It is good to sit and relax near August Künnapu’s paintings. People in his pictures have a kind of special warmth about them. Their faces reflect a merry playfulness. Looking at Künnapu’s paintings, a phrase appears in your mind – a brave new world. And not in an ironic sense as in Aldous Huxley’s anti-utopian novel. No, in August Künnapu’s paintings the brave new world lives in the direct and bright sense of the word.

Taking a closer look at August Künnapu’s world of painting, the first associations to emerge are the wondrous colour and fantasy worlds of Paul Kondas and Henry Rousseau, psychedelic animated cartoons of the 1970s and 1980s (Avo Paistik and Priit Pärn), portraits by Enn Põldroos with their bold colour scheme in the 1980s and Richard Brautigan’s novels. Plus, strangely enough, Edward Hopper.

People in different landscapes, rooms, going about their business, playing their own games. Surprising, almost crazy colours in most unexpected places, and still, observing the whole, everything fits together splendidly: the magical faces and costumes of children in Raua Street, the green-chinned Ilmar Kruusamäe, and a true firework of colours in depicting cats in Soup Town in Tartu, Sirius, the Refuge and in the southern climes. Cats in any case form a separate little entirety in Künnapu’s work. They seem mystical animals who look at us – people looking at them – as if from a distant future (the era of Sirius?) with their wise, clairvoyant-like eyes. Are they patiently waiting for us to catch up with them?
One thing at least is clear: these future-era cats have developed further than us, people of the present.

August Künnapu’s world of paintings is singularly pure and vital. Dullness and evil do not exist in this. Even the depraved characters in his pictures (e.g. men in such paintings as „Tramps“ and „Bridge“) seem childishly jolly, ready to play and good-natured. Examining their faces it might even seem that in Künnapu’s brave new world sin cannot be a vice, but instead a kind of complicated game. Just like InBoil in Richard Brautigan’s “In Watermelon Sugar” evokes sympathy. InBoil can be seen in Künnapu’s painting „Tramps“.

The wonderful portraits of Richard Brautigan, Michelangelo Antonioni, Juri Lotman, Alison Smitshon, Daniil Harms and Christian Schad are made more exciting by balancing the famous faces on the boundary of intellectual maturity and the world of humorous games. The portrait of Oscar Niemayer is especially fascinating. He may be a world-famous architect, but he could equally be the five hundred years old king of the brave new world (Lemuria?): a wise, strict and just clairvoyant.

Upon entering the exhibition hall, the viewer might get the impression that the author of these paintings is either a superbly talented autodidact or half-crazy and autistic. However, it then transpires how well the composition of colours, characters and space is actually set in place, and the first impression fades. The trump card of the paintings „Children of Raua Street 1“ and „Children of Raua Street 2“, for example, is the colour solution, surprisingly unconventional, but in perfect harmony. The children’s faces are pensive, adult, worldly wise and resemble still lifes. These paintings have a very strong charge and metaphysical meaning.

On the other hand (luckily!), it is namely the playful joy of life together with colour virtuosity and naivety that makes August Künnapu’s work genuine and original. There are more than a dozen painters with metaphysical gravity in Estonia, but only a few like August Künnapu with his singular brush-writing. A primeval childishness, absurd-flavoured perception of the brave new world and a bold usage of colours is in the very blood of this artist. And this is something that cannot be learned. This is a gift.

I would like to look at a few paintings here, which to me seem of key importance in the artist’s work and where several meanings typical of his world of painting open in one picture.

1. “Footballers in Nocturnal Landscape”
The painting, almost ideally, unites the typical Künnapu playfulness and a certain still life, static mood. And they blend namely in the starry football game, where the ball, kicked into the goal a moment ago, could easily be the full moon visible behind the net. They might actually be one and the same! In this ambiguous painting, joy of life meets reflection, still life and play – elements that are so familiar to people in various ways.

2. “Richard Brautigan”
This portrait has superbly captured this remarkable writer: tender, almost dreamy glance in the middle of the late evening. Künnapu had depicted him in the writer’s world, which is also inhabited by the characters of his novels, in the naïve, humorous and absurd-flavoured brave new world. In this familiar world, Brautigan feels free and at home, unlike real world, where he never actually quite fitted in. And now the artist has offered him a chance to live in the brave new world for ever.

3. “Composition with Laur, His BMW and a Red Ship”
The painting shows a pensive boy, wearing a no 8 shirt, an old cheap BMW, a colourful garbage dump and a red ship in the distance. It might seem at first glance that the picture has presented a fairly silly selection of objects. However, in its own strange way the painting captivates the viewer. It contains a secret, a still life, which cannot be conveyed with words. Had Lewis Carroll had a church in his “Alice in Wonderland”, this painting as the Holy Trinity would have been perfect to adorn the walls of such a church. By means of his alchemical colour lab, the artist convincingly proves that phenomena defined as holy and silly can easily coexist in a painting, a vision. And that both phenomena can exist in one picture as equal moods.

4. “An Idyll in Landscape”
This painting is one of the definite favourites of the current writer. Without moving an inch, the viewer can endlessly approach it towards the brave new world. They in the idyllic landscape are already there, waiting and looking at us, but a happily walking viewer is forever on his way (while not moving from his place). If we take a closer look at the depicted group, it also seems somehow related to Carroll’s world, although there is certain timelessness floating in the air as well; an infinite, neverending Sunday.

As already mentioned, the key words in Künnapu’s work are the joy of life and still life, simultaneously. The characters in the paintings seem to have stopped in an everlasting moment of existence, thus reminding us of the essential – eternity can emerge, be revealed and flourish only in the current, eternally renewed moment.
Perhaps the most significant in Künnapu’s work is that through his world of paintings he is able to conjure up a magical door in an empty field, which can lead the viewer into his brave new world. Inside the picture the viewer can then relax, wander around and breathe in the air of the brave new world. To be able to do this to the viewer is what actually makes an artist. A master.



Published in August Künnapu’s book of paintings “The River of Life” (2013)