Riikka Talvitie: A Finnish composer

Finnish contemporary composer, oboist and music pedagogue Riikka Talvitie is an artist greatly influenced by her audience. She believes that the audience and community have an impact so important that there is a need for new notions of authorship and agency in music. Her compositions are brought into practice in performances, and so the discussion of the community’s role in collaboration is relevant. As a woman composer, Talvitie also wears an activist hat in society. Women are still in the margins as art music composers. 

There are topics and ideas that Talvitie is ready to discuss more, and she collaborates with artists of many genres. She is currently in the process of doing her artistic doctorate in music at the Sibelius Academy, University of the Arts in Helsinki.  

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did you pick oboe as your instrument?

Riikka Talvitie: As a child, I lived in Kerava, in a small town near Helsinki. When I was seven years old I started to play piano in a local music school which was founded in those years. (This autumn I am composing a piece for the 40-years celebration.)

When I was around 14-years old I asked our music teacher if I could start to play oboe in a school orchestra. In the orchestra, there was also an older student, oboist, who started to teach me. I didn’t know how difficult it was to start the instrument.

Later after school, I did entrance examination for Sibelius Academy with both instruments. I got in with oboe, which was a sort of coincidence. I also started to read mathematics at the University.

Self Portrait (video still), Riikka Talvitie, 2018.
Self Portrait (video still), Riikka Talvitie, 2018.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How much did your own instrument define and influence your creations in the early face of your career?

RT: I just did a video work Self-Portrait which is dealing with this question. The main thematic issue of the work is a relationship between a composer and a musician. I am performing both persons at the same time, so I am discussing with myself. I am also improvising some bodily exercises with the oboe. (See the video here
https://fmq.fi/articles/composer-at-work-a-critical-self-portrait)

 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What else in your musical training and background created who you are, and what made you choose composing?

RT: I chose a high school, which was specialized in performing arts. All my friends had something to do with theatre, cinema, literature or dance. So while I was studying oboe playing I composed and improvised music to theatre plays and short movies. I was quite enthusiastic with these projects so I took composition as a secondary subject.

I was also quite interested about contemporary music in general. I played myself a lot and I was visiting many festivals.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How many years ago was this, and how has your career path evolved?

RT: I had my first composition lesson in 1994 in a summer course with Jouni Kaipainen and Magnus Lindberg. At that time I had lots of ideas and plans but no craftsmanship or technical skills. After the course I started to study really seriously.

The world might have been a bit different place in the 90’s because I was able to study composition quite long at the Sibelius Academy after I had graduated with oboe.

I have also been twice in Paris. First time I was studying oboe and composition at the conservatory of Paris. And the second time I was following one-year-course of music technology at Ircam.

Finally when I got my first child, in 2004, I stopped playing oboe because I didn’t have time to practise and travel anymore. In the video work I am quite strict to myself and ask: why did you stop playing? You did not think about your career? The answer is not that simple. This autumn I have some oboe performances coming so I am still dealing with the same question.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle:  What words describe your music?

RT: Light, airy, ironical, tasteless, fluent – perhaps.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle:  What kinds of themes do you usually develop in your compositions?

RT: Many themes and interests have changed during the years. When I was younger I got excited with mathematical ideas. Abstract world without social intrigues fascinated me in many ways. Then I have worked a lot with texts – poems, plays etc.

Nowadays, I am more into political and critical themes. I have a feeling that concert music is repeating some kind of old ritual where the most creative ideas are forbidden. Many things are not allowed, socially and aesthetically. I find this quite contradictory to the main purpose of art.

At this moment, my goals are more interactive and communal. I am preparing an artistic research about shared authorship and communality in a composer’s practice.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle:  Are there ways to categorize contemporary music? Do contemporary works differ from modern music, say in tonality, and in aesthetical ways?

