Finnish artist Kaj Stenvall is embracing his inner duck with his series of duck paintings. And not just any duck. This particular subject is very reminiscent of Disney's Donald Duck.
Kaj Stenvall created the duck that launched his career and
has since appeared, in one form or another, in each of his
paintings, in 1989. In its early incarnation, the figure was
clearly related to Walt Disney's Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge.
More recently, the likeness has grown more nuanced.
Stenvall's duck is highly adaptive. It is neither sexless
nor ageless, though its gender and age shift, as do its skin
color and appearance. In some paintings, it occupies center
stage. In others, it remains on the sidelines. It is a transparent
and easily identified caricature, an all-familiar icon of
Western pop culture. For Stenvall, it is also a universally
recognizable symbol of humanity.
The duck is not Stenvall's alter ego; rather, it is his tool.
Its purpose is to offer a jumping off point into the multidimensional
world of Stenvall's art, to draw the viewer deep inside his
paintings and then, to step aside.
Although Stenvall's duck is soulful and humane, it is not
human. It is adaptable, flexible and free. It is a symbol
of postmodern identity -- identity that absorbs external influences
and founds itself upon the uncertainty and relentless quest
that characterize our times. And it offers those who find
it difficult to ground themselves in our continuously shifting
socio-cultural environment, a familiar form with which to
In the Art World
Kaj Stenvall paints with oils. He begins with a warm-hued
underpainting and covers that with layer upon layer of color.
His paintings do not, however, look old. Stenvall does not
aspire to create "precious" art. Rather, for him,
painting is a vehicle that allows him to interpret human emotion.
Stenvall knows art history and honors its traditions. His
paintings move seamlessly within the context of Western art
history. His efforts of the 1990's are particularly rich with
references to stylistic trends and individual artists, including
Diego Velázquez, Johannes Vermeer, Eero Järnefelt
and Edward Hopper. Landscapes evocative of German romanticism
provide backgrounds for many of his works, as do interiors
and portraits reminiscent of the Dutch Golden Age. Stenvall
does not hide the myriad influences on his work. Rather, he
celebrates them. And viewers, too, can exult in recognizing
the multi-layered allusions in Stenvall's body of work.
At times, Stenvall places his duck in contexts inspired by
other media. Some of his works are heavily influenced by film,
others, by comic books or literature. Silence is their unifying
force. Stenvall's paintings often have a meditative quality
that springs from either melancholy or nostalgia.
Stenvall's most significant efforts, however, involve pop
art and surrealism. His paintings return to pop art the figure
borrowed from popular culture, and reunite them thematically
or stylistically. And while his playfulness and treatment
of the absurd may evoke Magritte's surrealism, Stenvall is
perhaps most naturally considered heir to Finland's own "Turku
School" surrealists of the early 20th century.
In this video, Stenvall discusses his process and his art: