Paul Tikkanen, Unusual Parade, 1950

Paul Tikkanen loved to paint, and he did it until the last day he was alive. According to Ashtabula Art Center director of visual art Nancy Brotz, staff at the assisted living facility where the artist lived said he had been working on art the day he passed away, in August,2020, at age 94.  An exhibit of his work—Paul Tikkanen: A Retrospective (June 1 – 28, 2022) opened recently at the Ashtabula Art Center.

The occasion for the art center to present a retrospective almost two years after the artist’s passing is that Tikkanen –who had outlived his beloved wife Norma and the rest of his family—bequested more than 400 of his own paintings, and set up a trust to fund the Paul and Norma Tikkanen Painting Prize, in perpetuity. Ashtabula Art Center will administer the annual prize. Tikkanen also named Conneaut Art Center and Lake Erie College in the bequest. Brotz says the retrospective–or a part of it–will be offered to those venues for exhibition in their respective galleries. She also hoped that the Tikkanen Prize and competition might grow enough that those facilities might join for future exhibitions.

Portrait of the artist

The prizes are substantial. Starting in 2022, the competition will award two $12,000 prizes each year: one for an abstract painting, and one for a realist painting. Second place awards in each category are $5,000. At the judges’ discretion, honorable mentions worth $1000 might also be awarded.  These are perhaps the largest prizes specifically offered for painting in the region.

Brotz says the late artist described the rules for the prize in detail as part of the bequest: the categories, the prize amounts, and the region where artists must live to be eligible:  Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain, Mahoning, Medina, Portage, Summit, and Trumbull counties in Ohio, and Crawford, Erie, Lawrence, and Mercer counties in Pennsylvania.

Circus, Paul Tikkanen, 1940s

Tikkanen graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Art in 1949 and had more than 30 paintings accepted in the Cleveland Museum of Art’s May Show between 1948 and 1985. He won a Special Award for his painting Chipped Crystal, Special Mention in 1974 for each of two acrylic paintings,  The Ashtabulan,  and The Room, and Honorable Mentions in 1949 and 1955.

The Retrospective Exhibition shows the artist working in a variety of styles and media. There are substantial bodies of realistic paintings, as well as abstraction, especially geometric abstraction. Brotz says he commonly painted not on canvas, but on ¾” plywood panels.

Paul Tikkanen, Two Street Cars: Main Avenue, Ashtabula Ohio, 1970 – 2005

The variety of styles in the retrospective shows him exploring some of the ways painting evolved in the 20th century, and playing out the tensions that surfaced in Northeast Ohio art making at that time, including at his alma mater, the Cleveland Institute of Art. His painting Circus dates from the 1940s, perhaps to his time at the Cleveland Institute of Art. It’s a jumble of perspectives gathering animals, a ferris wheel and a big top tent–apparently trying to capture everything about the event.  That early work is distinct from just about everything else in the show.  His large piece, Unusual Parade, dated 1950, is an example of his geometric abstraction, composed in a grid of circles and squares. There are multiple examples in this style in the retrospective.  There are other, non-gridded works in geometric abstraction, too, evocative of modern stained glass.  His painting Two Street Cars: Main Avenue, Ashtabula Ohio, is an impressionistic street scene, apparently begun in 1970, and revisited in 2005. A litho, Four Self-Portraits among Nudes, is one of several works that show solid figure drawing skills. It’s dated 1947, from his time at CIA.

Paul Tikkanen, Four Self Portraits Among Nudes, lithograph, 1947.

Tikkanen wasn’t good about dating his works, but Brotz believes – informed in part by a hardcover, coffeetable book the artist self-published–that his realistic scenes were earlier works, and that as years went by he explored various types of abstraction. There are plenty of anomalies. As Henry Adams pointed out in the recent Golden Age of Cleveland Art exhibition at the Cleveland History Center, Cleveland artists of the the 20th century were informed by conservative traditions as well as outside influences like abstraction and cubism, and pursued both commercial art and fine art for its own sake. All these threads show a region—and, as evident in Tikkanen’s varied output, an artist – searching for artistic identity. The fact that the prize he created has categories for realism and abstraction is an enduring record of his dual interests.

Paul Tikkanen, Inez Gallimore of Gates Mills, mixed media painting, 1971

The online, first round application process for the prize is June 1 – July 25.  Applicants upload digital images of their works for the jurors to consider. Works chosen for a second round will be judged in-person. Jurors for the 2022 competition are Andy Warhol Museum chief curator José Carlos Diaz, artist Naomi Fisher (New York and Miami) and artist / Carnegie Mellon University professor of art Kim Beck. An exhibition opens October 3. Prizes will be announced at an award ceremony October 8.

Paul Tikkanen: A Retrospective

June 1 – 28, 2022

Ashtabula Arts Center

2928 W 13th St, Ashtabula, OH 44004

The opinions expressed on CAN Blog are those of the individual writers. Art is somewhat subjective. Well, somewhat. But yes, everybody's a critic.

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