Gunnar Neeme




Gunnar Neeme (birth name Johannes Näkk, 19 May 1918 – 3 February 2005) was an artist, book illustrator and writer.

Gunnar Neeme was born in Tartu, completed secondary school in Tartu in 1937 and studied at Pallas art school with interruptions from 1937 to 1943. In World War II, he fought in the German army and finished in Germany at the end of the war where he continued his art studies at a private studio from 1946–1949 and worked as a drawing teacher for US soldiers’ hobby groups. In 1949, he emigrated to Australia where he lived in Melbourne from 1952. Until 1982, he worked mainly as an artist, art teacher and graphic designer.

Along with Estonian and European art, Neeme particularly appreciated modern Japanese art. He also found inspiration in the art of Australian aborigines. Neeme worked as a book illustrator and arranged numerous art exhibitions and literary recitals. He is best known for his illustrations for the Estonian national epic Kalevipoeg, which he published in 1984. These graphic prints inspired the Australian Estonian Triinu Kartus to finish her translation of Kalevipoeg into English. Kartus’ translation with Gunnar Neeme’s illustrations was published in Estonia in 2011.

Gunnar Neeme began to write poetry as a school student. He was encouraged by his teacher Karl Ader, a well-known actor and stage speech teacher. Neeme’s literary talent was expressed primarily in essayistic contemplatory prose poems in Estonian and English where the main theme is the relation between the artwork and its author’s spiritual life. He also used the forms of classical Japanese poetry like hokku and basho. His poems have been set to music and performed on the radio in Australia. A few of his poems have been translated into Finnish, Latvian and Maltese.

Neeme also wrote plays on themes of Estonian history which were staged by Australian Estonian amateur actors.

He published essays on art philosophy, poems, humorous stories, miniatures and reviews in emigre Estonian journals Olion, Tulimuld and Mana and in English-language periodicals. Neeme illustrated the reference book Eestlased Austraalias II ja Uus-Meremaal (‘Estonians in Australia II and in New Zealand’, 1993) and was one of its compilers and editors.

L. P. (Translated by I. A.)

Books in Estonian and English

Short prose
Tuuleraudne. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 2023. 223 lk.

Prose poetry in Estonian
Kollane vihm: maalingud nägemisest ja mõistmisest.  Adelaide: Ivoret, 1976. 80 lk.
Maalit uiman: mõtisklusi, vaatlusi ning variatsioone. Adelaide: Ivoret, 1981. 50 lk.

Prose poetry in English
Mist of Time: Meditations in Words and Pictures. Richmond, Victoria: Spectrum, 1976. 68 lk.
The Waves: Observations and Impressions. Richmond: Spectrum, 1988. 75 lk.

The Notes: essays in verse and pictures. Melbourne: G. Neeme, 1982. 22 lk.

Mosaiigid: näidend kahes vaatuses. Melbourne: G. Neeme, 1979. 21 lk.
Mustade ristide maa: näidend Eesti ajaloost 4 vaatuses. Melbourne, 1982. 18 lk.

Kalevipoeg taidelises nägemuses = Kalevipoeg in artistic vision [joonistuste kogu]. Richmond (Victoria): Spectrum Publications, 1984. 138 lk.