Interview with Kati Riikonen, Helsinki, 2017
1) What are the influences of being an art teacher to your career as a contemporary artist?
I believe that teaching fine arts has affected my own learning processes and artistic work. Innumerable times it has happened so that in a dialogical teaching situation a student has become the teacher. At its best both student and teacher have found themselves amidst a mutually enriching creative process.
Mainly I have been teaching fine arts to 13-20 year olds. Young people of that age are often bursting with fresh and interesting new ideas. Many of them are interested in the societal aspects of life and stay very well-informed about recent events. Fine arts’ training in Finland embraces a large variety of different materials, techniques and themes. Through teaching fine arts I have become accustomed to using techniques, which otherwise would have remained on the fringe of my expressive palette. Trying out with different materials has broadened my horizons in relation to how more traditional painting techniques can be combined with other techniques and less-used materials. All of the above-mentioned aspects also source into my personal work as an artist.
2) What is the relation of art and personal development?
Making art has been a part of my life for as far back as I can remember. My parents supported me and my brothers in our interests even though they themselves had no inclination towards the arts. As a child I used to paint, draw, dance, act and do sports, especially swimming. As a family we used to visit museums and theatres. Summer cottage by Lake Pielinen, the library, movie theatre and the Arts school for children and youngsters in Lieksa were dear places to me.
I used to have other passing interests and hobbies. For a while I played the violin at the music school, but couldn’t continue due to a structural flaw in both of my little fingers. Ending my music studies and the preceding operations on my fingers were painful experiences for a small child. I felt I was inadequate and an anomaly, even though these were thoughts I had never had before. I think I will return back to this theme later on in my work. I am interested in how “experiences of otherness” can be addressed through the medium of art.
Through my experiences and somehow naturally, visual arts emerged to become my preeminent artistic medium – and it continues to be one. Writing has also maintained its importance for me, but it has until now remained more at a stage of process-writing. I am not myself, unless I live my life experiencing, seeing and making art.
3) What is the importance of different materials in your actual art and why do you insist in bringing them to your pieces?
Sometimes I notice in retrospect, how specific themes, images, design or colours have come up again and again. Often it is unconscious. Occasionally I create kind of “day-images”, where I let my pen wander and meander freely wherever it wishes to go, without forcing anything based on a primary idea. Sometimes I notice that those day-images have initiated some of my thematic worlds, becoming also fragments into more considered artworks which have not been created through improvisation.
Especially when I was a student of fine arts and art education, I used to carry along a sketchbook for making visual and written notes. As new ideas emerge, I will also delve back into those earlier sketches to perceive more clearly what my thought-processes were at the time. It is interesting to witness what will become of this interweaving between the old and the new.
Through the years I have tried out using different surfaces and materials. At the moment painting using mixed techniques on fairly large surfaces feels to be the most natural way to go. In my latest work I have also used pieces cut from fabric and lace, something I have never done before. I like it when one can discern subtle layering in a completed painting. I use techniques and materials that walk hand-in-hand with the thematic worlds I envision.
4) What is the future of art according to your contemporary view?
I have always admired visual artworks, which somehow reveal the “soul of the artist”. Such art never loses its meaning. There are innumerable styles and techniques, but I believe that every artist should follow their own artistic path with honesty and transparency, while staying open to new inspiring influences.
It is unfortunate that the contemporary social and global situation does not seem to be promising anything too good for the future. Recent events have shaken one’s trust in the ability of man to solve the worldwide problems he has been co-creating.
On the other hand many people enjoy lives of relative ease, especially compared to how arduous life has been in the past. The fast flow of negatively-laden news has been creating an illusion of hopelessness. At the same time it also sends a message of how at the end of the day we are simply human, vulnerable beings sharing similar joys and burdens.
Artists and the art they create have the ability to have a social impact. Each one does it in her or his own style. Visual arts have and always will have a deeply meaningful place in the world. There is inherent meaning in how in the midst of the seemingly hopeless chaos of contemporary life, there arrive – however fleeting – impressions of beauty and joy. One should not let belief in goodness fade, it can be empowered for example through art.
5) How do you select your sources and inspirations?
My mind is full of inspiring ideas, forms and designs. They stem from a multitude of different sources, from discussions with colleagues, from wandering around in nature… surfacing as I read, write, sleep, paint. The different facets of life become a boundless wellspring of creative ideas.
Making an artwork series demands a more rooted idea, as was in my exhibition Echoes. The initial idea for Echoes developed through the years, the work-process itself took about two years. I process further initial ideas which I can get a good grip on, since they have more substance and consistency, also being ideas which inspire my inner visual worlds.
6) How does your past influence in your creation process?
My life is continually affected by the past, the present and the future. It is often said that one should live in the moment. That goes for many, but I do not anymore experience such a temporal “trinity” as a burden. I nowadays understand that letting my train of thought wander freely is important for my creative processes.
Having life experience truly does not hinder my creativity. I have gone through hard times, like when after the birth of my child there was no certainty of his survival. But I have also had space in my life to live through joy and creativity. Close ones walking the same path with me have provided me with crucial support. They have been my inspiration, and it is due to them that I have managed to flourish despite the tough periods. My family has always been there for me. All aspects of my life have been present in my artworks.
7) What is your next project?
As far back as I can remember I have been interested in the cinema. As a child I was an avid watcher of both Finnish and international black-and-white films. Since then I have been embraced by the different worlds projected through movies. I still remember how scintillating it was to see my first ever film in the petite cinema of my hometown Lieksa.
Films and documentaries have been having an ever-increasing impact on the world. Nowadays even the smallest children can easily record their own stories. Such recorded stories become very important on a personal level, but for some there exists an even greater need to share their stories with a wider audience. These creative minds enable us to see a broad range of artworks inspired by different genres.
In my upcoming paintings I wish to be in dialogue with movies that have touched me in some way across the years. Perhaps they have had some societally important message, or some minute humanely touching detail, or some visually breath-taking scene. I would like to freeze in time some moments from these movies, so that they not only remain fleeting, but stay exposed for closer scrutiny and observation. So that the forms and colours source from specific cinematic moments, but work out on a different visual path in the process of becoming self-contained paintings. I have an interest in collage, but I have noticed that in the beginning phases it is hard to know which techniques will be used for the final artwork. I trust the process.
Interview with Kati Riikonen: Ricardo Fernandes
Photos: Kaisa Lackman