RT: I just read an interesting book Music After the Fall: Modern Composition and Culture since 1989 by Tim Rutherford-Johnson. The writer argues that contemporary music is not anymore so much linked to modernism as we tend to think. instead, it should be analysed in the context of globalization, digitization and new media. He starts the new era from the year 1989. I recommend this book to all composers and musicians who are trying to define the state of contemporary music scene today.

I see some trends among composers. The growing use of video and multimedia is now very common in concerts all over. Also the question of material is changing. In modernism a composer created his/her own material on which the composition was built. Now, there is more liberal relation to musical material which can vary from different musical styles to short samples of already existing music or sound.

One of the most important changes is the effect of social media. All the composers are marketing and presenting their works openly in the internet. It gives composers freedom to find their own paths but on the other hand it feels like a global competition of recognition.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Does being a woman composer mean something special to you?

RT: Yes, it means a lot. I am a feminist, in a way. I strongly support equality and diversity in the society and correspondingly in the music field.

These values are unfortunately missing in the project of canonizing composers and art works. I am interested in artists who are left outside the canon. A year ago, I was presenting a work by Ethel Smith, a British composer from the beginning of 20th century. She was not mentioned in our music history classes in my youth. And how many others are there?

While doing my artistic research, I have many times wondered why the different waves of feminism haven’t left almost any imprint on art music composition. In Finnish composers society there are still only 10 % female composers. If we think about what happened in performance and video art in the 60’s and 70’s there were lots of artists participating in the happenings for sexual emancipation. At the same time, among contemporary music we just invented new composition techniques 🙂

I have also considered this question while teaching. What values do we forward to the next generation?

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Finland has a woman composing star, Kaija Saariaho, who is also well-known in New York City music world. Do you think she has developed a way for others to follow?

RT: Kaija Saariaho has an important role in Finnish music life, for sure, and in that sense her career is a sort of example for woman composers. She is also really warm and gentle person towards colleagues, especially for young students.

On the other hand, Kaija is presenting quite traditional image of a composer. Her career is based on international reputation, large commissions, prizes and so on. This position is actually quite hierarchical, and mythical.

There are plenty of artists who don’t want an individual international status. They want to work in working groups or in a pedagogical field. We are different. In that point of view Kaija is not a role model for all Finnish female composers.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What are your key influences as a composer, and how do you conceptually start your works?

RT: Every project is slightly different but I still try to give some concrete examples. I start every composition by discussion with other people who are involved. I try to figure out who is playing, what skills musicians have, what are the interests of a producer, what is the schedule, what else is performed in the same concert, is there a musical theme like era or an ideological theme like protection of seas etc. For me it is really important that musicians and performers are fully engaged in the big picture.

I also collaborate quite a lot with other artists. In those situations I normally wait a moment and listen to others. I feel that I have much to learn because contemporary music has been so isolated in the abstract world for a long time. I am also curious about ideas and opinions of my audience. Also different audiences like non-musicians, children, teenagers etc.

When I start to compose I spend a lot of time looking for suitable material for each situation. I sit at the piano and try out things. I look for certain ”constraints or boundaries” for each project. Almost always, I meet the musicians and give some sketches to play. Lately, I have increased to send demos while I am working, just to open up the process and get feedback.

I consciously think composing as an ongoing collaboration.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is the composition process for you like, how long do you usually develop a work? 

RT: I like to work slowly and develop ideas with other people.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How many solo instrumental works have you composed so far, how about chamber music and orchestral works?

My works in numbers:
– 4 operas
– 1 radio-opera
– 8 works for orchestra
– 14 choir works
– 18 songs
– 12–15 chamber works
– 5 solos
– 1 radiophonic work
– pedagogical works
– theatre projects
– short movies

Riikka Talvitie, The Judge_s Wife, Juha Uusitalo as the Judge. Photo Teemu Mäki.
Riikka Talvitie (composer), The Judge’s Wife, Juha Uusitalo as the Judge. Photo Teemu Mäki, 2017.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle:  Recently you have also worked with opera. Could you tell more about these projects?

