Kalervo Palsa

Hugo Kalervo Palsa (March 12, 1947 - October 3, 1987), or Kalle was a Finnish artist in a style that has been described as fantastic realism.Long neglected, Kalervo Palsa has enjoyed a revival of sorts since the publication of critical works, a biography and two major retrospectives in Helsinki and Pori.


His life evinced a good degree of northern madness. Among his local contemporaries of Kittilä in Lapland he had the reputation of a drunken artist masturbating at home and painting furiously.He felt haunted both by his perverse urges and the provincial and narrow-minded mental perimeter of his northern hometown.While he lived there, his abode was a tiny studio cabin which was closer to a shack than a house. He wired it for electricity by drawing a long extension cable from a nearby house. He called it his "Getsemane" after the biblical site, or sometimes his "castle in the clouds".Upon his death two rumors spread in the local community. One that he had in a drunken stupor collapsed into a snowbank, and died from exposure. The other that he had hung himself. The latter was more understandable, since several of his self-portraits featured a hangman's noose around his neck, and several other of his paintings also used the symbology of hanging.

The real circumstances of his death - lying in bed with pneumonia, without anyone checking to see how he was doing - were perhaps, and regrettably more fitting to an artist, but not to the figure they knew.During his life he had many artist friends such as Reidar Särestöniemi, but only two real supporters; his mother, and a soul-mate/muse he found in Maj-Lis Pitkänen, a psychiatrist specialising in troubled children who shared his morbid view of the world. Maj-Lis was the sister of his first infatuation Maaret who rebuffed Kalervo Palsa, but led him to meet her sister. Maj-Lis and Kalle exchanged views and forged a profound meeting of minds.

After his death Maj-Lis fought a protracted and bitter battle to raise an appropriate cenotaph for "Kalle". The monument shaped like a stylized seed or bullroarer was viewed by the parish as being pagan, or even representing female sexual organs. Many voices proclaimed that it was a mistake to let the "pervert" be buried into holy ground to begin with.Over time, the notables from Kittilä, who once strenously opposed the monument, have instead begun to express pride that an internationally renowned artist was a local boy.

The art of Kalervo Palsa

Kalervo Palsa used an incredibly varied palette of techniques and materials even including housepaint. The subjects with the richest content, generally received the most hurried and crude treatment. The over 1000 self-portraits on the other hand generally were treated at the very least with competent technique.

Mostly the works explore in graphic detail the dark side of humanity in general and his native northern regions specifically. Grotesque sexuality, sadism, homosexuality, bisexuality and a general emotional frigidity paraphilia reflect his own inner turmoil and were perhaps a reaction to the mental atmosphere of his hometown.Palsa did have a brief fling with abstract art while staying in New York, but as he recounts in his diary, that phase came to an abrupt halt when one day he saw a passed out black man sprawled on a subway bench.Besides Hieronymous Bosch, his work has been compared to that of Frida Kahlo.


Palsa drew a great deal of influence from both the lives and works of numerous painters, writers and philosophers. Painters who influenced him include Magritte and Van Gogh. His works include clear references to such people as Sartre, Strindberg and Genet, and many more subtle influences are listed on the first page of Eläkeläinen muistelee, where he mentions such kindred spirits as Jonathan Swift and Lenin among many others.Despite this brand of what might be called intertextuality, some researchers have noted that though he remained active in his work up to his death in 1987, his work did not show signs of the postmodernism evident in the work of many other artists of the time.