Lepo Mikko (born Leonid Mikko) was born on 7 December 1911, in Tuhalaane, Viljandi County, into a family of farmers. In 1927, following the example of Juhan Muks, he enrolled in the Tallinn School of Art and Crafts. However, the dry teaching methods did not suit him, and after three years Mikko decided to continue his education at Pallas, in Tartu.
Because his parents did not support Mikko’s art studies, the young man had to work, holding a job for three and a half years as a painter and surveyor and as a photographer in Karksi-Nuia. Thus, Mikko’s studies in Pallas continued with interruptions until 1939. In 1944, during the bombing of Tartu, the artist’s home was hit and, among other things, Mikko’s works from his time in Pallas were destroyed. In the same year the family moved to Tallinn, where Mikko started to work as a painting teacher at the Institute of Fine Arts, becoming a professor in 1965.
Mikko’s painting style was epic and he was most drawn to archaic themes. In his views of Viljandi, Mikko is not entangled in details or close-ups, but depicts the city in a characteristically Nordic, austere, and balanced manner (Vallikivi, 2020). The artist developed his distinctive style of painting in the second half of the 1950s and the first half of the 1960s, when he also became more interested in monumental painting. His landscape paintings reveal the artist’s love of nature. Mikko had a primordial, instinctive affection for nature, painting the merging and becoming one with the landscape.
Lepo Mikko returned to the Viljandi art scene in the 1960s, while at the same time teaching at the Institute of Fine Arts and being actively involved in creative activities. He came to Viljandi because he longed for his childhood home, which he never got back; instead, Mikko spent most of his summers in his summer cottage in Loodi. In 1961, there was still no gallery in Viljandi, which slowed down the development of the art scene in steadily growing Viljandi. Mikko’s paintings were exhibited at the Viljandi Museum together with the works of painter Juhan Muks, sculptor Aino Tõnisson-Sepp (1932–1996) and graphic artist Tõnis Lukats (1907–1996). During the period 1973–1982, there were no art exhibitions even in the museum. When an art hall was opened in the former Communist Party headquarters in 1991, exhibitions began to be organised under the leadership of Aate-Heli Õun, who brought numerous exhibitions of Estonian art classics to Viljandi, including an exhibition of Lepo Mikko’s works (Vallikivi, 2020).
KEYWORDS: epic style, author of monumental paintings