RT: I have recently composed two operas. The first one is called The Judge’s Wife which is based on TV script written by Caryl Churchill at the time of IRA terrorist attacks 1972. The text deals with the power structures of social classes and the difference between terrorism and a revolutionary act.

The opera was carried out as a cross-art performance with some additional text and documentary video material by its director Teemu Mäki. The performance was closer to contemporary theater or live art than traditional opera. It included music, drama, videos, texts, humour and also a meal, vichyssoise soup, which is also written into the libretto (http://www.teemumaki.com/theater-judgeswife.html).

Riikka Talvitie (composer),Tuomari (The Judge's Wife), performance photo by Teemu Mäki, 2017 (2).
Riikka Talvitie (composer), The Judge’s Wife, Tuuli Lindeberg as Judge’s wife. Photo Teemu Mäki, 2017.

The second opera Queen of the cold land was a radio opera commissioned by Finnish Broadcasting Company (Yle-radio). The libretto is a sort of rewriting of the Kalevala – a present-day version of some abstract life situations. The aim of the working group was to look at the Kalevala from a socio-historical point of view. Kalevala is not qualified as a source of Finnish mythology because the mythical images of folk poems have been transformed and merged into new entities by Elias Lönnrot. Lönnrot’s goal was not only to collect poems and to propose them as a coherent epic, but the goals went together with the nationalist idea to create a common image of the past, customs and culture of the Finnish people.

The opera is dealing with several issues like diversity, sexual identity, nationality and naming. As a composer, I would state that the main theme of the musical narration is nationalism or rather the future of national states. This theme is presented in the musical material.

The music consists of orchestral music, chamber music, operatic and folk singing combined with radiophonic possibilities. The composition is based on a variety of materials. The most extensive material consists of national anthems by different states and people. In addition to these I use folk music, war songs, wedding anthems and lullabies.

(here I am pictured as a bird in the project: https://yle.fi/aihe/artikkeli/2017/12/02/queen-of-the-cold-land)

Firstindigo&Lifestyle:  In Finland, composers like Jean Sibelius are master voices in the classical music world, for their emancipatory approach of voicing national myths, and yet speaking to broad international audiences. Sibelius is a widely known European composer in the United States with his Finlandia, and Violin concerto. Has this tradition created a sense of your own status as a composer who has Finnish roots?

RT: As an answer to this question, I just tell that have composed a chamber opera called One seed, one sorrow – conversations with Aino Sibelius. Aino was a wife of Jean Sibelius. At least it was an other perspective to the question of national heroes.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle:  We met in Lapland in 2007, while doing a nature piece in Pyhatunturi. Do you still get inspired while spending time in nature?

RT: I am really worried about nature and by that – also inspired. This year I work with several pieces which are processing nature and particularly climate change.

Last spring, I carried out a project called Heinä (Grass) with playwright Pipsa Lonka. It was performed in Silence Festival in Lapland. The performance contained images that a grass had drawn. I tried to read or interpret those images by composing them for bass clarinet and voice. The performance took place in an old cottage with smoke and a dog. The atmosphere was quite unique.

Riikka Talvitie at the Silence-festival, Hiljaisuus Festivaali, Day3, Thursday. Photo Jouni Ihalainen, 2018.
Riikka Talvitie at the Silence Festival, Hiljaisuus Festivaali, Day3. Photo Jouni Ihalainen, 2018.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle:  Are you critical of your own work?

RT: Of course I am critical and I would like to rewrite all my compositions but I just don’t have time for that. So let them be…

As for the future composition, I have challenged myself to ask every time ”why do I do this piece”. I feel that every art project should have a reason or meaning or aim which is something more than a commission, a commission fee, reputation or a course credit. This goal can be both an internal musical idea or external starting point. It should be something that connects our work to the surrounding society.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle:  Who gives you the best feedback?

RT: The best feedback comes from my children when they ask ”what on earth are you doing” or ”how awkward”.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle:  What is the role of commissions in your work?

