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Birches, Bark and Beyond: Works by Marja Lianko


Marja Lianko Draws on Finnish Roots for Works of Bark

“Birches have nearly taken over my studio,” says artist Marja Lianko, whose upcoming show at the Chandler Gallery features paintings and sculpture depicting—and, in some cases, made of—trees, bark and branches. Lianko is a fixture in the Boston art scene. She taught at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts for 23 years, and has shown her work at the MFA, the Fogg Museum, the DeCordova, the Rose Museum, and the Art Complex Museum. This past spring, she took first prize in the Chandler Gallery’s Small Works Salon.

“Even though birches or trees in general have not always been featured in my work, I like to think that…the spirit of the birch tree has been there,” says Lianko. “The group of images in this show presents the most direct connection to that spirit.”

Lianko is originally from Finland, and the trees in her work evoke the expansive birch forests in her home country. “Kaleva 2” and “Kaleva 3” are clusters of birch twigs whittled into points and painted with whimsical stripes and dots. Says Lianko, “The two ‘Kalevas’ remind me of an ancient musical instrument that I may have seen (or imagined) as a child.”

In “Re-Rooted,” a human head emerges from the trunk of a tree that sports arm-like branches, and from the person’s head grows another smaller tree. The two trees have different kinds of bark, suggesting that the person’s head acts to change the way the tree grows, or that the smaller tree is a new creation that comes only from the person. Or perhaps this is a sculpture of transplants: the person is transplanted into one tree, another tree is transplanted into the person, and all three are learning to take root where they are. The person’s closed eyes and contented expression seem to say that this tree-person, not unlike Lianko, is at home growing new roots from the old.

“Birches, Bark and Beyond: Works by Marja Lianko” will be on display at the Chandler Gallery fromOctober 31-November 25. The opening reception will be held on November 3 from 6-8pm.