Lilian Linnaks: Classics

Exhibition  /  24 Oct 2008  -  11 Jan 2009
Published: 27.10.2008
Estonian Museum of Applied Art and Design
Merike Alber
Lilian Linnaks. Brooch: Outside, 1994. Gold-plated silver, agate, pearls. Lilian Linnaks
Brooch: Outside, 1994
Gold-plated silver, agate, pearls
© By the author. Read Copyright.

(...) Compared to colour, form has a secondary role in her work, and is merely a surface that can be tinted dark grey, dark ochre, dark blue or any other tone that is decorative and different from the colour of any possible metal. (...)

Artist list

Lilian Linnaks
We know Lilian Linnaks today first and foremost as a jewellery and metal artist, but her career began as a lamp designer for the Soviet-era company Estoplast, where the young metal artist was hired in 1960 to design lights. Her prototypes were used for mass production for markets all over the Soviet Union. Modern lights reached the homes of even the most ordinary Estonians and remained hanging there for decades. Today these lamps are considered classic examples of Estonian design. As it turned out, Linnaks’s career as a designer proved fairly brief, but from the experience she derived basic ideas that would appear a number of times in her later work as a solo artist. 
A noteworthy part of Linnaks’s work is in the form of wall plaques, but she has also produced candlesticks, vases and bowls. For such works, her favourite material is aluminium, which is perfectly logical as she wrote and defended her thesis on the possibilities of using aluminium in decorative art. All of the bowls, vases or candleholders are more or less cylindrical; only their height and width vary. Linnaks had already successfully employed the same combinations in her lamp designs. Compared to colour, form has a secondary role in her work, and is merely a surface that can be tinted dark grey, dark ochre, dark blue or any other tone that is decorative and different from the colour of any possible metal. A simple striped or chequered pattern is a good match for a tinted background; sometimes the décor is established on the contrasts between surfaces with various textures, such as etched and unetched areas. We see the same principle at work in her jewellery. Linnaks’s interest spread from dishes and vessels to wall plaques, and in this connection a new technique entered the picture – enamelling. The first enamel pictures are of interest in terms of stylization, whether they are natural images or geometric figures. The role of enamel on these plaques was still modest. Little by little, colour and tones appear in the plaques and the proportion of enamel motifs increased. The more improvisational plaques convey natural impressions. The understated style and rationalist surface design of her enamel pictures bear parallels with jewellery from the same period.
In the 1970s, Linnaks captivated the public with jewellery with a bumpy gold surface that bore a similarity to the work of goldsmiths from antiquity. Linnaks uses very different materials and techniques in a manner that is hers and hers alone, and it makes her work clearly recognizable. The hallmarks of her style are a singular texture – which blurs outlines – combined with moulding techniques (chased faces and figures), soft tone transitions and light and shadows. Linnaks’s jewellery is made of silver – often gilded silver. The artist sometimes fills surface cracks with discrete enamel, but mostly the painting-like structure is placed in contrast with a monochrome or multicoloured rounded polished stone. The artist shapes her own stones into a suitable form. Her more in-depth work with stones began at the Russkiye Samotsvety factory in Leningrad, where she served as an academic supervisor to students in polishing stones. No doubt those were the roots of her love for matte but brightly coloured stones, such as carnelian, obsidian or naturally patterned agate. But Linnaks’s transparent stones are also evocative. The artist’s relationship with metal is very flexible, ranging from minimalist to maximalist. Sometimes sculptural metal bears the theme. Nature is the source of inspiration for these pieces of jewellery, but mainly the jewellery serve to convey a mood, not to illustrate a recognizable image. In the second half of the decade, Linnaks’s jewellery held surprises in store in terms of form, colour and structure. In line with her new aims, the artist prefers rectangular, cylindrical, segment-shaped stones that provide excellent contrast to the mirror-smooth surface of silver. In the 1980s Linnaks began using filigree wire, but the only thing it has in common with work from the 1950s is the characteristic tone of white filigree. Linnaks’s filigree jewellery is improvisational. Sometimes it takes the form of grand plate jewellery, while sometimes the asymmetric surface’s lacework texture is shaped by experiences from nature while in other cases they are merely spatial compositions. Her jewellery from the 1990s and later years are the work of a mature master – luxurious gilded silver brooches with freshwater pearls or colourful semi-precious stones. These pieces of jewellery represent the full arsenal of the skills Linnaks gained over the years. As a traditionalist and “maximalist”, the artist strives for total technical mastery in every piece of jewellery she crafts. Although viewed in historical cross-section, Linnaks’s jewellery exhibits twists and turns that may push a new manifestation to centre stage for a time, her earlier paths do not disappear. They only gain more nuances over time.
Linnaks, who is professor emeritus at the Estonian Academy of Arts, taught future artists for thirty consecutive years. Her students have included Latvians, Lithuanians and, of course, Estonians. On top of it all, Linnaks had time to research the use of aluminium in Estonian metal art and published a treatise, “Aluminium in Art” (1988). She first exhibited in 1958 and the same year, two pieces of jewellery designed by Linnaks were on display at an international youth festival in Vienna. Since that time, Linnaks's works have travelled the world, to destinations from St. Petersburg to Beijing – everywhere Estonian applied art has been exhibited.
Lilian Linnaks is still capable of surprising us.

Curator: Merike Alber

Lilian Linnaks. Earrings: Ballance, 1988. Silver. Lilian Linnaks
Earrings: Ballance, 1988
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Lilian Linnaks. Brooch: Fishtail, 2000. Gold-plated silver,? chalcedony. Lilian Linnaks
Brooch: Fishtail, 2000
Gold-plated silver,? chalcedony
© By the author. Read Copyright.
Lilian Linnaks. Neckpiece: Figure, 1977. Gold-plated silver, smoky quartz. Lilian Linnaks
Neckpiece: Figure, 1977
Gold-plated silver, smoky quartz
© By the author. Read Copyright.