RT: The art funding is quite different here in Finland than in United States. Mostly I work with small commissions by different musicians, ensembles, choirs, orchestras or festivals. However, the main income of Finnish composers comes from the working scholarships.

Some of my works are collaborations with other musicians and artists. Then we apply funding together as a working group from different foundations and institutions.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle:  Do you have specific plans for the future?

RT: I have plenty of plans for the future. In a near future I will finish my artistic doctorate that is about shared authorship and communality. For that, I still have couple of projects to compose. After that I will devote my time to activism.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle:  How about dreams, perhaps international presentations and residencies?

RT: An old image of a composer with a wig is quite outdated. This image contains travelling and prestige. Luckily the world has changed – women and mothers can be composer too and they don’t need to represent ”a plaster composer”.

Mainly, I don’t travel. I work nearby. I am quite often at home in the afternoons when my children come home from school. And in the evenings they have hobbies. My plan – not a dream – is to spend time in residencies after my children are grown-ups. I just need to be patient because it will take ten years still.

I don’t dream about an international career, firstly, because I like my daily local life. And, secondly, because I am at this moment interested in subjects and working methods which are rather marginal in classical music f.e. community art, live art, performance and philosophy. These are not the themes of a grand audience.

I dream about ideological aims. I hope we will see the world where the terms of consuming, owning and competing are less valued. I also hope that there would be a turn in over-consuming that finally we are saved from dystopical eco-catastrophe. I am not that worried about my own career.

RT: I have a small activist inside me who says that we should listen to different voices. So I would recommend you some other Finnish female composers here:

Minna Leinonen www.minnaleinonen.com
Jennah Vainio www.fennicagehrman.fi/composers/vainio-jennah
Lotta Wennäkoski www.lottawennakoski.com
Outi Tarkiainen www.outitarkiainen.fi/en
Asta Hyvärinen core.musicfinland.fi/composers/asta-hyvarinen
Sanna Ahvenjärvi www.sannaahvenjarvi.com
Maija Hynninen www.maijahynninen.com
Maija Ruuskanen www.maijaruuskanen.com
Sanna Salmenkallio https://fi.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanna_Salmenkallio

Also Paola Livorsi, Italian composer living in Helsinki, is worth of listening:
core.musicfinland.fi/composers/paola-livorsi

 

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Featured image: Saara Kiiveri as Peg in The Judge’s Wife. Photo Teemu Maki, 2017.

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website: https://www.riikkatalvitie.com/

Stephanie A Lindquist about philosophy of plants and art

Stephanie A Lindquist, Cowpea Lannea Edulis Sorghum African Nightshade (East Africa) part of Founded series 2018 Digital print on acrylic 44“ x 50” in.

 

Stephanie A Lindquist is a New York based artist and photographer, whose photo collages gather ideas of plants with world-wide origins.  Her works bring forth anscestral memories from diasporic places, and create meaning mapping our global existence as travelers and settlers. Food has always played enormous role in peoples adaptation to new places, creating and sustaining cultures. Art can have as much to say about this subject too. 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: I have understood your recent photography art is based on your research on plants that are native, local  or indigenous to areas. How did you start this art project?

Stephanie A Lindquist: I started gardening and reading about plants and how to grow them. I was especially inspired by farmer, philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka. He is the father of natural farming and a proponent of natural dieting–both of which he believed to be beneficial for the environment and human health. According to Fukuoka, a natural diet consisted of local and preferably ancient plants–something nearly impossible for any urban dweller like me to accomplish.

This sparked my interest in identifying and promoting many little-known indigenous food plants from my ancestors in Africa and Europe, to where I currently live in the Americas.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where did you grow up, and live prior to New York City?

Stephanie A Lindquist: I grew up in Los Angeles. I’ve also had opportunities to travel abroad to Europe and Central America.

Stephanie Lindquist, Lablab oryza glaberrima celosia, 2017, Digital print on aluminum diode, Edition of 3, 4’ x 4’ in.
Stephanie Lindquist, Lablab oryza glaberrima celosia, 2017, Digital print on aluminum diode, Edition of 3, 4’ x 4’ ft.

