descend into our subconscious and our own privacy.
Lapin began to make the bar code works of this exhibition in 2003. The first ones were black and white, based solely on the rhythm created by the width of positive and negative lines. A limited number of colours was gradually introduced, but they do not follow any Lapinian range of colours that could be guessed beforehand. This is how preconceptions are erased, and mannerisms and self-evident features are avoided. Lapin also isolates colours with black or white. With the removal of simultaneous contrast, colours can retain their independence. The illusion of space is produced with graphic clusters. Viewers can feel, for example, as if they are walking in a forest, in front or back light. Information originally meant to be read electronically may, when seen by us, turn into a landscape glimmering in light. These works also bring to mind an exercise method originally developed by Josef Albers in which stripes of colour in carpet-like array are used to conjure forth the "meaning" and "interpretation" of the whole. Adjacent bands of colour are used to present thematic pairs, e.g. bright - dim, early - late, active - passive etc. Lapin's graphic series of intervals with their carefully considered colours immediately arouse mental images open to different interpretations - above all musical interpretations.
A possible background factor of Lapin's bar-code works may also be found in the esoteric objectives of the circle that formed around the artist Tõnis Vint in the 1970s. This group was described as the "psychogeometric" school. These artists were interested in ancient ornament, from Oriental meditation designs to Celtic decoration. Antecedents of the works of the group can be found, for example, in old belt bands with geometric ornament, which have been assumed to have recorded "almanac information" long before present systems of writing evolved.
I would claim that the shift to the bar-code works also proceeded via Lapin's large "Suprealism" series. In 1993 he began to make collages by folding the packages of luxury products back into flat sheets of cardboard. In this manner, the packages of perfume vials and bottles of cognac produce a multidimensional geometric surface. In the locations of the logos Lapin attached pictures of celebrities who had achieved commercial and national success (Salvador Dalí, Johann Köler etc.). From this material, only the code symbol came to be selected as the material of the artworks. It provides sufficient energy for creative activity, thus making Lapin a descendant of both Kasimir Malevich and Marcel Duchamp.
As an artist, Leonhard Lapin conquers space and the spirit, converting matter into intellectual values by force of his individual choices and aesthetic agendas. He converted the tailor's suit patterns that he had inherited into glimmering " Milky Ways" and endless firmaments in his series "The Birth of Myths" from 1996-2004. In the present exhibition, Lapin hoists of radiant chequered flags and striped banners into the universes of our mind.
Jorma Hautala

This exhibition is supported by Eesti Kultuurkapital.

© Leonhard Lapin
The Code XXII, 2004
acrylic, silk screen
22 x 157 cm

Tags: Josef Albers, Salvador Dalí, Marcel Duchamp, Jorma Hautala, Kazimir Malevich