A second explosion of nonconformist student activity occurred in 1969 with the establishment of a new art group called SOUP ’69. These students were advocates of Pop Art, as suggested by the allusion to Andy Warhol’s paintings of Campbell’s Soup cans in their name. They excited by both the use of the intense enamel colors of Pop and the artistic liberty implied by their selection of subjects from the banal, everyday environment.
An important leader of this group was Leonhard Lapin (b. 1947), a close friend of Tonis Vint. Ry profession Lapin was an architect, and some of his graphic works of the 1960s and 1970s reflect the influence of Russian Constructivism. Others that deal with machines in motion seem to borrow from Leger. In one series of prints, Lapin explores the machine-like aspects in the eroticism of the female figure, using this as a metaphor for the conflict in modern society between technology and humanism. In his purely abstract works, he prefers a single, universally known geometrical form-symbol, such as a red cross. Lapin often gives these signs a political meaning, as, for instance, in Red Square, 1980, which alludes to Red Square at the Kremlin. Lapin’s square is not perfect, but has an eroded corner—a witty political critique. In the 1980s, Lapin was particularly interested in the work of Malevich and the Suprematists. He continues to work with Malevich’s square, bringing it to its utmost limits in his series Process.
Kristjan Raud. Death of Kalevipoeg, 1935. Fragment. Charcoal on paper. Collection of the Estonian National Museum
Emphasizing the importance of fantasy over literary content in art, the ANR ’64 movement released young artists from the confines of Socialist Realism. SOUP ’69 furthered this process but also initiated a more intellectual, unemotional, and detached approach, justifying the free choice of themes. SOUP ’69 also introduced into painting and graphics intense colors and sleek finishes, a style that was in direct opposition to the gray-brown tones and turgid brushwork of official art. By the mid-1970s, this Estonian avant-garde movement had reached its maturity, having acquired considerable influence nationally and among certain nonconformist artists in Leningrad, including Rukhin.
Many of these Estonian nonconformists were interested in the local landscape. Toomas Vint (b. 1945), for example, is best known for his paintings of the lush Estonian fields and forests under an expansive sky. The human presence is only occasionally referred to by an object, as in his Forgotten Doll Carriage, 1979. A similarly idyllic character is seen in the seascapes of Alii Vint (b. 1945), who is also known for her erotic subjects. Stillness and isolation from the rest of the world is felt even more strongly in the prints of Mare Vint (b. 1942). In a lithograph from 1978, she shows a corner of a dreamy park with huge deciduous trees. This work expresses a longing for the peace and calm of a timeless arcadian place. Curiously, while this representation of an empty landscape might very well have portrayed an idealized vision of isolation, it also reflected the actual situation in rural Estonia. During this period, in order to prevent escape to the West, much of the seacoast was closed to civilians. The closing of rural schools and libraries in the 1970s, and the continuing collectivization of farms, emptied many of the old villages. As empty farmhouses fell into ruin and farmsteads became overgrown, an eerie silence pervaded the once-lively countryside.
A more complicated and ambiguous approach was taken by another group of artists who introduced Pop Art elements into their works. One of the best known is
Andres Tolts (b. 1949), a leader of SOUP ’69. In a painting from 1983, a bowl of apples on a table is placed in front of a deep north Estonian landscape, while two more apples hang mysteriously from a cord above the bowl. This is a work of great order and harmony, differentiating clearly between space and objects. At first, the representation appears perfectly rational, but the ambiguous placing of the table in front of the empty landscape, as well as the dangling fruit, tends to contradict the ostensible logic. Here, Surrealism enables the artist to incorporate several layers of meaning into his work. A similar use of Surrealist devices, such as combining still life and landscape elements or interior and exterior views, is evident in the work of several other young artists of this period (including Ando Keskkula and Tiit Paasuke). Marje Uksine (b. 1945) is also ambiguous in some of her works, as in her drypoint Portrait, 1976, in which the demarcation between interior and exterior, landscape and seascape is made deliberately vague. It is even hard to say whether this is actually a portrait or just a still life. The work is suffused with a mysterious calm that unites its parts.
Instead of idealizing the urban scene according to Socialist Realism, one group of artists was not afraid to portray the ugly aspects of the contemporary city. Allex Kutt (1921-1991), for example, liked to depict motorcycles and urban youth gangs in a Photorealist style, as in his 1981 aquatint Street I. Similarly, Juri Palm (b. 1937) frequently paints scenes of urban violence, crime, and congestion. Characteristic is The Mystery of the House, 1979, with its Surrealistic cramped space, faceless bursting bodies, and clashing colors. Jaan Elken (b. 1954) also portrays the destructive nature of the modem city-dweller; in his paintings graffiti and broken street signs abound. Heitti Polli (b. 1951), another artist working with such themes, combines anonymous concrete housing and portraiture.
Raisa Puustak (b. 1945) re-creates the city in entirely different terms. She sometimes depicts sunlight glinting off glass skyscrapers in a matter-of-fact manner or she shows a railroad station, as in her etching The Depot, 1977. Her interest obviously lies with the great engines and not with the human figures who seem to disappear in the shadows. By the 1980s, Puustak had turned primarily to still life, using only a few everyday items, like a basket of potatoes or a loaf of bread surrounded by the empty, tranquil space.
Urmas Ploomipuu (1942-1990) found his subject matter in the common people, preferably in happy holiday situations. Using Photorealism, he tried to capture the effect of a snapshot or a halftone illustration. In his etching A Sunday on Lake Peipus, 1975, he creates a round area like the opening of the camera lens and places within it two figures in a boat. The entire surface of the etching is then covered with a meticulous crisscross pattern in imitation of a grainy photographic or printed surface—an idea with roots in Pop Art.