In the oil paintings by Johanna Laaja (1977–), everyday Opels, pickups, Transit vans and other cars have fallen silent in forest edges and backyards. Over the decades, the well-loved vehicles of yesteryear have gradually fallen apart – yet never losing their mysterious charm and edge. In Johanna Laaja's paintings, natural processes continue around the cars, reaching out, covering and adorning them with threads as past and present become intertwined.
Living in Pyhäkylä, Suomussalmi, Johanna Laaja's artistic work is based on her everyday environment in Kainuu and North Ostrobothnia. She works from photographs and studies the history and the stories of the locations carefully. In the paintings, the artist's favourite cars and places are sometimes captured from different angles and in different times of the year. Her work as an artist has become common knowledge in the region, and strangers sometimes come to tell her where to find abandoned vehicles.
In addition to vehicles left in forests, Laaja's subject-matter includes abandoned residential buildings and interiors. She sees cars and living environments as narrators of a bygone era with distinct personalities. In the landscapes and in the stories of overgrown yards, dilapidated buildings, clear-cuts, bushes and scrublands are as important as the abandoned cars and the buildings.
In her paintings, Johanna Laaja wants to depict life in the periphery and the gradual emptying of the countryside in a broader sense. For the artist, the abandoned houses and courtyards in the remote, rural areas are a real-life, open-air museum that tells stories of recent history and the way of life of their inhabitants.
Johanna Laaja and her artist partner Jaakko Heikkinen organise a summer exhibition together in their working and living space in the old Pyhäkylä school. An art collective with interdisciplinary multi-arts activities has formed around their Taikavintti Gallery.
The exhibition is produced by Oulu Museum of Art, the regional art museum responsible for North Ostrobothnia and Kainuu and part of Museum and Science Centre Luuppi.
The exhibition includes ten paintings (oil on canvas). Sizes are 35 x 45 cm, 50 x 60 cm and 65 x 80 cm.
December 2022: Kärsämäki Library
January 2023: Rantsila Library
February 2023: Sotkamo Library
March 2023: Alavieska Municipal Library
April 2023: Haapajärvi Main Library
May 2023: Pyhäntä Library
June 2023: Sofian Kammari, Utajärvi
August 2023: Haapavesi Library
September 2023 Pyhäjärvi Library
July 2023: Utu-gallery, Kuusamo
October 2023: Tillarigallery, Nivala
Photo above and banner: Johanna Laaja, Covered by the Forest (detail), 2022, Oil on canvas. Photograph: Ninja Haaga.