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In Dialogue with Jarmo Mäkilä

Jarmo Mäkilä

Hirveksi muuttunut poika salaisuuksien portilla III / The Boy who Turned into a Moose at the Gate of Secrets III, 2014
Oil on canvas
267 x 196 cm / 105.12 x 77.17 inches

Jarmo Mäkilä

Jarmo Mäkilä
View from the artist's studio, 2017

Jarmo Mäkilä

Jarmo Mäkilä

Jarmo Mäkilä

The Dance Class, 2012
Oil on canvas
196 x 151 cm / 77.2 x 59.5 inches

Jarmo Mäkilä

Jarmo Mäkilä
Sirkuksen poika / A Son of the Circus, 2012
Oil on canvas
203 x 150 cm / 79.9 x 59.1 inches

Jarmo Mäkilä

Jarmo Mäkilä
The boy changed into a stag at the gate of secrets, 2016
Bronze, steel, mixed media
250 x 160 x 191 cm / 98.4 x 63 x 75.2 inches




In a career spanning over four decades, you have gained recognition as an extraordinarily gifted painter and draftsman. Over the years, you have reinvented your style many times: early in your career, you combined contemporary motifs with allusions to art history, and in the 1980s you drew inspiration from the masks of popular culture. Your recent work seems to fall somewhere between realism and surrealism.



1. What does change mean to you? And how did you arrive at your present style?


An artist must be open to change. You have to exist in a state perpetual of flux, because the process of painting involves the transference of mental energy onto the canvas. This doesn’t mean that you have to change your technique completely, however. You can stick to your style, as long as you keep probing deeper. Your ideas might change and you might switch your perspective, but you have to keep up and adapt stylistically.


Although the outward form of my paintings has changed over the years, certain recurring themes are woven through my entire oeuvre. I am intrigued by how the human mind works, particularly those cognitive processes that break down information into fragments and reassemble them in new patterns.



2. In addition to painting, you have also branched out into installation, as well as clay and bronze sculpture. What led you to sculpture?


Before the Academy of Fine Arts, I spent a year studying sculpture at the University of Art and Design. My kinetic sculptures of that time were quite painterly, while my 1980s paintings were postmodern. Recently I have taken a growing interest in three-dimensional form. I started with installations, and then moved to sculpture, fired clay and then finally bronzes. At the moment I’m experimenting freely with sculpture and its various techniques. Sculpting is fun – and that’s what art-making is ultimately all about for me: it should feel good.


My installations and sculptures go hand in hand with my paintings; I’m able to express the things I want to say most powerfully through the dynamic tension that exists between works of different genres. The exhibits engage in a dialogue to which the sculptures add a physical, spatial dimension. I see sculpture as my future medium, as it offers me broader opportunities to actualize myself. I will never give up painting, though.



3. Over the years, young boys have always been a recurrent motif in your works. Is there any special symbolic significance to their age?


The boys partly hark back to my childhood. It’s related to the process of ruminating over my past. My art is not set in the past, however – it addresses universal themes that anyone can identify with. Childhood is a primitive, anarchic time of life, because our imagination is at its richest in our early years. When a child discovers an inspiring place, they are able to create the wildest of worlds in their mind. Youth is a time that is free of limits and responsibilities, a time of adventure. In adulthood we become saddled with inhibitions that make life duller. The more grown-up you are, the more boring you become.



4. There are many levels to your art, and your works are packed with references to other art forms, such as music and literature. Are there any particular works that have influenced you?


The iconic Finnish poet Arto Melleri once told me that I am Finland’s most literary painter. Music, too, has had a major formative influence on me. For instance back in the 1970s I was inspired by Frank Zappa’s approach to combining symphonic and popular music in the same song, so I cooked up a similar mixed soup in my paintings. Kurt Vonnegut’s books, Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Günter Grass’s The Tin Drum and William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies are all works that still affect me deeply.


Around the age of 20, I started thinking about the fragments that constitute our thoughts. The information we process comes from a glut of sources as varied as books, magazines, discussions and music, which break up our thoughts into fragments and blur the boundaries of reality. This realization has had a huge impact on me and my art-making.


5. The mood of your most recent paintings and sculptures is darker than before. Are the boys in your paintings finally growing up?


The boys in my paintings live in a world of their own, like Peter Pan, or the Lost Boys: they never want to grow up. Perhaps they want to cling to the adventure for as long as they can. My art is still informed by the same themes as before, but growing older has brought new content to my work. These days I create fewer works, and they tend to be more somber in mood. The positive anarchy has been supplanted by a sense of something gone awry.


At the moment I feel very liberated from all limitations, and this sense of boundlessness is palpable in my paintings. My work has started to gain international recognition in recent years; it appears to be getting its message across cultural borders. I have recently held exhibitions in the United States and across Europe. This February I will be opening a retrospective at the Sara Hildén Art Museum, and I will also be exhibiting in Germany and Russia. I have quite a lot on my plate at the moment. I’ll see where my next move leads as soon as I have a moment to think to myself again.



Jarmo Mäkilä’s retrospective opens at the Sara Hildén Art Museum on February 11, 2017. The show runs until May 28. Galerie Forsblom will present a studio exhibition of his work from February 10 until March 5, 2017.

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