Endel Kõksi abstraktsetest maalidest


  • Reet Mark University of Tartu




Estonian Art in Exile, Abstractionists' Painting, abstractionism, Pallas, Endel Kõks


The artist Endel Kõks (1912–1983) is a member of the same generation of Estonian art classics as Elmar Kits and Lepo Mikko. After Kits’s and Kõks’s debut at the exhibition of the Administration of the Cultural Endowment’s Fine Art Foundation (KKSKV) in Tallinn in 1939, the three of them started to be spoken about as the promising Tartu trio. In 1944, Endel Kõks ended up in Germany as a wounded soldier, while Kits and Mikko remained in Estonia. The Kõks’s works that have surreptitiously arrived in his homeland are incidental and small in number. Thus, without any proof, an image developed or was developed of him in Soviet-era art history as a mediocre painter and especially as a weak abstractionist, which is somewhat prevalent even today. I would dispute this based on the conclusions that I reached when helping to organise the exhibition of exile Estonian art between 2008 and 201142 and Endel Kõks’s solo exhibition between 2011 and 201343; conclusions that I have supplemented with the opinions expressed by exile Estonian art historians and artists.

In 1951 Kõks moved to Sweden. Paul Reets has highlighted the years between 1952 and 1956, and assumed that these were difficult years due to the contradictions he faced. According to Reets, one obstacle was influence of the Pallas on Kõks’s painting style, which was conservative and adhered to the trends of Late Cubism. According to both Eevi End and Paul Reets, Kõks painted his first abstract painting in 1956 Rahutus (Restlessness) according to the former and Konflikt (Conflict) according to the latter). A black-and-white photo exists of Restlessness, which is slightly reminiscent of Pollock, and this is not the same work that P. Reets refers to. They both note that this was a convincing and mature abstraction not a searching for form, and as Reets states, Kõks had severed himself from the Pallas.

The abstract paintings created between 1956 and 1960 – Kompositsioon (Composition) (1958), Rõõmus silmapilk (Joyful Moment) (1959) and others – are constructed on the impact of a joyfully colourful palette and lines, and demonstrate a kinship with the abstract works of Vassili Kandinsky. There is also a similarity to Arshile Gorky, whose works he may have seen at the exhibition of modern American art in Stockholm in 1953.

Kõks’s transition into a pure form of abstraction occurred in 1963. Reets has characterised this as a “the most wondrous year that one can expect to see in an artist’s life. Not an unexpected year, but one that was unexpectedly and extremely rich when it came to his works.” The artist started to create series of works, of which the best known is undoubtedly Elektroonika (Electronics), which was comprised of 36 sheets. According to Kõks, he developed the need and idea to create the series while listening to experimental music, watching experimental films and thinking about nuclear physics. Created with a glass printing technique, or vitreography, each work is unique due to the post-printing processing, paint dripping, spraying and additional brushstrokes and images. Of course, all this alludes to Jackson Pollock.

In 1962, Kõks painted the abstract composition Astraalne (Astral), which depicts a red circle and bent violet rectangle next to it on an interesting yellowish-brown surface that creates a rough effect. Using only these two symbols, the artist creates a sense of floating in cosmic space. Starting in 1964–1965 this style gradually came to dominate his work, and in was in this style that Kõks created the works that express the greatness of his talent and the charm of the “shaper of nature forms” in the purest sense.The construction of these works is brilliantly simple, and comprised of symbols and images placed on a relatively uniform surface. The nervous brittleness and rapid movement have disappeared from the paintings. The mood is calm and reveling. There is a monumental feel to many of the pictures. Masterful, delicate colour combinations triumph. And as time goes on, the more abundant and interesting the texture becomes. Eevi End believes that Kõks was influenced by Ellsworth Kelly, Kenneth Noland and other representatives of the school of Hard-edge painting that other influential direction operating in American abstractionism during the 20th century. Kõks himself has defined his abstract paintings as biomorphic abstraction, characterized by a free formalism, spatiality and atmospherics (Arshile Gorky, William de Kooning, Mark Tobey, Mark Rothko, and Jackson Pollock.)

Kõks’s abstraction that features intellectual and cognizant images is totally the opposite of Elmar Kits’s excellent and spontaneous colourful abstraction. Kits remains true to the Pallas colour tradition; Kõks breaks out of it. Kõks feels secure painting abstract pictures and enjoys the game, which cannot be said of the thoroughly abstract works of Lepo Mikko or Alfred Kongo. Those who doubt this statement should remember that, in order to provide an assessment of Kõks’s abstract pictures, one must have seen them in Europe, the U.S. and Canada. Conclusions cannot be drawn based exclusively on the works in Estonia. As an abstractionist, he is in no way weaker than his contemporaries, just very different and the determination of superiority is a matter of taste. Endel Kõks’s greatness lies in the fact that he was able to fit with what was happening in world art (which many exile artists could not); he experimented with new directions and finally put together something new for himself, and thereby developed Estonian art as a whole.


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Author Biography

Reet Mark, University of Tartu

Reet Mark (b. 1965) is an Estonian art historian interested mainly in 20th century Estonian art. She worked for many years at the Tartu Art Museum, now at the Estonian National Museum. A member of the Estonians Artists’ Association, the Estonian Society of Art Historians and Curators and ICOM. She has published more than 100 exhibition reviews, articles on Estonian art history and four monographic publications on Estonian artists. She has also curated more than 50 exhibitions at the Tartu Art Museum, Art Museum of Estonia and the Estonian National Museum.