Once a dissident rejected by the state, Leonhard Lapin is now considered one of the most important modern artists in his native Estonia. Born 1947 in what was the Estonian SSR, Lapin trained as an architect but soon began to also create paintings, sculpture and graphics.
In the 1960s and ’70s his political views deeply affected both his pioneering work as an architect of the ‘Tallinn School’ and his career as a visual artist. Lapin rejecting the tenets of Socialist Realism to produce work that revealed the gap between the state-approved utopian images and the reality of a nation struggling with uprisings in the Soviet republics and the threat of nuclear disaster. In all media, Lapin has blended pop art inspired by Andy Warhol with references to the early Soviet avant-gardism of Constructivism and Suprematism.
Lapin’s political focus continues today. In 2012 in Washington, D.C. his exhibition Lest We Forget: Masters of Soviet Dissent provided a timely reminder of Soviet artistic repression, juxtaposing the symbology of religion and totalitarianism as a challenge to Putin’s Russia.
Image: Leonhard Lapin, Suprematism and Socialism, from the series Conversation of Signs, silk print, 1989.