Study for Guernica at M_Itä? Biennale of Contemporary Art

The M_itä? Biennale of Contemporary Art is on display in Mikkeli Art Museum in 2021.

Artist Jani Leinonen has been chosen as the curator of the second M_itä? Biennale of Contemporary Art, which will open in the summer of 2021 at the Mikkeli Art Museum.

The Theme

“At present, both the media and the political sphere from right to left focus in their messages in an emphasised on dystopias and threat scenarios. We are told that according to a recent demographic study, the population of the Savo region will decrease by over 15% and how large areas of Finland will decline and wither and how climate change will force us to give up a great many things, unless the end of the world will come. We are addressed mainly in terms of fears and concerns and reminded of what will go wrong in the future and how uncertain that future looks. The opposite of a dystopia is a utopia where solutions have been found for problems and a better world has come about. I would hope that in this exhibition artists would imagine without restrictions what the future of our dreams would be like. How the problems that beset us have been solved and how this is reflected as a feeling of security and the best of all possible worlds.”’

Something new is always being sought for realising M_itä? Biennale of Contemporary Art. A different exhibition venue and a new curator make it possible to renew the biennale every two years. The aim in Mikkeli will be to expand the event beyond the walls of the art museum to be part of the streetscape and public spaces.

Study for Guernica, 2021, acrylic and oil on linen, 270 x 600 cm

Study for Guernica discussion

Artist Ville Löppönen & art critic Mika Hannula

 

 

STUDY FOR GUERNICA

 

Mika Hannula: Study for Guernica artwork. Where did the process start? Or should I put it this way: what was your relationship with this iconic painting before and what is it now?

 

Ville Löppönen: Picasso’s Guernica has been in the background for me for a long time. It has been patiently hiding. My relationship with it has been distant but not indifferent. It has been buried in my subconscious for twenty years. The painting made an impression on me when I was in my twenties, but many personal interests pushed me to a different direction. Cubism and Picasso were overtaken by surrealism.

 

My interest in the methods of cubism in painting reawakened about a year ago, and since then, I have wanted to include some of them in my painting. However, it has been difficult and slow to find my own relationship and meaning with it.

I was invited to take part in the M_itä? Biennial of Contemporary Art organised in Mikkeli in summer 2021. The theme is utopia and dystopia. The exhibition is curated by Jani Leinonen. I had thought that I would offer the Phase of Metamorphosis in Cycle of Evolution series for the exhibition. The series explores the metamorphosis of painting, and I thought it would be a great fit. On our first meeting, I presented the series, and it was accepted. I can’t remember exactly how Picasso’s Guernica came up; maybe my kids had been leafing through a Picasso book and left it lying around, and when putting it away, I happened to notice Guernica.

 

The painting’s dynamic composition started to interest me, and I thought that that could be utilised. I realised that the painting is hugely topical, and it would provide ideas for approaching the topic of utopia and dystopia and could possibly allow me to get hold of the ideas of cubism in my own painting. I wanted to approach Picasso’s Guernica from my own viewpoint and temporal context. What fascinates me in cubism is how it looks at things from different angles and doesn’t necessarily break them but gazes at them from a different direction and with more versatility.

 

In recent years, I have become more interested in the fragmentation of life and existence. Life is, of course, whole, but the experience of it is at times fractured, and depending on the situation, we must look at and face it from quite different perspectives. It also provides one possible route to building a connection and presence. This came up as I listened to Kaija Saariaho whilst painting. I realised that I try and accommodate things too much in my painting, and that makes them conventional and too obvious.

 

MH: Do you know where the painting will be exhibited in the biennial? How much do you wish to uncover the background process of the artwork to the viewers?

 

VL: The artwork will be showcased in Mikkeli Art Museum. I don’t know if shedding light on the background process is important for the viewers; it may be interesting, but whether it is essential for viewing the artwork, I’m not sure. I think that the artwork works very well as an independent piece.

 

MH: I guess that brings me to the question of how the context of viewing is modified – as well as how the relationship with the other work of art, Picasso’s painting, is explored. It is clear that the artwork will independently assume its place, with its own presence, but let’s play with the idea that you explain the processes and facts of the artwork (e.g. When was Guernica painted? Where is it exhibited etc.?) to the viewers. How would that be done? A short text on the wall or on paper – online? We must also assume that not every viewer necessarily even knows the background to Guernica? And you can find people, pretty much anywhere, who think that Picasso is a rubbish car, a rust bucket, built by the French?

 

VL: To provide clarity, there could be a notice next to the artwork explaining that the artwork is an interpretation of Picasso’s painting Guernica, which is a depiction of Nazi bombings in the Spanish Civil War and of how the holy Basque town of Guernica was completely destroyed. Maybe that would be a sufficient introduction to the context. If you go into too much detail, the attention moves into the history and away from what my painting is about.

