View of Vilsandi from the Vaika Islands

View of Vilsandi from the Vaika Islands

1913–1914Oil on canvas66 × 96.5 cmPrivate collection

Konrad Mägi began his serial approach while still in Norway, but in a more principled manner in Saaremaa. He could repeatedly choose some motif and depict it such that the viewing angle remained the same or at least similar but the colour selection and composition of motif details changed. Serialism is an interesting modernist approach and it is not completely clear how and why Mägi settled on it in Saaremaa specifically. Mägi also used repetition of motif in new variations in his southern Estonian landscapes and in his Italy period.

Serialism makes the motif less unique, and modernism’s characteristic quest for the painting’s innate values comes to the fore. We do not start comparing the literary themes of the paintings (they are similar or almost identical) but devote more attention to shifts in texture, brush patterns, colour, atmosphere and certain details.

Use of serialism is a bold step toward undermining the modernist artist myth, since as the uniqueness of the motif fades, it is no longer possible to see the artist as original genius. The artist is no longer the creator of unique artworks but a conceptual interpreter of certain principles. The artist no longer explores the extraordinary and unknown for us but starts repeating familiar elements from previous paintings.

Serialism also contravenes Mägi’s own artist mythology. He proceeded from emotional affective states and painted impulsively, which is also responsible to his image as a restless and constantly changing artist. Serialism however means control, conservatism, systematic approach. The main impetus behind the act of painting is not some one-time affect but repetition of the familiar, which means strong rationalization. In his early letters, Mägi rejected the role of rationalism in art, but serialism gives this a strong presence in his work.

This work is part of a series of at least four paintings, which depict the area around Vilsandi Lighthouse viewed from the Vaika Islands. Mägi has rowed or waded out to the islands somehow. These little points of rocky land lie a few hundred metres off Vilsandi but Mägi has exaggerated the rock massifs, turning them into something more like cliffs. This probably stemmed from his desire to make a familiar landscape see more exotic, foreign and extraordinary.