 


Firstindigo&Lifestyle: As one major inspiration behind your art making are the plants, do you cultivate or grow plants yourself and have your own garden?

Stephanie A Lindquist: I garden regularly in East Harlem and the South Bronx. It is an essential part of my practice and life. Gardening allows me to cultivate, consume and appreciate some of the plants I study first-hand. It is a way to immediately begin creating a more reciprocal relationship with nature.

 

Stephanie A Lindquist, Okra at 103rd 2018 Photo collage, Edition of 5, 7.5” x 10” in.
Stephanie A Lindquist, Okra at 103rd 2018 Photo collage, Edition of 5, 7.5″ x 10″.


Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you think that flowers, fruits and vegetables, etc. as subjects of art carry ideas about sustainability and environmental philosophical concepts?

Stephanie A Lindquist: Definitely. Potawatomi scientist Robin Wall Kimmerer writes about our need to listen, observe and learn from plants as our teachers–rather than only learn about plants. I truly believe that plants can teach us how to lead sustainable lives if we listen. 

Cultures close to nature have the benefit of accumulating indigenous knowledge of a diverse number of plants and their uses than city-dwelling folks. To see, recognize and know thousands of local, indigenous food plants is a powerful way to live in communion with the world. By taking care of widely diverse plants within our local ecosystem, we begin to take care of ourselves too–physically and spiritually.

It is my aim to heighten our awareness and appreciation of indigenous food plants and to collectively reimagine the local cuisine of specific regions.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Are there other concepts and philosophies attached to your art?

Stephanie A Lindquist: My work is inspired by the work of many scientists including Mary Abukutsu-OnyangoSince the 90s she has been promoting the cultivation and sustainable consumption of African indigenous vegetables and fruits. On a continent plentiful with plants, it is surprising that most do not eat a sufficient amount of vegetables.

The promotion of these plants have commercial and cultural implications as well as physical and spiritual effects on our health. Most of these plants have been purposefully displaced by genetically engineered cash crops and changing tastes. To rekindle our relationship with the oldest, local plants is also to remember the unique history of the land and how we arrived here.

Stephanie A Lindquist, Cowpea Lannea Edulis Sorghum African Nightshade (East Africa) part of Founded series 2018 Digital print on acrylic 44“ x 50” in.
Stephanie A Lindquist, Cowpea Lannea Edulis Sorghum African Nightshade (East Africa) part of Founded series 2018 Digital print on acrylic 44“ x 50”.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do people act amazed when seeing and hearing about  your work?

Stephanie A Lindquist: It has been very satisfying to hear people’s reactions to my work. Even urbanites like me are full of surprising information about plants and their uses, which I happily add to my arsenal of knowledge.

As the daughter of a Liberian-American immigrant and descendant of Swedish and Irish immigrants, I have been invested in reclaiming ancestral knowledge for a long time. Conversing with others about indigenous plants has been a very satisfying way of piecing together our ancestral knowledge of the natural world around us.


Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Who inspires you to do your art?

Stephanie A Lindquist:  I admire many artists including Julie Mehretu and Wangechi Mutu. I am also inspired by the authors I read and the emerging artists I meet everyday.


Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How do you design your collages and what is the process like in making photographic prints?

Stephanie A Lindquist:  I begin by researching a number of indigenous plants to a specific region and learning about their history, uses, and the people who cultivate them. Next I collect images of them, and if accessible take original photographs of the plants.

I cut the prints by hand and arrange the composition on a smaller scale until satisfied. Next, I digitally produce and print the collage at a larger scale or sometimes hand-cut a larger collage on fine paper.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Tell a little more about yourself, where did you study art?

Stephanie A Lindquist:  I have studied art since I was little. I received by BA in Urban Studies and Visual Arts from Columbia University. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in residencies in Rome, Berlin and Staten Island, and to exhibit my work in museums and alternative spaces in New York and California. I also work as an arts administrator.


Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Your objects and prints seem to carry domestic ideas in them, or it gets transmitted as a feeling with the coffee cup on a table, or with  the flowers. Does this resonate with your intentions?

Stephanie A Lindquist: Yes, my previous body of work in photo collage was concerned with capturing colorful, jarring, domestic still lives. I often chose the materials used to create the stage in memory of family and friends in my life, like my mother, my partner, or a particular place like the Kitchen Floor. Through collage I bring new meanings to these objects, in this case now where an okra blossoms and fruits. Their patterns are playful, somewhat minimal, abstract, full of textile, and tactile.

 

Stephanie A Lindquist, Kitchen Floor 2017 Photo collage 14.5“ x 17.5” in.Stephanie A Lindquist, Kitchen Floor 2017 Photo collage 14.5“ x 17.5”.

 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Some collages of yours are really colorful. Do you find that colors have significance and carry meaning?

Stephanie A Lindquist:  The colors reflect my mother’s textiles, family photographs, and the landscape around me.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you consider yourself similar to feminist art practices in which domestic life and the everyday gives to details and form in the art?

Stephanie A Lindquist: Yes, in many ways I make my art to create space for feminism and equality among humans and all that lives in the world. I treasure these often feminized spaces of the home and garden. And I enjoy propagating this image into my viewer’s subconscious of a plentiful, sustainable earth.


Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Also your knitted objects would signify not only sculptural dimension as objects that hang on the wall, but also about art-historical connection to the women artists?

Stephanie A Lindquist: The knitted objects Needles and String and Rosary for me were living sculpture–something I could create and disassemble again and again as a public performance and private meditation.


Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How do you separate your own artistic practice from curating, and working with other artists in your work?

Stephanie A Lindquist: I make time for it. I also let it bleed into my research interests and writing. My practice gains a lot from being in such close contact with artists and curators on a daily basis. I am constantly listening to and collaborating with other visually creative minds.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Can you describe what art projects are you planning for the future?

Stephanie A Lindquist:  I am thrilled to show recent work around indigenous food plants at Smack Mellon as a part of AFRICA’S OUT! inaugural benefit exhibition, Carry Over: New Voices from the Global African Diaspora curated by Kalia Brooks Nelson. To have my work in the context of Firelei Báez, Layo Bright, Melissa Calderón, Baseera Khan, Jasmine Murrell, Anna Parisi, Keisha Scarville, Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum and Saya Woolfalk is a joy!

The exhibition is on view June 2-30. More information about the s  how in Brooklyn http://africasout.com/exhibition-carry-over

I am also looking forward to presenting work at CTRL+SHFT Collective in Oakland this summer. Other than that, I’m excited to spend part of the summer camping and learning more about plants indigenous to the eastern seaboard.

I treasure these often feminized spaces of the home and garden. And I enjoy propagating this image into my viewer’s subconscious of a plentiful, sustainable earth.

Tamara Piilola: Painter from Finland

Tamara Piilola is a young generation Finnish painter with almost enigmatic ability to capture natural processes on the canvas. Or more than a process, her images offer views with a hint of gold in them. As a painter her perception seems thoroughly personal, and therefore can touch many. Piilola started the arts as a musician, and perhaps its possible to hear music when looking in to the painter’s landscapes.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where in Finland did you grow up and study art?

TP: I grew up in the small city in the west coast of Finland. I studied in the south, in Turku and in Helsinki in the Academy of Fine Arts. I was an exchange student for one year in Leipzig in Hochshule für Grafik Und Buchkunst and spend months in Reykjavik during my studies.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is your story of becoming an artist? 

TP: I’m the only child, and I started to think about art first through music. I studied in a conservatory for ten years, but in classical music you don’t have the freedom to play how you like it, or if you do, people think you’re wrong. It’s much longer process, with a lot more technique involved.

I went through every book that we had in the house. As a child, I remember I was deeply interested about the Old Masters and portraiture by Rembrandt, Holbein and Gainsborough. I was mesmerized by the use of light and the extraordinary talent itself. I wanted to do something similar.