 

MH: How do you avoid conventionality and ready-made or easy solutions?

 

VL: What is conventional and in relation to what is the issue. It is important to give time to viewing, slow viewing. The artwork must be surveyed long and hard. Then you need to take a break from it,  move aside and then come back to it again. You are looking at it even when you can’t see it. Conventions are eliminated and revealed during this process. You cannot avoid them; they are there, but they must in some way be painted out, gradually processed. You cannot get everything out on one go or in one artwork or even a series, but some of it you can.

 

It is also important to move away from your comfort zone and accept a challenge from elsewhere. In this case, it is Picasso who does the challenging. The challenge is not a competition but a way to mutually view and experience. By experiencing, I mean the conscious understanding and compassionate expansion of your viewpoint to include others. Not so that you would move from one to another but so that you would embrace others. It is about challenging the form of painting and the motion of potential development.

 

MH: How is this kind of an enormous painting constructed and how does the work progress – in concrete terms?

 

VL: I did not have the space to match Picasso’s original size of 249 x 777 cm; I had to shrink the work to 270 x 600 cm and divide it into a triptych. Firstly, that was the biggest canvas available at the time. The pandemic meant that material orders did not make it to Finland, so I had to accept what was on offer. The second reason was that there was no way of getting a bigger painting out of the studio and the third reason was money. However, my version is scaled, so the integrity of the original ratio stays the same. A fascinating detail about Picasso’s original painting is the width of 777 cm, which is the figure of the perfection of the Trinity and represents God in the allegories of the Bible. Who knows what he wanted to tell with that if anything?

 

But about making the artwork. Once the linen was stretched and grounded, I firstly projected Picasso’s painting on the canvas and drew everything necessary using oil pastels; in other words, I produced a rough sketch. After that, I started painting. Painting for me is very impulsive work. Colour has to be spread here and there using different methods. I use oil pastels, acrylic paints, oil sticks and oil paints, various spatulas etc. It is about walking from one end of the studio to the other and observing what happens.

 

The artwork’s physical nature surprised me a bit. The corporeality of painting becomes magnificently obvious. You can make big gestures and movements. That is enjoyable, and the Picasso painting to be changed and followed in the background was a great help. But there were some challenges too. The canvas is hard to manoeuvre. It cannot really be turned or lifted higher up because there isn’t enough room. So, I have to lie on the floor painting or paint with my head practically touching the ceiling; whilst I am good at reaching, this was the first time I needed to use a ladder. The other challenge was how to perceive the artwork’s scale whilst painting. When you’re used to painting small, it is easy to start painting small again, but that didn’t work in this case. You have to change the way you’re used to doing things.

 

MH: How did the work progress? Were there moments when you became stiff and lactic acids stopped you on your tracks?

 

VL: My enthusiasm for painting did not decrease or stop, but of course I got cramps. Problems occur when you have a lot of energy and fervour. The means and techniques of painting are so diverse and the desire to combine them and experiment with them is considerable – it is easy to over-burden yourself and you lose your touch. The result can be slack and meaningless. However, quite quickly the work started to come together and find its form.

 

Usually, there is a moment in a painting when you don’t know what to do and where to go. That’s when it’s good to ask a friend to take a look and share a few thoughts about the painting. After that, you need to let the artwork rest a little, so you don’t make hasty decisions. There are always those moments, and there were this time too. Usually, you just process and solve them.

There were no real moments of desperation with this work, however.

 

MH: So was it hard or harder than usual to decide when the work of art was finished? Or let’s put it this way: did you have the desire or the state of mind to keep going, keep adding details?

 

VL: The adding phase was actually at a fairly early stage of the process, at that stage when there is paint everywhere, and the internal movement and dynamics of painting are looking for directions. Fairly quickly I realised that it would be a good idea to simplify and cut back. A piece of work this size does not really leave room for tinkering. It is simply such hard work to paint small details on large and rough grain linen that it starts repelling it. They can disappear into blur from a distance. But painting details can also mean that you define some things, change the focus from large surfaces and gestures to smaller ones. I am currently fairly happy with the work. I could do some things differently, but I don’t know if it would be necessary.

 

MH: Your relationship with Picasso? Now and before?

 

VL: I don’t feel that my relationship with Picasso has changed all that much from what it was. When I painted Guernica, I didn’t really think about Picasso. I read up some basic things about him and recalled details about the painting. Picasso’s time is far away in the past. Guernica is special for me and, in my mind, stands out amongst his other works. Of course, there are many magnificent artworks by Picasso, but they have not been an object of my interest this intensely. To me, Picasso represents something that is still far away from me, and it has been an important detour, but I can’t see myself staying there for long. As I have said, I am interested in the fragmentation that I see reflected in the methods of cubism. Simultaneously, it is linked to the metamorphosis, which I have explored. Cubism is in a way a step closer, a path in a direction that leads my painting forward and a place for movement in which metamorphosis can happen.

