Though perhaps more well-known for its saunas, beautiful lakes and history of producing famous designers, Finland has a thriving contemporary art scene that can’t be ignored. From Johanna Havimäki’s recycled leather sculptures to the beautiful, award-winning black and white photography of Jari Silomäki, here are ten of the best contemporary Finnish artists and the galleries where their work can be viewed, from Helsinki to Turku.
Born in 1974 in Helsinki, painter Jani Hänninen started out as a graffiti-practicing street artist before going on to hone his technique at the prestigious Finnish Academy of Fine Arts. Though his paintings are still quite clearly informed by street art today, alongside abstract expressionism, and still have the air of something created quickly and spontaneously on an urban street wall, they are now a much more considered effort – the final product of a long process of painting and re-painting until perfection. Hänninen, the 2010 winner of the William Thuring Grand Prize awarded to mid-career artists by the Finnish Art Society, appropriates themes from various inspirations – the street, television, music and newspapers – and combines them with his natural skill as a painter to create mesmerizing canvasses full color, form, life and chaos.
Tuomas A. Laitinen is a versatile media artist born in the small town of Riihimäki in southern Finland in 1976 who works in mediums including but not limited to video, sound, neon, light boxes and printmaking. A Master of Fine Arts, Laitinen studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Finland and in 2013 became the first recipient of a new award created by the Finnish Fine Arts Academy Foundation – a prize awarded every two years to outstanding Finnish artists yet to be recognized with a grant of €25,000 and an exhibition at the Espoo Museum of Modern Art. He has also exhibited works internationally at galleries including Riga ArtSpace in Latvia and Art Plus Shanghai in China. Laitinen’s recent works include Maps and Mazes, a project exploring Helsinki’s subterranean spaces, and the forthcoming exhibition Fundamental Matter, which examines pressing global issues.
Sculptor Helena Hietanen, who was born in 1963 and lives and works in Helsinki, was educated in her craft at the capital’s University of Art and Design now known as Aalto University after the famous Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. She works with light – both natural and artificial – and textiles, namely the traditional and intricate art of Finnish lace-making, fusing fiber-optic technology and tradition to create ethereal, dreamlike illuminated sculptures. And though her artwork makes much use of light-based technologies, something seems very natural about her sculptures, creating an interesting contrast in her art. A particular point of interest for Hietanen is the interaction between light sculptures and the environments they inhabit and this she has explored with her husband and visual artist Jaako Niemalä during a project exploring light-based sculptures in public spaces.
Based in tiny Kuru in western Finland, Johanna Havimäki is a sculptor born in 1978 whose main material in her art-making process is recycled leather clothing, which she re-appropriates and crafts back into animal-like forms. However, her sculptures, an examination of the circle of life and materials, have tell-tale signs of their former incarnation as clothing-like zips and buttons, reminding the viewer that there can be no true or complete return to original form. Besides her leather sculptures Havimäki is also a keen photographer, creating installations out of photographs printed on wood and has participated in several collaborative projects like Kuulijaiset – a pop-up art project with sound artist and soundscape researcher Meri Kytö and dancer/visual artist Outi Yli-Viikari that explores how the sounds of urban landscapes effect movement and awareness.
Born in 1952, Jarmo Mäkilä is a 1973 graduate of the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts and is widely considered one of the key trailblazers of Finnish contemporary visual arts. He received his first solo exhibition in 1970 at the Young Artists Exhibition in Helsinki’s Kunsthalle and has exhibited internationally at galleries in New York City, Los Angeles and Paris. His works are a meeting of fine art, Finnish mythology and personal experience with paintings and sculptures that conjure up a surreal world of rituals and memories in which boyhood innocence comes to end. His significance to Finnish contemporary art saw him awarded the Pro Finlandia medal in 2011, which recognizes esteemed artists and writers and is one of the country’s highest honors.
Jari Silomäki at Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art
Perhaps one of Finland’s most well-known photographers, Jari Silomäki was born in 1975 in Parkano and studied his craft at the Turku Arts Academy and the University of Art and Design in Helsinki. Silomäki was the winner of the 2004 Fotofinlandia competition, which was first held in 1988 and aims to raise the profile of the Finnish photographic arts; his works have been exhibited throughout his native Finland and at art galleries in Paris, New York City and Australia. His photographs are often in black and white, a welcome contrast to the ultra-glossy and flamboyantly colorful images produced by much of today’s digital photography, and depict the everyday – the personal, the political and the poetic – with a sense of quiet beauty and alienation of ordinary life.
Axel Antas received his BA in Fine Arts at Goldsmith College in London and has completed residencies at Centre d’Art I Natura de Farrera in Spain and at the Pro Arbitus Foundation’s Villa Snäcksund programme. Since his first solo exhibition in 1998, he has exhibited widely throughout Europe and his works appear in collections at Helsinki Art Museum and Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art. A multi-disciplinary artist, Antas’ work embraces photography, video and drawing and often depicts landscape scenes that take a critical look at the connection, or indeed disconnection, between humankind and nature – as with his recent series Shaped Views, in which he contorts the natural shape of trees using ropes tethered to their branches, thus transforming the natural into something manmade and sculptural.
Born in Helsinki in 1945, Carolus Enckell is a painter and installation artist that followed his father’s footsteps – the Finnish painter and graphic artist Torger Carolus Enckell – into the world of art. A highly regarded artist in his own right, Enckell has received a whole host of awards including the prestigious Pro Finlandia medal in 2009 and the Carnegie Art Award in 2001, and has exhibited his works in numerous solo and group exhibitions both in Finland and internationally. A stalwart of Finnish contemporary art, Enckell is also a well-known essayist and is widely credited with introducing modern American visual art to Finland through his essays and lectures. Known for his modernist abstract paintings full of geometric shapes and monochrome shades, Enckell sees his paintings as art in its purest form that cannot be further reduced by analytics – a technique which constantly challenges him as an artist.
A 1991 graduate of the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts, Pasi Eerik Karjula is a spatial and conceptual artist who creates sculptures that vary in size from large-scale to wall reliefs and statuettes. Karjula works mainly with wood, manipulating it using various tools – from knives and axes to chainsaws and fire – leaving their imprint on the wood so as to reveal his artistic process. In 2010, he contributed to an architectural project – the construction of the almost entirely wooden Kuokkala church in Jyväskylä, Finland – by sculpting its altar. Under the banner of OLO, he collaborates with fellow artist Marko Vuokola creating sculptures for public spaces, such as OLO n:o 22 – an installation of over 50 variously sized steel spheres placed in the seaside district of Hietalahti in Helsinki.
Suvi Aarnio, who lives and works in Turku, is a graduate of environmental art at the Turku University of Applied Science, and outside of her personal art creation she is active in the production and facilitation of socially oriented public art projects. Her artwork is invested in and inspired by folklore and traditional cultural activities, which she interprets and subverts freely. Displacing them from their original usage and meaning and combining them with her own visual aesthetic, Aarnio creates a series of installation and performance-based art where traditionally ‘feminine’ items become imbued with an alternative significance – for example, pop culture irons are embroidered on materials such as tea towels and patchwork blankets are decorated with and warped by nightmarish imagery.