Sirja-Liisa Eelma (1973) is a conceptual painter, whose visual language is characterised by minimalist structures. She often works with repeating and slowly changing images in order to analyse themes like lack of intimacy, the physical experience of pause, silence, and delineating the visible and the invisible. Eelma’s practice relies on the mutual impact of the time factor and the spatial context in painting, her works evoke contemplation and meditative quietness. Eelma’s colours are extremely nuanced, sensitive in gradation and mostly pastel.
She started her career as an artist in the second half of the 1990s. In her early years, Eelma focused on the playful juxtaposition of letters and shapes. At the show “Õ><Ö” (2006, Tallinn City Gallery) she displayed a series that offered proof of a theorem regarding the alikeness of the letters Õ and Ö; the exhibition “Everyday vocabulary” (2006, Hobusepea Gallery) combined elements of different sign systems to create a new coherence. Since the late 2000s she has increasingly focused on the process of painting, letting herself be guided by the flow of time, the pleasure and solitude of painting a repeating image.
The exhibition and the series of paintings titled “Secret Matter” (2003, Hobusepea Gallery) centred on the hidden or perceptible objects as well as expectations and fears related to their environment. Eelma continued working with these ideas in the show “There is Nothing” (2012, Draakon Gallery), where all the exhibited paintings depicted curtains. The anxious repetition of the image of curtains expressed a tension, whereas the title of the show evoked a safe environment. Repetitive motifs were also the central element in the exhibition “The Waiting Room” (2014, Hobusepea Gallery), where the artist showed similar views of interiors and, drawing parallels between the similarity of the gallery space and the depicted waiting room, created an installation of a-space-within-a-space.
The series of paintings “Emptying Field of Meaning” (2014) was the first time a slowly changing symmetrical repetition of an abstract geometrical shape appeared in Eelma’s work. The idea of the series was to create a pause in the contemporary information overload, above all, for the painter herself but also for the viewer.
The series of paintings titled “Appetizer” (2017) was inspired by the space of the Hop Gallery, located in Tallinn Old Town. The starting point for the series was the desire to bring together painting and the gallery space, the experience of lightness and pleasure in order to create abundance through ascetic artworks. Eelma continued working with a single repetitive and barely changing motif, this time painting the Art Nouveau floor tiling in the gallery. The idea was to visualise the time it takes to paint and offer an experience of a pause. With these works the artist demonstrated her continuous interest in visually minimalist, yet conceptually extensive themes.
In 2017, Eelma exhibited “Sinking [In]” (together with Krista Mölder), which focused on extending fleeting moments and amplifying presence. Eelma showed the series of paintings titled “Appetizer” alongside Mölder’s photos and their collaborative work, a series of photos of Eelma’s paintings taken in her studio. The artists used repetition to create a situation where the viewer could experience stillness. By playing with empty space and the idea of multiple meanings, the artists emphasised the viewer’s ability to bridge gaps by interpreting and creating narratives.
In autumn 2019 Eelma took part in an artist residency at Grez-sur-Loing, France. Based on her diary entries and photos from that period, in spring 2020 Eelma presented, in collaboration with Tõnis Jürgens, a narrative consisting of video postcards, following the everyday existence and the thoughts of the artist as she was starting to work on her new series of paintings “To write one’s / your name”. The video story titled “Postcard in Five Pictures” was exhibited in Hop Gallery at the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021.
At the beginning of 2021 Eelma exhibited a show titled “Repeating Patterns” (together with Mari Kurismaa, curated by Tamara Luuk) at the Tallinn Art Hall Gallery, including her series “To write one’s / your name” (2019–2021). Just like her previous series, this one was also based on repetition. Unlike in her pervious series, where Eelma repeated a well-known image or an element of the gallery’s architecture, this series was based on the artist’s memory. The paintings resemble lotus flowers, fans, feathers, wings, doors or mirrors. The artist used silver and gold pigments that create a reflection as light touches the surface of the painting.
Sirja-Liisa Eelma graduated from the painting department of the Estonian Academy of Arts (MA 1996) and in 2018 started doctoral studies at the same academy. In 2016, she received the Konrad Mägi Prize. Her works belong to the collection of the Art Museum of Estonia as well as private collections. Eelma has presented her work at numerous solo, group and curatorial exhibitions both in Estonia and internationally.