 

MH: What about your relationship with cubism?

 

Or maybe: what could be a topical, not updated and through that somehow arrested, solved version of cubism, but instead cubism that is fixed in our own era? So, if cubism about a hundred years ago broke the picture, so to say, what could it be here and now when the picture really is broken, disjointed? And, if and when cubism found that alternative, that imaginative otherness particularly in African artefacts, what could that otherness be now?

 

VL: Quite a difficult question and a big question. Now we are moving onto a slippery slope. I guess our time is, on some level, defined by the attempt to understand the quantum world, studying it and understanding other dimensions.  Cubism aimed, to some extent, to look into the future and utilised in that the means of primitive art forms. I have for a long time been thinking, maybe slightly oddly, about some sort of synchronism, the collaboration of matter. How things can be piled up together allowing us to see beyond and more in-depth. The idea about dismantling and breaking things leads largely to nothing but the analysis of the fragments, and in the end, entities stop functioning. For example, my study of an icon led to a situation in which nothing but the context remained. The pieces that make up the icon can, in another context, be built into something else. My thoughts easily lead to the topics of collage and montage or even just image sampling.

 

I write fairly carefully about this, because I feel dubious about the idea that a new phenomenon akin to cubism would surface in relation to painting. For me, painting has been about movement and growth, whereupon the evolution, transformation in painting has been about seeking and of course also about finding. And that constantly establishes some new direction.

Cubism has been re-found in the art of painting, and that, in my eyes, is utilised by at least Adrian Ghenie and Jenny Saville. Ghenie paints a lot based on photo collages and Saville evidently using a live model. George Condo also clearly utilises the means of cubism. It is about combining representational and non-representational painting for different usages, which of course contains a wide spectrum in contemporary painting.

 

At this point, I am tempted to ask about the possibilities of a painting to find that other. Can a painting be used to build and synchronise things so that dimensions can emerge and become visible? The question is also about not just illustrating something that has been established or perceived through other means, but about the potential of a painting to look, because how a painting works is based on a gaze. A gaze in and a gaze out. I believe that the materialisation of the gaze is one strength and factor that speaks for painting.

 

Painting aims to bring things from nothing to material. It can also bring forth dimensions so far as they are present and receivable by the human body. This is starting to break and disappear; a vision fades when you try and write it down and explain it. So, I do not know what could be or might be coming. Only intuitions and even they are hesitant, which comes across as me not understanding anything about this topic. In fact, the only thing that I understand these days is that I paint and paint, because it interests me, creates rhythm and brings joy.

 

MH: So in simple terms, is it about you combining illustrative, figurative and abstract painting styles in your paintings which are individual yet happening in a continuum? And, thus, about how these separate but plural viewpoints, why not outlooks, feelings that are little more than hunches at this stage can be brought together into an entity that is greater than the sum of its parts?

 

VL: Photographs have played a very strong role in some of my painting. They have been the starting point for my artworks, and I have struggled with the concept for a long time and tried to find some other approach. And one approach is evident in my version of Guernica. But it is nowhere near there yet, as you thought, it is still in progress. I think about how to move away from figurative art whilst remaining true to where I’m coming from and where I’m going. I aim to further things by painting not just by combining, although I do that too; the idea is that the painting is something outside the photograph and independent from it but not purely abstract.

 

Maybe that is the reason why I referred to Adrian Ghenie’s and Jenny Saville’s painting methods. So now, what Picasso did – turning the model and the organic state into a different viewpoint – and George Condo still does from a different direction, would be viewed from the perspective of the material and imprint of painting. I don’t know if this is about disagreeing as an end in itself but the finish has developed, and its materiality has become more diverse since cubism. Changes to painting techniques have allowed a painting to fluctuate between figurative and non-figurative even though figurative art in itself does not imitate or depict anything existing but refers to it through a certain process. Either it refers to the material or immaterial, to the other side, to the inside, of which we have nothing but the imagined, the pathologist’s words.

 

MH: Why did you choose this particular artwork? Is it connected to the artwork’s thematics (anti-war) or something else?

 

VL: The artwork in question was chosen slightly by random. But the theme does play a key role. I think the work of art offers a good place to face our time and the pressures linked to it, such as the pandemic, climate change and the inevitable changes with the energy economy or the parallel diversity movement originating in cultural diversity that sets demands on densification, accepting diversity and otherness and coexisting. In other words, society is in turmoil which

challenges and tests us.

