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Kaihlanen returns for CCA show, touch up Post Office mailbox art

By Staff | Feb 26, 2009

Artist Lauri Kaihlanen, well-known on the islands for his images of raccoons, turtles and the like riding bicycles for C.R.O.W. and SCCF (and a mailbox at the Captiva Post Office!) as well as for his more serious works, will have a one-night-only showing of his latest work at the Captiva Civic Association on Tuesday, March 3 starting at 5 p.m.

A second generation Finnish-American, Lauri combines his amazing draftsmanship with subtle design techniques to entice the eye and engage the heart. His art mirrors his whimsical sense of humor and love of exuberant color. A gallery owner for more than 25 years, much of that time on Bearskin Neck in Rockport, Mass., his work has moved from representational through abstract fantasy to representational subjects floating on abstract backgrounds.

Kaihlanen attended the New England School of Art and earned a BA at Massachusetts College of Art as well as a BS in Education at Salem State, also in Massachusetts. After teaching art in public schools for several years, he left teaching in order to devote full time to his painting. Kaihlanen’s unusual style incorporates traditional painting techniques and disparate subjects with distinct abstract concepts including collage, montage and heavy over-painting. He paints in acrylic on illustration board.

He also said he usually conceives and does his background first; when that is complete, then the figures appear. They may be dreamy, gray, winter trees or dreamy gray winter trees with a vibrant red cardinal just visible on one branch or, recently, a large piece of a group island shells on a blue background.

Kaihlanen possesses amazing draftsmanship abilities combined with subtle design techniques. He has a wry sense of humor, loves exuberant color, and has been drawing and painting since childhood. His work is precise and clean – lots of white space whimsical but serious Stark, post-Charley trees filled with birds and other wildlife (even a manatee!) attempting to “Escape Up a Tree,” as one very popular piece is called. And there’s a “Mystery Tree” – multi-colored as though the branches were being bathed in light filtered through a prism.

“There’s just something fascinating in the growth of a tree. People invariably call mine ‘Trees of Life.’ I think the sense of the paintings stems what I saw and tried to get on paper very shortly after Charley – the starkness, the barrenness that we saw and felt. I had the idea of putting wildlife in a tree so they’d be safe. But at first the color wouldn’t come, just would not come – it was too soon after. So I did it in black and white in the beginning and waited to do it in color.

“I will probably always be fascinated by trees,” he adds, “but I have branched out (oops!) some recently. This year’s collection even has a couple of macaws and a lion. Don’t think I’ll ever stop painting wildlife!”

He’s had the gallery at Bearskin Neck open again this winter despite the extreme cold, mainly to have a place to paint, but sold quite a few pieces.

“It’s been wicked cold up here, but at least on weekends I’ve been pretty busy. I’m sure it helps that there are only a couple of galleries open.” Even one weekday when I talked to him, he said he’d sold a frog on a bike and a “Motif #1.”

On March 3, he plans to show mostly 16″ x 20″ pieces, a couple of larger works and several smaller ones – both originals and gicle prints. They all can be purchased framed or unframed.

“And I’ve been continuing to produce new “cut-outs” – they’re lots of fun for me,” he continued. They can be hung on a wall, or hung like mobiles one on Captiva is on a tree – obviously they can be used outside as sculpture. The third dimension is something I have never worked with before. It makes these pieces real physical – they just pop at you.”

Lauri will be showing a selection of his mother’s work as well. Almost 90 years young, Hilda Kaihlanen has done numerous renderings over the years of familiar island landmarks and her work is very popular.

The evening starts at 5 and will last until 7:30 p.m.

This year, he’s asking people to leave their purchases on the wall so people can continue to view them – he’ll deliver them the next day. Lauri is also becoming well-known for his pet portraits, and he does other commissions as well, sometimes on such unartistic canvasses as golf carts and mailboxes. He plans to be here two to three weeks and will probably be touching up the one-of-a-kind Captiva Post Office mailbox while he’s here if you want to visit with him and watch him paint!