Art in Vallila Library

The Head of the Library, Harri Sahavirta, interviews artist Jukka Mäkelä.

Meriloistoja, 1977, (180 x 100)
Vangittu valo, 1978, (180 x 100)
Valo liikkuu, 1980, (140 x 140)

Mäkelä is one of our most important modern artists. His paintings from the 1970’s are characterised by a cold approach, which in the 1980’s changed into a strong – even stormy – expressionism. Paintings from the 1990’s are again lighter and more delicate. Alternatively, it could be said that in the 1970’s Mäkelä represented soft constructivism, in the 1980’s down-to-earth expressionism, and in the 1990’s soft, light – and often more gauzy – aesthetics.
Mäkelä describes his newer works from the 2000’s by saying that essentially they are more colourful and spacious in comparison to his works from the1970’s for example, when the painting was more “on the surface”.

 The paintings at Vallila library are from Mäkelä’s “early era”, and they express a theme that was essential in his works in the 1970's: the dominance of surface or bottom. The patterns are organised on the surface, and dual structures or layers are essential. You can see the artist’s aspiration for optical exactness, and the surfaces of the paintings seem almost shimmery. It is easy to believe when looking at these works that Mäkelä consciously avoided associative shapes and aimed for a dialogue between geometrical regularity and softer, irregular regularity.

Jukka Mäkelä and academician Juha Leiviskä were deciding upon the hanging of the paintings, and Mäkelä was interviewed by the Head of the Library, Harri Sahavirta.

HS: Your art is characterised by a very strong physicality. In the 1980’s, essential to your works was the physical painting (the act), and painting large canvases at once. On the other hand, you work with your motifs for several years and sketch them over and over again, until they become a part of you – internalised into your subconscious – and the actual work can be completed spontaneously. Are these works characterised by this kind of physicality as well?

JM: Physicality had a role in my 1970's works as well. The base paintings were very spontaneous and physical, unplanned. I used quartz sand, which reflects the light in a unique way.
I have always sketched a lot; it is an essential part of my work. However, I don’t use the sketches when I’m working with the actual painting. Sketching is about defining my interests, and they give me an impulse to the actual painting.

HS: You have said that in some things – like shape and light – you are closer to your 1970's works than your 1980's works, but you have also said that you shun the 1970's. How would you comment on these works that have been in storage for a long time? Do you still recognise them as your own? Do you think they have found their place?

JM: I was very happy to see those paintings again after a long time. We had a lot of fun hanging the paintings; Juha Leiviskä had several proposals for hanging them. We found the existing display spontaneously, and I am quite happy with it. The paintings suit this space very well.
The last time I saw my paintings from the 1970’s was at a retrospective exhibition in Kiasma in 1999, and now these paintings from the same era are displayed here at Vallila library after a very long time. After I saw them, I remembered them well – painting them as well – and they feel very close to me.

HS: The paintings complement the library, designed by Juha Leiviskä who himself picked them. It is easy to see that both the library as a building and these paintings are characterised by lightness and upward directions. You could also search some other common characteristics, shared themes, between your paintings and Leiviskä’s architecture. Altti Kuusamo, for instance, says that your paintings radiate expression directly from the Finnish bedrock. Your paintings are often characterised as specifically Finnish and originating from our barren nature. Similar things are said about Leiviskä’s architecture. In what way is being a Finn and of Finnish nature important to you?

JM: My 1970's paintings are more about description of the phenomena of the Finnish nature, such as snow, rain, wind, and the change of light. My living environment has always been amidst nature, and I consider an urban environment as nature as well.

HS: Leiviskä is well known as a “master of light”, and his starting point is music – theme and its repetition and variation. The theme of these paintings is light as well (and water), and it is said that it is typical to your entire production that a detail spreads out into a field: a detail produces more details. Do you see any similarities in this?

JM: I see similarities in the ways in which we work. I have always worked serially, varying the same theme. Light and the change of light have always had a major role in my paintings. My motifs are mostly details from something bigger.

HS: Thank you, Jukka Mäkelä.