 

My version of Guernica does not aim to discuss those themes but to be a place in which as a painter, I can adjust and be present, continue my own motion and relationship with the surrounding world. Continue painting and finding its meanings.

 

MH: And what about the so-called iconic nature of the artwork – did you not feel anxious or bothered about it?

 

VL: I wasn’t anxious or bothered. I don’t feel that I have to try and compete with Picasso or even attempt to achieve a certain level. It is about the artwork offering an opportunity for a new approach, and for me that is the essence. The original can, after all, be repainted completely. Maybe the fact that I am such a different painter from Picasso means that I am not under any pressure to succeed. And then there is the tradition of painters borrowing from previous masters through the ages. Using the painting felt natural.

 

MH: So, it’s a study, a version, a movement from one place to another. Tell about that journey, that interaction and of course the dialogue?

 

VL: It is about the transformation that happens within the painting. The attempt to find meaning in what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. The need is to paint and express, but why is it exactly that painting and that painting again and again. Painting is strongly challenged by digital technology. I could imagine that I am stupid for hanging onto painting, an ancient practice that has been re-invented, re-interpreted and re-made so many times. There is a belief in the familiar and yet alien form. Or an obsession. The fear to accept.

 

It is about the painter’s movement and about change, the means and meaningful ways to continue what you’re doing. It’s about change and adaptation through painting or maybe not even adaptation but revisiting things, re-interpreting, the suggestion to experience and be present. A conversation with antecedents to discuss with those who have found and moved on along their aesthetic journey. To consider the methods that we can utilise to find a space and a continuum in our time. To offer something meaningful to counter the absurdity of the world.

 

The artwork is a nod to Picasso and a message of gratitude for all the help he has given. It is not an attempt to fall short or surpass but to encounter for a moment and at a distance alongside  something that can be shared in both timelines and then continue on.

 

MH: What about the future – do you find it meaningful to continue this kind of an approach?

 

VL: I do and I am currently painting Picasso’s The Young Ladies of Avignon and another very referential version of that. This has been a relevant way to broaden my painting.

 

MH: What about after Picasso? Klimt? Klee or Pollock?

 

VL: I don’t know who will inspire me next. Maybe not the artists in question. I need to travel this journey first. It is hard to see the future continuum since it doesn’t follow the chronological order of the history of art. The journey to Picasso ventured via Bacon and Freud last time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Manifesto of Stillness

Hiljaisuuden manifesti
Iso sali 14.12.2018–24.2.2019

Ulla Karttunen, Jukka Korkeila, Anni Löppönen, Ville Löppönen ja Henry Wuorila-Stenberg

 

Ulla Karttusen installaatio Donna Criminale

Ulla Karttunen: Donna Criminale

Hiljaisuuden manifesti kokoaa yhteen viisi kuvataiteilijaa, joille hiljaisuus on keskeinen asia taiteen tekemisessä. Hiljaisuus yhdistetään hyvin usein puhumattomuuteen ja äänettömyyteen. Näyttelyn taiteilijoille hiljaisuus ei tarkoita pelkästään hiljentymistä, vaan se on osa työskentelytapaa, joka tarjoaa mahdollisuuden päästä sisäisten kuvien ja kokemusten äärelle, yhteyden näkemiseen, kuuntelemiseen ja läsnäoloon.

Pinxinmäen kesänäyttely 2017

KASVOTUSTEN

18.6.–13.8.2017

Kuutti Lavonen

Ville Löppönen

Heikki Marila

Sirpa Särkijärvi

Ari Pelkonen

Kutsutut kuvataiteilijat käsittelevät teoksissaan ihmisen kuvaa. Muodoista, viivasta ja väreistä syntyvää ihmishahmoa, joka kasvojen, kehon ja tilan kautta synnyttää ajatuksen kohtaamisesta. Näyttelyyn kutsuttujen kuvataiteilijoiden teoksissa on läsnä ihmisyys monimuotoisena ja mielenkiintoisena tulkintana.

LISÄTIETOJA:

Näyttelyn kuraattori Anu Halmesmaa

ahalmesmaa@gmail.com / +358 50 359 1911

My painting in Portrait Now! 2017

Portrait of Pentti Otto Koskinen, 2016, oil on canvas, 180 x 180 cm

My artwork has been selected for the Portrait Now! exhibition 2017. Out of 1058  nordic artworks, 77 have been selected  for the exhibition.

 

In 2017, The Museum of National History at Frederiksborg Castle hosts the portrait competition The Carlsberg Foundation’s Portrait Award. It is the sixth time, that the award will be presented to an artist who has given portraiture an artistic treatment of issues surrounding the identity and personas of real people, irrespective of whether that interpretation takes the form of a painting, a sculpture, a video, an installation or a work of sonic art.