I got my first camera and Marie’s oil paints as a ten-year old. Around the same time I enlisted myself to a painting course with some grannies (they’re organized everywhere even in the countryside in Finland). As I got a bit older it was certain I wanted to go to art school and quit classical music.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did you choose oils and painting as your medium?

TP: I did some photographs as well but in the end paintings have turned out to be the most flexible media for me. The texture is very important for me. Although I did photos in which I used for example liquid chocolate and velvet, the outcome was too cold and the end product had an industrial feel to it. In black and white pictures, you have the softness, but then you lose the colors. I have learned to use only the best materials in my paintings and usually paint just one layer to keep the colors pure and bright. Oils can become dull and lifeless when applied thick. Oil paint is so flexible that I can adjust what I’m doing, and because of the way the pigment is held in the oil, it is beautifully luminescent.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What defines a good painting to you?

TP: Color, light, composition – all these things make the painting interesting to look at. The eye has to wonder. I love if you are able to grab something, it has some kind of energy, or you can relate to something. Paintings have the ability to embody a series of thoughts and feeling processes, and good paintings are very personal. It’s all there on the canvas as a record.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is there in the landscape painting that fascinates you, maybe the history of it too. How about the influences?

The heavy load that comes with the term landscape was at first turnoff for me. When I got in terms with the subject (which I felt I had to do), the whole world opened up to me. It was like a flower that was opening in front of my eyes. I felt I was completely free to do whatever I felt like with this subject. It felt like it was mine, all mine to explore, and that was beautiful. My large canvases of imaginary landscapes present viewers with startling experiences of nature. These detailed views, full of mystery and light, colour and verdancy, draw viewers to their essence and idea.

 

TP: These are not recognisable landscapes but the creations of countless memories stored over time as photographs and sketches. Thin layers of paint, bold fluent brushstrokes and the use of pure pigments combined flood the paintings with light. Landscapes do not always have to be beautiful. I paint wastelands, timber stacks and dunghill, emphasising their decorativeness. I depict decaying beauty and allow natural forms to blend into almost abstract surfaces. I’m soaked with art history because I have been interested in art all my life. My favourite painter is Lucian Freud, the master of seductive and complex psychological portraits. My favourite movie directors are Kubrick and Lynch. In music it’s much harder to point out the most influential ones, I listen to music in my studio all the time from almost all genres. In literature there are many great minds that speak to me, Hesse, Nabokov, Murakami, Knausgård, Hustved, Woolf, Wilde. I don’t have a specific landscape painter that has influenced me.

Tamara Piilola, installation view at Gallery Heino.
Tamara Piilola, installation view at Gallery Heino.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Is being a figurative painter these days a rare thing. How do you feel the genre is approached in the contemporary art world?

TP: With suspicion – no just kidding. I think now it’s much more acceptable to be a painter. I think there is the audience and professionals who recognizes the talent and accepts it as it is: A viable art form. As an artist, you always have to be interested of what other artists do. I think there is a lot of theoretical confusion about art. Everybody thinks they have to make theoretical work and be able to explain what they do. I think if you hear this long enough, this kind of stuff gets in your way when you’re coming up with ideas, because you start thinking through a filter.

Tamara Piilola's oil on canvas in Galleria Heino, August 2017, installation view.
Tamara Piilola’s oil on canvas in Galleria Heino, August 2017, installation view.

TP: I always thought that art could move more on the emotional level. You should work with your feelings, because if you’re using language to put things to action, you limit yourself. Many times things in art don’t make sense.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: There is almost a photographic precision to your works. Do you layer the works, plan the works with meticulous detail, and come up with the entire idea before starting to paint?

