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In dialogue with Reima Nevalainen

Reima Nevalainen

Reima Nevalainen
Ugetsu (triptych), 2015

Congratulations on being selected as Finland’s Young Artist of the Year 2016!


After two years in Japan, you have spent an intensive period working in Finland. In that time you have had a solo exhibition at Galerie Forsblom, you took part in the Serlachius Museum Gösta exhibition The Sin, and you represented Finland in Art Cologne’s program for young, innovative artists. As Young Artist of the Year 2016, your work will feature in a forthcoming solo exhibition at the Tampere Art Museum.


1.) How do you keep finding inspiration and fresh ideas working at such a hectic pace? Do you think self-renewal is necessary for an artist?


Half the brainwork or inspiration of painting happens during moments of focused concentration, which can take place anywhere. The other half happens while you’re working – thinking by doing. Ideas pop into my head from everywhere, also from past experiences. When you’re painting without an external visual reference point, you draw from a pool of impressions of everything you have seen and the things that ring true. The chance of misremembering or distorting is what keeps things interesting. Inspiration usually comes most easily while you’re working. When you’re on the right track, your eyes know it. Of course it’s important and necessary to renew yourself. But organic self-renewal occurs naturally. There’s no point in shedding your skin before it’s time.


2.) You combine a variety of techniques and materials in your paintings. You have even compared your method to that of an archaeologist. How do you choose the materials for each painting, and how important is the process to you?


‘Knowing with your eyes’, as I just described, is important when choosing materials. I don’t consciously select them beforehand; rather they appear spontaneously as the painting takes shape. When I’m working on a collage or with other materials, I try to keep the process as immediate as if I were dabbing paint on the canvas. The paints and materials that constitute the reality of the painting occupy a specialized ‘reference library’ from which I select the qualities I’m looking for.


Painting is inevitably a process. Of course a process implies movement towards a final goal, but the process leaves traces of the struggle, or is a stepping stone in a flow of images that continues in the next painting. There is a vast amount of images that the viewer never sees. A painting is formed of many layers of images, and painting can be a form of archaeological excavation of these buried layers. A painting isn’t necessarily born simply by adding something to an empty void; it can also be a process of stripping and searching for the underlying void that lies hidden beneath all things. It’s hard for me to say whether my paintings are expressionistic; in any case I see painting as more of a process of searching than expressing. In both cases, however, the process in all its laborious complexity is the key.


3.) The internationalization of Finnish artists has been a hot topic in Finland since the early 2000s. What does this mean to you?


I haven’t exhibited widely overseas yet, and I haven’t spent any extended periods abroad except for my two years in Japan. I am no expert on this, but the two years I spent in Japan were certainly a turning point for me.


4.) Did your time in Japan change your style or technique?


I was thinking about that during last autumn’s exhibitions and I believe it has, or at least I hope it has helped me to evolve. In Japan I worked on a year-long series of drawings and posted a new drawing on my blog every day. Although the drawings were not direct impressions of my surroundings, undoubtedly they would have looked very different had I done them in some other place. Those drawings and my new-found interest in photography from my time in Japan certainly took the paintings I later did in Finland in a new direction. Above all living in the midst of Japanese aesthetic traditions in Kyoto was like nectar that energized and intoxicated me – and continues to do so whenever I paint to this day.


5.) What do you find interesting on the contemporary art scene at the moment?


I do the rounds of Helsinki’s gallery’s every month, but otherwise I don’t actively keep up with what’s going on. The contemporary art scene is so diverse and changeable that it’s impossible to single out any particular point of interest. Of course this very kaleidoscopic freedom – even if, at times, it seems forced – is interesting in its own righ.


Born in 1984, Nevalainen lives and works in Porvoo. His work as Young Artist of the Year 2016 will feature in a solo exhibition at the Tampere Art Museum from June 11 to September 11, 2016.


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