The exhibition PORTRAIT NOW! 2017 will display a selection of the best portraits from the competition.

 

The exhibition is open from May 11 – July 30.
The Museum of National History
Frederiksborg Castle 10
DK-3400 Hillerød

 

Starting 2.9 – 29.10 2017 the exhibit will be displayed at the Ljungbergmuseum in Sweden.

 

Stark Realism – Francien Krieg | Effie Pryer | Ville Löppönen

 Stark Realism is an exhibition of new paintings by Francien Krieg, Effie Pryer and Ville Löppönen. Each of these artists uses realism to explore the substance and mystery of being human. Krieg’s elderly nudes offer an unflinching but compassionate look at the effects of aging on women’s bodies and ask the viewer to consider the spirit within. Pryer’s portraits are inspired by her interest in mythologies of the world and the themes that resonate throughout human experience. And Löppönen uses religious iconography to depict our internal struggles. PRESS RELEASE

OPENING NIGHT: Saturday, April 8 from 6-9pm. Free Entry.

Exhibition runs from April 9 to April 30.

Red, 2017, oil on hard board, 30 x 15,5 cm

beinArt Gallery is located at 1 Sparta Place, Brunswick, VIC 3056,  Australia.

Artist-curator conversation: Ville Löppönen and Mika Hannula – Contemplation 28.10 – 20.11.2016

in Finnish / Suomeksi

 

From tormenting ghosts to gentle prayers

 

Mika Hannula: In what way is the work in this exhibition different or linked to the works that we saw in your previous exhibitions at Helsinki Contemporary in 2014 and Mikkeli Art Museum in 2015.

 

Ville Löppönen: The works in the exhibitions from 2013 and 2014 were ghosts. They occupied a liminal space, torn by ritual and prayer. They were ghosts on the border, where there was only a rough picture of the future; it wasn’t personal in the sense that it could be presented in a mundane form.

Understanding the differences and similarities between an Orthodox icon and my own work in the experience of painting was still in a process. This has now apparently gone off in an unexpected direction towards everyday life, which strives to assume concrete forms and move away from symbols. Perhaps we are talking about taking a close, deep look at our fellow human beings. Seeing icons in everyday life and seeing Christ in one’s fellow man.

After a long break I’ve started drawing and using aquarelle again. They have allowed me to distance myself from the locks that were part and parcel of painting. Adopting a faster method brings out a lot of things that have been left open and unfinished, and which haven’t matured. These are also subjects that can stunt the growth of painting. I don’t know, but approaching things through faster instruments helps dialogue flow. Many conversations get stuck when the other party – in this case me – cannot progress in their thoughts. In the same way, as a painter, the instrument can get stuck because its movement has been slowed down by the artist’s lack of ability to cut himself free and let go.

Now drawing and aquarelle have revealed why I have been getting stuck. The speed is so fast that there is no time to properly taste the chunk one has bitten off. Painting itself turns into a ritual if it is not slowed down and brought to a halt.

Icon painting left such a strong impression that I had to get rid of it with a faster instrument to allow my paintings space to grow. In that way, making drawings and aquarelles was a purifying experience. It’s like they helped the process move into a new cycle.

 

MH: And what relationship is there to icons in this exhibition?

 

VL: This is not about content so much as matters of form, which of course affect the content or the dialogue itself if it doesn’t move on and open up. In other words, dialogue is present in everything I do, but with drawing and watercolours I have found my own voice and distanced myself from the icon tradition, which has inevitably exerted a strong influence over me.

I have become familiar with the form and essence of icons during the last two years of my master’s degree in orthodox theology at the University of Eastern Finland. In my thesis, which studies the relationship between icons and paintings and humans assuming a divine form, I have gone deeper into the similarities and differences between the icons and paintings themselves. My study focussed on whether a painting can be seen as a prayer in the same way as an icon. In the Orthodox tradition the process of making an icon is understood as a prayer, and conversation flows through it. In other words, the icon is a place of dialogue.

The Contemplation exhibition is a continuation of my previous exhibitions. They cannot be completely separated and removed from each other. They are a continuation of the same discussion. My prayer goes on.

 

MH: The exhibition features large paintings that are contrasted with rather small ones. In these small ones in particular the theme is sometimes a person, a colleague in fact. This time Jukka Korkeila and Elina Merenmies are included – and we remember your portrait of Henry Wuorila-Stenberg, which won a prize at the Brewer J.C. Jacobson’s Portrait Now! portrait painting competition in Denmark in 2013. What is the significance of the subjects? What is so special about portraits or paintings of other painters that are born of a specific situation and moment?

