Contrapunctus, 1959-60

Sam Vanni’s (1908–92) Contrapunctus was the first abstract painting to win a publicly funded art competition in Finland. The work was commissioned for Helsinki’s Finnish-speaking adult education institute. It was placed in the main lobby of the institute’s modern extension, designed by Aulis Blomstedt, so that the colours of the building interior are in conversation with the painting.

The title of the work comes from the world of music and hints that one might approach it as a composition. Contrapunctus or counterpoint refers to the controlled combining of two or more melodies. Transferred to the painting, counterpoint is in the repetition and variation of colour and form and in their contrasts. Reading the three-part painting from left to right, at first colour and form swirl erratically. In the middle, there is a hint of a human figure battling in a jungle of lines. Finally the forms become disciplined and ordered. How to tame chaos through hard work, was a most timely topic in a country building itself up out of post-war ruins.

Image: Sam Vanni, Contrapunctus, 1959 © HAM / Photo: Hanna Kukorelli