The collages are of intimate scale. They are intuitive, accretions of dense, mesmerizing, stimulated fields of meticulously cut paper sourced from archaic books.
I initiate my process with a ground of subtly variegated paper building layer upon layer of intricately contoured fragments. Fragments found sifting through all kinds of outmoded textbooks, encyclopedias, leather fillers, tomes on the natural sciences, medical instruction, technical manuals and the like. The intriguing, enigmatic accrue in orderly accretion. Lyric improvisations from the natural biological world intersect with scientific and mechanical elements evoking otherworldly tableaus, suggestive of the macro- and microcosmos. Schematics, diagrams, cross-sections, wings of a butterfly, engines, structures, scaffolding, scientific apparatus, bodily organs, planetary orbs, geodes, bones, leaves, shells—combine to reshape. Deconstructed excisions cut to abstraction, linear, tone, and texture accumulate—each addition determines that which follows in continuous rhythmic flow. Recontextualized, formed with immediacy, and imbued with timelessness.
Selections are made with a practiced eye—finding inspiration in antiquated printing aberrations, odd or inartful renderings, and engraved optical eccentricities. I began acquiring old, discarded volumes long before their possibilities unfolded, attracted by the visual beauty and richness, by the soft warmth of the patina, and by the fragility inherent to this arcane printed matter—its evocative obsolescence. Qualities that resonate of another age—an authenticity—that I desire to preserve and channel.
In 2004 and 2007, I was the recipient of Pollock-Krasner Foundation grants. My work is in the collection of The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (mfa), The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), in many private collections, and has been presented at numerous events: The ADAA Art Show, Palm Springs Fine Art Fair, Houston Fine Art Fair, CA Boom–Dwell on Design Los Angeles, Pulse Art Fair (Miami and New York), LA Art Show, Works on Paper–The Park Avenue Armory.
Derek Owens [Professor, St. John’s University] writes “Maritta Tapanainen gets her source material from vintage medical volumes, botanical encyclopedias, and technical manuals, and her process is as meticulous as that of any collagist: the textbook illustrations are carefully pulled from their homes and layered on a grid of vintage papers (a method not just meticulous, but mysterious—how she preserves the integrity of these tiny, intricate pieces is hard to fathom).
But these are more than just masterful depictions of imaginal universes. Blunt as it might sound, the care and detail of this work points to what might simply be described as love. A powerful love for the physical universe; a love for the elegant, fragile detail.” —Vices Peculiar to These Eclectics: Contemporary Collage exhibition catalog, 2015.
Peter Frank [art writer] writes “Tapanainen has long woven dense mats of disparate but similarly textured depictions, providing them just enough space to suggest galaxies or fossil beds or views into microscopic worlds teeming with nervously elegant protozoa.” —Pavel Zoubok Gallery, Morphology exhibition catalog, 2008.
Stuart Denenberg [art dealer] likens experiencing to a diatomaceously scaled world, observing “Tapanainen is orchestrating new music; she is in control of a magical nanosphere; in these works we are gently allowed to join the dance.” —Couturier Gallery, From There to Here, Collage 1992–2007, exhibition catalog 2007, “Protozoan Poetics”.
Peter Frank | Morphology exhibition catalog essay
exhibition catalog, 2008
Pavel Zoubok Gallery
No matter the source, no matter the subject, the images and image-fragments upon which Maritta Tapanainen alights,
she transmogrifies into living things. Relying chiefly on snippets of photo engravings, Tapanainen has long woven dense
mats of disparate but similarly textured depictions, providing them just enough space to suggest galaxies or fossil beds
or views into microscopic worlds teeming with nervously elegant protozoa. Machine parts, mammal innards, architectural
details, botanical dissections, and other excerpted items become so many diatoms, set afloat in pond after pond
after Sargasso Sea. Tapanainen’s is a universe up close.
Restricting her source material almost exclusively to photogravure, Tapanainen has contributed significantly to a
sub-genre of collage going back almost to the introduction of the photo-engraving process. Max Ernst, its Dada inventor,
employed the method richly, as did the postwar fantasists he influenced. These latter artists, many associated with the
Beat sensibility, conjured a dream dynamic in sequences of sometimes risible, sometimes grotesque, sometimes metaphysical
hallucinations. Tapanainen may share their method, but does not share their vision. Rather, she partakes in a
more intimate sensibility in which vast spaces have given way to the private space of the page, and the human figure
has disappeared in favor of more abstract, more purely textural (and, from certain vantages, textual) subjects. The
metaphors in Tapanainen’s collages reside not in the pictures but in their constituents; that is, the poetics of her works
maintain not what seems to happen but what seems to be.
Tapanainen’s work of the last several years is characterized by a kind of near-animation, not so much suspended as
diffused. These pictures are not of events but of conditions, still lifes rather than narratives, but still lifes invested with
a restless visual energy that draws in great part on the busy texture of photoengraving itself, the visual buzz afforded by
the quasi-typographic medium. Tapanainen amplifies this buzz by reformulating the nature of its density. In old newspapers
or banknotes, the tightly woven lines of engraving cluster into elaborately articulated images; here, by contrast,
they are loosened into contours, shapes and suggestions that at once remain distinct and weave casually together into
loosely articulated visual skeins.
While they tend to accumulate more thickly in certain regions of the collage than others, the distribution of
forms is not so uneven as to counter or disrupt an overall sense of vegetative presence. Finally, after all, Maritta Tapanainen’s
collages read like botanic efflorescences, cultivated but growing wild. They have a notational quality to them,
born of their dependence on the photo-engraved line; but their figures seem to flourish at least a bit beyond the control
of any inscriptive power. Tapanainen comes off in these works not simply as collagist, or draughtsman, or writer, but as a
gardener, tending to fantastic, perhaps microscopic, indisputably vital eruptions of a whole new kind of flora.
—Peter Frank, Senior Curator, Riverside Art Museum (Riverside, CA), and art critic for Angeleno Magazine and L.A. Weekly
Stuart Denenberg | Protozoan Poetics
From There to Here
exhibition catalog, 2007
You will acknowledge in the work of Maritta Tapanainen the sweet absence of irony. This, and the self-evident beauty of
the handling of the collage medium are welcome relief from the pervasive vulgarity of a great deal of contemporary art.
Because ours is a Heraclitean world— a world of perpetual change—as above, so below. And if Tapanainen’s collages
are evocative of a series of stills from a diatomaceous documentary, they also suggest common-place objects like brushes,
ladders, springs, hooks, feathers and worms. The eye takes endless delight in this feast of primal shapes, a micro-ballet
of paramecia, mitochondria, rotifers, and other evolutionary innocents, all suspended in an imagined medium whose
quality lies between air and water. The whole fish that occasionally swims past marks an essential change of scale. . . .
The palette is elegance itself, the subdude, literate grey of scientific illustration, a radient empty white amid a cradle
of soft tans. . . . Each organelle subtly relates to every other as if in a spell, as if the elusive, unexpected organic forms
were each an artist in a studio sea. Where the work features only two or three elements selected from the welter of possibilities, a cool morphological harmony is achieved. Should a flower dream of seeing, and eye drifts nearby in the organic soup—such proximities organize resonances, distantly recognized in the fictive abbondanza—it enchants the more profoundly because its creatures are within us, swimming in the aqueous humour and the blood, living and dying with us in the encapsulated ocean that we are. Tapanainen is orchestrating new music; she is in control of a magical nanosphere; in these works we are gently allowed to join the dance.
—Stuart Denenberg, Los Angeles, California 2007