 

VL: These paintings are very important. They open up the road to understanding everyday life through painting. I mean that the colleagues I paint work more-or-less with the same themes that I do. These portraits are a way of showing the beauty of everyday life. To see something good and encounter contradictory people with an understanding of these contradictions creates empathy. This is a good opening strike in the direction I might be heading, or which I might have been invited to take. Secondly, these colleagues are my former teachers and I owe them a great deal. I want to respect the legacy that they have passed on to me.

These portraits also help me to understand myself and open up my locks and fears. As teachers they have left a deep impression on me, and it is also important to recognize that the challenges they left in their wake form a part of my own painting. In a way I deconstruct the tradition that has been handed down to me and process it in a way that it becomes part of my own experience. Then I throw the ball back and challenge them to progress too. I bring my own experience to the painting, so the portrait becomes like other paintings, a place of dialogue. I am in dialogue when I am making these paintings but the conversation extends to the viewer through the finished work. Painting portraits is not therefore in any way different from other types of painting, apart from the fact that it challenges the subject to participate in direct dialogue. At the same time the dialogue is also possible for others.

These actually differ from normal portraits in the way that the inspiration to make them has come from me. I have wanted to make these paintings and asked if the would-be subjects would agree.

In the exhibition I get to grips with everyday life, although at the same time I am still in a spiritual context. Although it is not obvious, it can be helpful and take my work forwards onto a new level. Colleagues in a way support where I’m going and challenge me to fine tune my work and at the same time make it open and accurate.

A good companion for conversation – painting as a compass and a seedbed

 

MH: You speak about painting as an encounter and interaction, as a dialogue. What does it mean to you?

 

VL: One has to invest in a painting to make it possible. Not submissively but with humility, or the dialogue will turn into a monologue. In practice, this means being open to the painting, spending time in the studio, listening and waiting. The painting replies and listens too, because that is where one can encounter both the other and the self, and eventually see union. By union I mean the life that is shared by a human being and God: God lives within people and lights up people’s minds with grace and love.

Painting is a prayer and the prayer is respectful empathy. Listening and being heard. One has to be honest and reveal mistakes and wounds. Through this, painting comes into being as a relationship between the two as a gentle instrument, an old friend, but not an easy entertainer. It is a teacher, eliciting deeper feeling and growth. To me, a painting moves away from ritual because it’s a sanctuary of real-life dialogue.

 

MH: Away from ritual? Why do you underline that a painting is a prayer – instead of saying it is like a prayer?

 

VL: Away from ritual because the painting is a place of live conversation and genuine presence. It is not a performance, or it ceases to be a painting. A painting can conceal ritual features and traces but it has to be seen, recognised. Ritual means something that is performed in order that we could be something more – more true, or more sacred. However, the problem is that it faces the wrong direction. Ritual doesn’t arise out of empathy, it is about somehow making amends, or it’s an obligation to please. It’s about being true but it is born of the wrong motives.

In other words, a painting has to break free of ritual to become real, so that the two can come together instead of being a fantasy or presumption of one, which excludes true presence and humility. To me, ritual is an external superstition and it shows a lack of understanding about the deep essence of things. If one does not know painting and its potential it is nothing more than ritual. The painter has to be released in the process of the painting. The painter may be released without fear.

Here we also get to why a painting is a prayer. It is not necessarily a prayer, but it can be and in my own case that’s how I perceive it. Prayer is dialogue. Conversation and presence between two friends or two other people that respect each other. It is humility not servility. It is the stripping away of power and control. Prayer is growth which becomes concrete as action. In my case it happens while I’m painting.

Prayer does not have only one form, it is not individual formal repetition or the norm for submitting requests to God. It can be that, but it has to grow out of it. To my mind, prayer is not something apart from a person’s daily life, rather it should grow inside all mundane matters when one attains a clear understanding of the ongoing dialogue. Prayer is dialogue that is concerned with seeing and understanding what is good. It is not moralism, nor is it driven by it. The goal is different.

Now when I spend the bulk of the day painting in silence with an icon or Life and its Source of creativity, which is a godly virtue, I am in dialogue. In this conversation I am involved with creativity and its Provider, or God. That’s why it’s a prayer, because I understand that I am having a conversation with the Good Lord.

Why is this so? Because I am revealed in the dialogue and get a taste of love that does not judge but rather leads us away from judgement, fear and shame towards empathy and integrity. Through the painting, the dialogue brings out the good and the beautiful, even if on a pictorial level it would not be called beautiful. Painting enables me to see the good because I can open up in it and reveal myself. Prayer is the person’s entire soul and body growing towards good. The Orthodox tradition calls it theosis when a person grows to become like God.

