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James Baxenfield

“Igapäevamuinasjutt“ [“Everyday Fairytale”] by Sandra Silver and Jaan Škerin
Tampere Maja, Tartu
April 3 - May 4, 2014 

Once in a while we make mistakes. Until recently, I’ve been calling someone an art student when I should have been saying ‘artist.’

If you spend enough time around people who do a particular type of art you soon become able to distinguish their works at a glance. In my case, those people are printmakers and their particular type of art is linocut. Whilst living in Tartu, I’ve come to recognise the works of the printmaking avant garde – Peter Allik, Albert Gulk, Toomas Kuusing – as well as other less-know practitioners. Over time I’ve come to distinguish the elegant lines of Kristiina Sirkel, with hints of the fantastical, from the nuanced realism of Taavi Kask. Above all, the practiced hand of Kalju Kütt and his ever changing interests – of late there has been a distinct art nouveau flavour – are the most recognisable to me.

There is nothing especially mysterious about cutting mirrored images into pieces of linoleum (even I can do this!) but, whilst it’s easy to make a mediocre linocut, it’s difficult to make a good one. Aside from talent – whether natural or learned – there are degrees of patience and conscientiousness that should not be underestimated. This diligent quality is one of the first things I noted about Jaan Škerin. For the past couple of years I have seen him quietly devising his compositions in the printmaking studio of the Estonian Printing Museum. Whilst not seeking out instruction he does not turn away advice, nor does he shy away from talking about his work when asked, or offering suggestions of his own to other people.

Jaan was attending the Art School in Tartu when I first made his acquaintance. He’s now attending the Estonian Academy of Arts in Tallinn. To say that I know him well would be inaccurate. Nevertheless, from the beginning he struck me as a rather pleasant individual and perhaps one of the most unoffending people I have ever met. He once offered to hold my beer when I met him by chance at the entrance of a supermarket; the bottle protruding from my coat pocket attracting suspicious looks from member of staff. On another occasion I recall commenting on a particularly striking brown ink that he had mixed. He replied with a congenial smile that it was purple and indeed, once the ink had dried, it was an intriguing hue of purple. On other occasions, when his work appears in the museum during his frequent visits to Tartu, people ask who made it. I’ve been mistakenly saying ‘Jaan, an art student visiting from Tallinn.’ I should have been saying ‘Jaan, an artist visiting from Tallinn.’

In my defence, I’ve only previously seen his prints as works-in-progress. Individual pieces drying here and there, fresh from the intaglio press. Whilst these part finished works are nevertheless arresting in themselves – with something reminiscent of the cover art of Soviet-era books about them – seeing them well-curated in a gallery reveals a deeper extent to the dedication he affords his craft.

At Tampere Maja, he is presenting a series of humanesque forms (bordering on the grotesque) bearing various items of a work-related nature. With fine attention to detail and printed, simply yet strikingly, in black ink on white paper, his contributions to the exhibition complement (and are complemented by) Sandra Silver’s pencil and ink drawings; some of which employ colour sparingly.

Sandra Silver is a complete mystery to me. Given that her medium (at least of the works on show) is not one that requires the facilities of a printmaking and letterpress studio this is quite understandable. As a footnote, I do know that she and Jaan are effectively the same age; barely into the second decade of their lives. Whilst this may seem like somewhat trivial information, it is rather remarkable that they both possess such highly tuned artistic vision. Returning to the artwork, Sandra’s drawings – considering the intrinsic differences between the mediums – are the equal of Jaan’s prints in every respect. Highly detailed and distinctive, they exhibit the charm of fairytale scenes (both human and animal) that one would expect to encounter, given the title of the exhibition. However, whilst they pay homage to the lighter aspects of fairytale stories they do not simply play the part all that is good and beautiful to Jaan’s monstrous creations. Many of the drawing are imbued with a mischievously cruel undertone or sense of pathos.

Anyone who happens to find themselves in the Old Town of Tartu over the next month would be well advised to seek out this exhibition in the tucked-away gallery of Tampere Maja. It presents an excellent opportunity to see, side by side, the works of two young Estonian artists – the artistic talents of who I suspect have not yet fully matured – we can expect to see a great deal more from in the future.

Jaani 4, Tartu