Reija Karjalainen’s highly stylized paintings manage to be both whimsical and mysterious. The artist depicts figures in a variety of groupings and activities almost as a cartoonist would, with bold lines, simple shapes, and the use of a “type” rather than individualized portraits. She uses charcoal in combination with oil paint to underscore her graphic lines. An airy palette and leisurely setting come together to make the overall atmosphere feel light. But though Karjalainen’s scenes are often pleasant ones of socializing and relaxing, the works are absorbing in their visual complexity. The flat planes and expressive patterns are reminiscent of Matisse, and Karjalainen’s distinctive portrait method — a three-quarter profile, one eye omitted, the mouth shunted to the edge of the face — recalls both Cubism and ancient Egyptian carvings. Since these characters have no defining features of their own, their true stories are obscured. The viewer is left to wonder, underneath the humor, exactly what is happening.
Karjalainen was born in Finland and grew up in Sweden, where she continues to live and work today.