Prayer is seeing the good and the growth of trust in different kinds of ways. For me, the method is painting.

 

Everyday contemplations give words to love

 

MH: I have a difficult question in mind, but I will open it up. Your actions and your practices are connected very clearly and organically to a certain, in this case Orthodox spirituality and its relationship with God. How are your works possible for those who do not belong to the same faith, or do you not consider their relationship with God to be important?

 

VL: My work grows from a religious context by using its linguistic expressions in order to get to the bottom of the question of life and growth. I receive words for things, events and experiences that I have had the concepts for. I am also rewarded with travelling companions from whom I learn and with whom I can share experiences.

Religion, if we are now speaking of religion as opposed to faith, is a system of symbols that we use to strive for the essence of life. My paintings have addressed this religious way of seeing things and naming them. It has opened up a perspective for me that I am able to put into words. There are of course central concepts that are very difficult to change, but if we look at things in the Orthodox context that I subscribe to, things that are related to God in particular have many names and means of expression. This is so that the matter can be approached from different angles and no doors would swing closed. We are talking about mysticism, the creator of the natural world, encountering something that transcends humanity and the personal growth that gradually occurs when someone gains clearer vision. It is a question of the union between God and man, but they do not merge with each other. Once again it is about humility, respect, and the dynamics of love.

This way a painting can be a prayer too and express a relationship with what lies behind everything. The religious side is not important, it is more important to have faith. We see things through faith. The target of faith can change and the depth of faith can vary. If faith is about what is good then everything that comes of it is available and open to everyone. It is not necessary to spread this or declare it to everyone. Faith must be humble so that it also respects those who have no interest in it. There is no reason to think that my work should open up to everyone or even many people in the same way.

I like to believe that despite any religious, philosophical or ideological interpretation of the world, it’s possible to understand love, which maintains life despite all the shit that is going on. Recognising it is a universal human trait, and that is why we are here. It is created inside us. A baby or child responds to love no matter how young they are, and they will also respond to hate. It shows us our human nature. We can deprive it of light or we can make it shine. The brighter it is, the more our lives are based on empathy. This brings Christ back into the picture again as his life was suffused with empathy and love. This sort of thing can probably not be foisted on anyone because it would be counter-productive to what love, empathy, humility and respect are all about.

The challenge is how to spread good. The point is not from where and from which form of tradition the good comes. Shared goodness expresses the place it has sprung from. I don’t say that I would succeed, but it’s the direction I would like to grow in. Perhaps that is why icon painting is not possible for me, although I respect it immensely when I come across it. Not all icons are genuine. An icon has to be therapeutic and care for people, but it can be too direct and difficult to approach for those who are unfamiliar with the language. The fault does not lie in the icon but in how the concept is muddied by superstition, power, status and the wrong motives in general.

 

MH: What about everyday life – the idea of everyday mercy and how it carries and supports acts and series of several acts?

 

VL: I should explain a little of what I mean by everyday, because not everyone experiences and lives it in the same way. In my own case, the mysticism that is latent in the everyday opens up for me through understanding empathy and love, in other words through internal vision. The everyday can manifest in a piece of work very strangely, and the picture is not always beautiful. And the challenge is in expressing this to others in a way that the everyday could open up in the same way that I have experienced as an artist, in a way that the image will also pose a challenge to the viewer.

Because of this it’s difficult to get the mundane into the painting without any religious symbols, because it should be understood as a part of the liturgy, the worship of God, so that it doesn’t become a ritual. That doesn’t mean that religious worship in a church is a ritual, but it can easily happen and continue into everyday life, in which case it becomes a performance. In a painting this difficulty becomes concrete in the sensitisation of the language to empathy and pathos. The challenge is thus extremely big. One can’t just walk into it because it asks for a clear vision and deep experience of love which everyday life, understood as the experience of a family-minded artist, tries to show me and teach me. The mystical dimension of the mundane grows, therefore, when one can ask if it is still mundane, or is it contemplation, theosis – in other words, a prayer.

 

MH: What do you mean, how the mundane becomes a prayer?

 

VL: Everyday life exists and changes in different directions, just as the artist either changes or is changed. This is not fun any more, and that’s part of everyday life too, when one works on the border of egocentricity and ambition, inside them and mercifully also outside them too. The mundane asks for trust, but speaking as a painter this is frightening, and that is why many people seek refuge in everyday life in ready-made rituals. Grace opens the door to daring. The grace to be a painter and paint in everyday life, fleeing and hiding with the mundane. As a moment of empathy the tears carry us to a place where we can see and the mundane opens up as a heavenly sight and the painter’s calling to love. In this case one moves away from ritual.

