Rea Nurmi’s art, which has transformed the blank walls of hospitals and schools worldwide into colorful land and seascapes, is now available to New Haven residents at the York Square Cinema Gallery.
Her exhibition, titled “Over and Under the Sea,” went on display Nov. 5 and will remain open until Dec. 8. An opening reception was held Sunday afternoon, at which local artists and art-lovers gathered to admire Nurmi’s work.
Nurmi, who paints primarily with a mix of acrylic and dry pastels, said she likes to show her work in unusual locales around the world. For example, she turned the MRI unit at the Yale-New Haven Hospital into a blossoming garden.
“I want to bring art to the people instead of forcing them to go to some special gallery,” said Nurmi.
Apart from the MRI unit at Yale-New Haven, Nurmi has painted murals in many hospitals, nursing homes, schools and youth detention centers around the world, including the Meltola Hospital and the Altola Nursing Home in Finland and the Meyer Children’s Hospital in Italy. She said she enjoys collaborating with the people who will later view the work, often enlisting the help of hospital staffs and building residents for pieces.
“Art belongs everywhere,” she said. “People are afraid of art because they don’t understand it, and I want to change that.”
Born in Helsinki, Finland, Nurmi moved to the United States in 1973 and worked as a designer in engineering firms for 13 years before committing herself to her art.
“I painted everything inside my closet, and then I ventured outside,” she said.
Nurmi said her favorite themes are tropical fish and flying birds, themes she thinks are the most appropriate for the colorless environments where she works.
“They give light and color where it’s most needed,” she said. “They are the most refreshing.”
Johnes Ruta, curator of the York Square Cinema gallery and organizer of Nurmi’s exhibit, said he tries to raise the public’s familiarity with international artists. Ruta said the York Square Cinema gallery has hosted artists from many different parts of the world, including Russia, India, Poland and Colombia.
“If I had the means, I would create an international art center in New Haven,” said Ruta.
For now, the York Square Cinema Gallery is a good way to increase the public’s awareness, Ruta said.
“There is a lack of art education in the public school system,” Ruta said. “People are unaware of what art is about. The cinema gets more traffic than most galleries, and this helps educate the public.”
Peter Spodick, whose family built the Cinema in 1961 and still operates it, said the York Square Cinema Gallery is the oldest gallery in New Haven and that it has hosted over 400 exhibitions.
“The area with the big white walls was part of the intent and design of the York when it was built,” Spodick said. “It was deliberately geared towards exhibition.”
Spodick said the flexibility of the space and the fact that it does not have a fixed clientele are the gallery’s greatest assets.
Numri and Rutta agreed, saying New Haven does not have enough places to show art, especially for outside artists.
“It’s very hard for them to get venues in New Haven because of the strong [community] of artists here,” Rutta said.
Dave Saenz, a local artist who attended the opening reception, said he was impressed with quality of Numri’s work.
“What is most wonderful is the combination of different mediums in her work,” he said.