I have photographic memory and I often work with images that have a lot of details. I start sketching by doing a collage with a computer (I used to work with paper and scissors before). At the end, there is a sketch that gives me a solid structure, the composition to work on top of. This is extremely important stage. After that I can start painting and I have quite a lot of freedom to choose which colors to use, how the brushstrokes will look, and overall how the end result will look. This structure gives me freedom to improvise. The motives have to be challenging, full of details and light to keep the painting process interesting. I love to see a big painting almost ready, I get excited about my own work.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How would you describe your method or process of working?

TP: I’m a deadline worker and I do exhibitions, not just one painting at a time. I work with about eight paintings at the same time. If I get an idea or a feeling that something should be done it usually takes years to pass through. I have a solid confidence in what I do, but that doesn’t mean I’m satisfied with everything I do. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to question your work. On the contrary – the best thing is to view the work from every angle and to be very skeptical at first if you get a “good idea”. I’m very patient to give my ideas the time they need to develop. I need to build a relationship with the motives: I want them to be familiar. When I know I can start, I go through my picture bank to fill the missing pieces in the collage. I focus on the composition and not so much on the colors.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you have an artist motto?

TP: Yeah, trust your intuition.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Are you in love with nature as it is your playground in a way, how about the trees that come out so vividly in your works?

TP: I think it’s not about loving though I love nature, it’s about respect. I recognize certain similarities in Finnish and Japanese cultures. We have both had our animistic past. The recognition of energy in things was very natural for me as I  was raised up by the sea, and the wilderness started right behind the fence. I think materials can be very sensual to look at and touch. In our times, it’s a luxury to have the time to look at things in peace. That’s what I do, I look and appreciate things.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle:  Did you ever think of becoming an environmental artist?

TP: No. I’m afraid to destroy things in the nature and I have no interest to mess with wild things. I think there is such perfection in natural order, and to show “art” in that context feels utterly fake.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: When looking back at your career, how have your paintings developed through the years?

TP: I went here and there in the beginning. About ten years ago I accepted the fact that it’s OK to do what I do best: Big paintings with a lot of details.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle:  Is there anything particularly special to you about being a ‘woman’ artist?

TP: I don’t consider myself a woman artist, I am simply an artist. My works can be labeled feminine because they can be quite decorative. But I think it’s a drag to label things. I don’t think artist’s gender makes the work interesting unless the gender is the concept of the work. What is feminine and masculine? I’d like to go around those labels, because everyone and everything can be both depending on the culture.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle:  You recently attended a group show in Galleria Heino in Helsinki. Have you collaborated with the gallery before?

TP: This was the first show I did with Heino. I love to work with them because they have the courage to show artistically ambitious shows, with basically no art market to sell them in Finland. Rauli Heino is a true art lover and I consider myself to be very lucky to be in their team.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle:  Do you work with curators or more directly with museum and gallery directors? What is your experience on building a show? 

TP: I work with all of them, it depends on the project. I listen very carefully what people are after and it’s always a pleasure to work with professional people. The structure of the new show is in my hands and it has to be, otherwise it’s not my show. I will do the best I can to make things work. To have the atmosphere of support and trust is very rewarding. To have fun, to discover and do wonderful things together, isn’t that what life’s about?

Firstindigo&Lifestyle:  Do you think that you have had many successful shows?

TP: Yes, I think so. Success for me means that I am able to do the things the way I intend to. To do a good show means you must have the time to do it. It helps a lot when you learn to say no to projects that are not that beneficial to you.

Tamara Piilola, Kruunu, oil on canvas.
Tamara Piilola, Kruunu, oil on canvas.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle:  How about such labels as ‘Finnish’ painter? If you consider to be one, what do you think about an international career?

TP: The world is definitely smaller than let’s say in the beginning of the nineties. Long stays abroad, mainly in France and Germany have influenced my work. I live and work in Helsinki, and I guess nowadays the place you live defines you. It’s an interesting question. I certainly recognize my subject matter to be very Finnish, and that’s fine. Does that make me a Finnish artist?

To be able to build an international career I need contacts to good international galleries. I would love to show my work especially in the Nordic countries, in the U.S. and in Canada. I think my work could meet some interest in these places since we have similar cultural values.