The man who paints, head in the clouds

Text: Mari Roonemaa Photos: Talis Taim Published: 14 / Feb / 2018

If you think about the perfect Estonian summer, you might imagine it to be just like most Navitrolla paintings – a blue sky with white clouds, a green forest and some content creatures, a blessed still life. Navitrolla's world is bright and dreamy, but instead of the more familiar wolves and foxes of Võru County, giraffes walk around with their heads in the clouds, or other savanna animals are drinking water from the lakes of South Estonia. resizeimage 1 resizeimage 18

Navitrolla, or Heiki Trolla, who spends most of his summer in Mähkli village in Karula National Park, has been painting for over 30 years and, in his words, thinks in pictures and about paintings most of the time. "People think that I'm making firewood, but I actually I'm doing art. People think that I'm eating, but I'm actually doing art. People think that I'm doing art, but in fact I'm doing art and inevitably turning into an artist," he says.

It sounds like a poem, and as it turns out, Navitrolla considers himself more like a poet rather than other (painters) artists. You do not have to look far for his favourite poet (:) kivisildnik. Over the years, they have had a lot of creative interactions – from designing the 841-page collection of poems "Like the fly agaric to the bull" to the recent illustrations of (:) kivisildnik's post-apocalyptic sci-fi epos "Soar's Gospel". Viiding, Pessoa, Pushkin, Majakovsky, Shakespeare and Bob Dylan are also mentioned. Navitrolla has created harmony between the written word and image by illustrating the works of Estonian ethnic-futuristic artist Kauksi-Ülle, and Kerttu Rakke.

Navitrolla says that he does not identify himself with any particular art movement, nor does he link his work to any social themes. "I am fascinated by interesting people, dramatic views of nature, successful days, my children, my grandchildren..." Creative productivity is relative to him – during some years, two or three large paintings are born, while during others, a dozen small ones. "What is important is what stays in your memory."

And let's make one thing clear – Navitrolla's paintings do not always depict summer, but also winter and autumn. There are also some black and white paintings. Painting a monochrome picture from time to time is extremely liberating for the artist. "The concept grows from an initial idea and summer is probably the best environment for my thoughts," he muses. He sees the nature of his creation as being rather stable, even repetitive. "I started painting landscapes, and the sky and cloud are usually a part of that. The colours and characters, composition and light vary. A lot changes during the years, but in some ways this is all an illusion," adds the artist.

Navitrolla´s works are born of visions that are affected by surrounding nature.

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Although Navitrolla spends more and more time at home in Võru County and now travels primarily in his mind, he has actually also travelled a lot in the past, and like a migrating bird, has been away from Estonia during the winter – Greece, Portugal, Spain, France are a few of his winter destinations. Some of the brightest visions, that are later turned into paintings, come from these trips.

"I was sitting in Lisbon in someone's garden and had consumed enough wine. I do not see such visions very often, but this time it was while sitting on a warm night under the palm trees and sipping wine, that I saw a grey and misty sky with an Estonian fir-tree horizon appear. In front of the forest however, was a meadow with flowers, where white bears had come together by coincidence and they danced for a while," Navitrolla recalls. This vision is so strong that in a couple of months, the painting "Dance" was ready. resizeimage 19

Other pictures are born out of life itself – for example, the artist had been away from Estonia for a few months and had just crossed back over the Latvian border on an early morning bus. The classic Estonian landscape appeared, with black forest on the horizon, and in the foreground a pasture with white silo bales. "The bales were set in a row, quite beautifully, perfectly. In addition, there was some text on them: we are silo bales! I was speechless – I laughed for a while and thought to myself how good it is to be home again."

This memory was also reborn as a painting, only 20 years later. There is a reason to look forward to the coming decades.

Võru County is a magical place
For those who would rather "travel" from the comfort of their couch, Navitrolla recommends reading the works of Juhan Jaik, who is from Sänna village and has lived in the forests of Võru County. Particularly good is the collection "Kaarnakivi" (1931), in which the local sense of life is revealed through the writer's mystical and fantasy world.
Be sure to breathe in the fresh air of Võru County in the smallest and most isolated national park in Estonia – Karula National Park. On the shores of the picturesque Ähijärv Lake there is a visitor centre where you can get acquainted with a permanent exhibition of Karula's history, nature, folk culture and contemporary lifestyle, and in addition get information on local recreational opportunities.

Article was published in Nordica´s in-flight magazine Time Flies  (autumn 2017).