In other words, the mundane can be seen in the smallest nuances such as looks, gestures, bodily expressions and in life’s great questions such as birth and death. In all work and idleness. It can be clearly seen as God’s message and hope in life. But how does one relate to suffering with empathy rather than hate? How does one relate to everything in life through empathy? How can one be a painter without a religious language and worldview and trust only one’s heart and it filling up with empathy? We must have the courage to commit and believe in the mundane, and dare to find Christ in our hearts in the middle of our mundane lives.

Therein lies the painter’s lifelong challenge, and it doesn’t progress according to a schedule or art degrees.

 

MH: How does this everyday challenge progress and deepen? Doesn’t this place terrible expectations and demands on a piece of work – for both the maker and the viewer?

 

VL: It progresses through humility, in other words though silence, listening, being present in the moment and through painting. And it is always progressing because the companion in dialogue is love with no beginning or end.

In my case it progresses through painting. For someone else it progresses by any other means. If action doesn’t happen, neither will anything else. Thought still doesn’t create change. It has to happen through movement and events. It is the natural and original essence of action and thought. They are related to each other. Body and spirit, body and soul, man and God. Action is wordless thought which can to a certain extent be verbalised but it is not always necessary because action functions and affects things without words too. Even though a painting is a mute thought, it is very Verbal too. By this I mean that a painting enables dialogue about the living word, in other words Christ and Love, through which everything exists. The word is not therefore speech or writing, rather the way that we try to express God through language. It is action becoming physical.

In my opinion this is not a question of demands because unlike ritual, humility doesn’t contain demands. It is always about growth and increasing depth. For that reason, expectations are always in line with growth and are appropriate. However, there is an internal conflict that sometimes makes painting impossible and its demands insurmountable. And so we return to everyday life and tears. Tears promote the gift and mercy, meaning empathy. This is how something begins. A painting is an open space without demands or expectations because it is an encounter between two things as respect and presence. In that case there are no demands or expectations. There is only space to grow in a good direction at one’s own pace through laughter and tears. The space is lost when one enters a ritual and that is why one must fight one’s way out, not by force or violence, but by waiting and listening so that faith and trust return. Time flows eternally, and always for the duration of a painting.

Contemplation – 28.10.-20.11.2016

Contemplation

Ville Löppönen’s Contemplation is being shown at Helsinki Contemporary 28 October–20 November. The exhibition is a direct continuation of his show Ghosts at the Gallery two years ago. Löppönen has delved deeply into the differences and similarities between the icon and the painting, and succeeded in taking his own working process to a new level. Drawing and watercolour painting proved to be purifying things to do when painting was turning into a ritualistic act and the rules bound up with the tradition of icon painting threatened to prevent the artist from making his own painting grow.

For Löppönen painting is prayer. A painting is a dialogue with otherness. For Löppönen otherness is the Holy Trinity, and painting a place for the self-revelation and seeing that make inner growth possible. He seeks to strip his working process of all ritual. The works have to arise out of stillness, dialogue, waiting and listening. By trying to be totally honest with himself, Löppönen gives the painting a chance to attain its full potential.

“Ritual means something that is carried out so as to be something more, or more right or more holy. The problem is that this happens in the wrong direction: not out of empathy, but out of some sort of compensation or satisfying sense of duty. Out of being right, and yet with the wrong motives.”

Löppönen’s works communicate empathy and tenderness to the viewer. He tries to find universal expressions for his works that are not bound up with any symbolic language, but which have an affinity with the everyday. The works grow out of a religious context, make use of its linguistic expressions, and seek to speak of the dynamic movement of love, of divine love on a universal level.

“I want to believe that, regardless of whatever religious or philosophical or ideological interpretation of the world someone adheres to, it is possible to understand the love that sustains life, despite all the shit. Recognizing this is a universal human characteristic within us, and it is why we are here. It can be obscured or it can be made clearer. The clearer it is, the more our life is rooted in empathy.”

In the dialogue carried out in a painting Löppönen experiences a love that leads away from judgement, fear and shame towards empathy and wholeness. It brings out the good and the beautiful, even if the painting’s pictorial subject matter is not always solely beautiful. The finished works embody the dialogue that Löppönen has gone through.

Ville Löppönen (b. 1980) is an artist who was born in Savonlinna. He gained his Master of Fine Arts degree from the Academy of Fine Arts, Helsinki in 2007 and is currently completing a Master’s degree in Orthodox Theology at the University of Eastern Finland. His works have been shown in Europe, North America and Australia. Most recently he has had solo exhibitions at The Bonnafont Gallery, San Francisco (2015) and Mikkeli Art Museum (2015). His portrait of the artist Henry Wuorila-Stenberg won third prize in the Danish Portrait Now! Brewer J.C. Jacobsen’s Portrait Award in 2013.

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