Aet Paaro paintings at her Solo Show “Finding Home” can be seen currently at 243 E. 34th St. New York City The Estonian House through December 6, 2019. 47 Vermont landscapes and New York City cityscapes comprise the show. All of the landscape paintings are versions of the same view from the artist’s Vermont home and were created in varied seasons and times of day. In the Artist Statement below, Aet Paaro writes about her background and why she paints the same view over and over.
“I’m often surprised to realize the true meaning of work I’ve made decades ago. The most basic choices in form & color, when compounded relentlessly result in a meaning whether I want them to or not, whether I recognize it or not. This meaning in its rawest form is the truth about me.
My parents came to America as Estonian refugees after WWII. I was born in a Displaced Persons camp in Germany. My father who had narrowly escaped death in a Nazi forced labor camp was placed in a zone for Estonian nationals where he met my mother. Although I was only a few months old when we got sponsorship to emigrate, I grew up in a home where the Golden days of life “back home” were celebrated and the losses relived. Indeed, growing up in the thick of the rich cultural world that postwar Estonians created on the East coast from Baltimore to Toronto, I was convinced that this community was drawing inspiration from a truly ideal place: Estonia. A place we couldn’t go visit – probably never because the Soviet Union had swallowed up Estonia into its grim Empire & we would end up in the Gulag if we tried to go there. Books with blurry photos in gray mustardy colors of dairy farms & empty factories provided frustrating visual clues. Soviet era snapshots of unsmiling relatives in shabby apartments arrived in letters once a year. To experience Estonia was literally unattainable. It was as if it didn’t really exist. My parents could never go home again and they weren’t really at home in America. I led two lives. One as an American girl living on Long Island and the other as an Estonian girl going to Estonian language school, Girl Scouts, summer camp and celebrating Estonian Independence Day here at the Estonian House every year. I spoke Estonian at home and English everywhere else. My strange name signaled to people that I wasn’t really American. In fact, I was from this tiny place no one had ever heard of and spoke a secret language no Americans spoke. Where did I belong?
Estonians don’t complain. They get on with it so I resolved to fit in and make myself at home here in America. As an introvert, I had my work cut out for me but finally, in high school I started feeling comfortable. I’d always had an odd yearning for the country, so I went to Bennington College in Vermont to study art. Vermont bewitched me. There was something beyond the beauty of the landscape – possibly the emptiness and the quiet and the strange taciturn people who would always show up silently to help in any given crisis. Unfortunately, it was 1968 and the world turned upside down with assassinations, elections and cultural unmooring. With the world shifting under me, I returned to New York where I finished school, married and stayed.
In the 1980’s, New York City was in the middle of a crack cocaine epidemic and I was one of the many New Yorkers fleeing the city for the summer and on weekends. I’d been painting in Soho and the Hamptons and was satisfied until I visited neighboring artist Janet Fish at her farm in Vermont. It seemed like a paradise. Janet helped us find our first rental house nearby and that summer I started painting the Vermont landscape with a real fervor. Reader’s Digest bought a large number of those works so I was encouraged to keep going. I started looking at land to build on.
On a completely foggy day, I was taken up an overgrown driveway to see a property that supposedly had a beautiful view. We came upon a large bird struggling on the ground, tangled and trapped in a mass of white string. When we finally freed the bird, it flew away into the fog. I’ve always had an unfortunate weak spot for signs and romantic symbolism so I was primed to like this property. The fog lifted when we got to the top of the hill and in that distant view of mountain after mountain, I had found what I was looking for.
We built our house on that spot and I’ve been painting the same view for 30 years. Why I need to paint the same thing relentlessly is a matter of conjecture. Initially, I was just trying to capture the changes in the light, the seasons, the weather but it’s now an excuse to give myself wide latitude to handle paint in a way that expresses something I can’t with language. Further, I don’t like to paint my actual house because somehow the view itself represents home to me. Perhaps it’s because it’s always a distant thing that’s way out there, that I don’t possess, that I can’t possess, like Estonia it’s the ideal place. I don’t yet know what it means.”