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Finnish Painting

Bright orange, yellow and salmon make up the ground with writing in green.
© 2015 William Pope.L

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  • Bright orange, yellow and salmon make up the ground with writing in green.




American, 1955-2023

About this artwork

Pope.L is known for provocative, physically taxing performances as well as for text-based drawings and paintings. Many of the former have transpired unceremoniously in incidental public spaces such as parks, sidewalks, and gutters, with the artist donning variously symbolic attire — a skirt made of dollar bills and a sausage-link chain for ATM Piece (1997) and a capeless Superman costume for the ongoing Great White Way. Readily identifiable themes in Pope.L’s art include the disruption of conventions of cultural identity, the paradoxical idea of lack as a source of value, and the explosion of traditional artistic categories. He applies the term drawing liberally, for instance, stressing the impulses that make drawing necessary and the way in which tactile engagement with a given surface, form, or space can be considered an act of drawing. This work places a similar emphasis on the category of painting.

The title Finnish Painting proposes a strangely specific, yet also enigmatic, evocation of national identity and offers a play on words by referencing the imperative to “finish painting.” The surface is materially and formally riotous, comprised of the barely legible text of a poem whose last word is “decode”—as if acknowledging that to see, read, and understand others is always a struggle and that meaning is often fluid or open-ended. Meanwhile, the painting’s clearest feature is the signature-like name of artist Robert Ryman in the bottom right corner. Ryman, a figure associated with the emergence of Minimalism in the early 1960s, treated his signature as an important visual element within a painting’s composition, never simply as authorization of a finished canvas. Ryman is also known for a signature color (or noncolor): he makes white monochrome paintings, although sometimes the white has been layered on top of colorful, mostly or entirely obscured underpainting. Perhaps this Pope.L work reveals what might lie beneath Ryman’s white surfaces.


On View, Gallery 294


Contemporary Art




Finnish Painting


United States (Object made in)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.



Oil, acrylic, flash paint, marker, pen, collage, thumbtacks and tape on torn paper


214.6 × 151.1 cm (84 1/2 × 59 1/2 in.)

Credit Line

Purchased with funds provided by Denise B. Gardner

Reference Number



© 2015 William Pope.L

Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email . Information about image downloads and licensing is available here.


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