By Nadja Sayej
Forget picturesque landscapes and crafty ceramics. The Finnish comic scene is taking over with photocopied zines, indie pins and art newspapers. And they’re out to entertain, bemuse and dish that it’s more than just books about superheroes.
From art openings in Kallio to studio visits in Vallila, airport interviews in Helsinki and train rides to Turku, I arrived in Finland to interview artists as the host of ArtStars*, an international internet TV show about the art world, one art scene, one country at a time. And I’m out globetrotting, armed with a mic, for the ArtStars* Odyssey: Uncovering the 7 Unsolved Mysteries of the Art World.
The Finnish comic artists I interviewed on screen were the snappiest, wittiest and most cocksure bunch I have found yet – and it’s just now they are beginning to subtitle and translate their work into English, Swedish and French. These are the top 10 purveyors of youth culture who have got the Gonzo spirit of ArtStars* deep within their sunny blood in the land of the midnight sun.
As the owner of the Pitkämies comic book store in Kallio, this towering bearded and bespectacled comic guru is at the core of the burgeoning community in Helsinki. From his ever-growing international collection to releasing new titles on the Huuda Huuda label, his store is also home to regular rock shows and a nearby comic gallery. Note the comics attached to the toilet dispenser in the bathroom and the Art Spiegelman MAUS mural on the back wall. Pitkämies now has a second location in Uudenmaankatu, in co-operation with Myymälä2, chock-full of silk screened art, zines and punk ‘tude.
When I stepped into this Helsinki-based painter’s studio in the industrial Vallila
district, the last thing I expected was a signed book. But he didn’t give his signature, he wrote the word: “Slap!” But with the feisty archive of ArtStars* episodes behind me, who is to blame? Many Finnish artists backed away from an interview – but not Timo Vattinen. Interview aside, the work speaks for itself: Large-scale glossy canvasses of an otherworldly, psychedelic oasis draped in Technicolor only tie-dye could match. In some comics, no words are necessary.
He has crafted a Styrofoam igloo in the middle of a gallery floor and still takes Polaroid photos. But Konsta Ojala, a multimedia artist and D.I.Y. scene-maker based out of Helsinki, is at his best with his hardcover glossy limited-edition book Adios III.
The book features the works of nine artists who Konsta considers fantastic. Featuring the sleepy world of pencil drawings by Janne Martola to the Bubblicious explosions of colour in the paintings of Tommi Musturi, the book is a snapshot of what is to come in the underground comic scene in Helsinki, which is soon to explode (watch out Brooklyn).
Walk into comic book stores and galleries to find one newspaper unlike the rest – the
This free art newspaper (all comics, no articles) is distributed at key locations around Helsinki showcases the comic world of the KUTIKUTI collective, a group of 12 artists who have their Vallila silkscreening studio to make, publish and teach comics. The quarterly Kuti (now in its 16th issue) is edited by Pauliina Mäkela and once a year, they release a comic anthology called Glömp. Both are D.I.Y., handmade masterpieces featuring the works of musicians, art students, illustrators and animators from Switzerland, Sweden, Finland and beyond. This is the world where red horses step into the recording to play guitar in a comic by Roope Eronen and skeletons drink slime in a comic by Ville Vuorenmaa. But the most chilling comics are based in the everyday – domestic arguments shatter the pages of a comic by Yong-Deuk Kwon (nobody said it had to be easy).
Unlike most Simpsons fans, Jyrki Nissinen turns Smithers, Lisa and Homer into strange and twisted tales for his ongoing series of comic books (most notably, his comic “Over 10,000 dogs dog show,” a love story set in a dog show). A touring musician who roams from town to town, his characters rarely stay the same.
Some travel by plane, train or automobile, but Finnish comic artist and politician Kaisa
Leka toured Europe by bike with her husband Christoffer. She returned to Porvoo with a whopping 475-page comic book called Tour D’Europe. The black-and-white comic has more ponderous moments than most, telling the magical tale of yoga road cycling, a part-travelogue, part-Hindu journey infusing the pages with winsome wisdom from the Bhagavad-Gita. But it’s not all serious. There are still laughs, bike tans and maps that lead inward – though the most real comic to come out in awhile.
This Tampere-based comic artist, painter and installation artist is a cut-and-paste queen of all things colourful. From her comic volcanoes which spout a rainbow of tears to shooting stars that look like spray paint, she also publishes a comic called Kuvatus3 with fellow artist Kaija Papu. Aino studied at the Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto before returning to Finland to graduate from the Tampere Polytechnic School of Art and Media. She has graced the pages of Ylioppilaslehti magazine and Aamulehti newspaper with her illustrations, and brings a fresh edge to planetary love and childhood nostalgia.
By far the most hilarious, entertaining, witty and clever artist I interviewed, he
personifies the ArtStar* personality in full force. As the co-conspirator of the King Nosmo Cookbook with Tomas De Rita, has exhibited his comics at Myymälä2 and riffs on the everyday with works like scrawling Kinder and Cadbury logos on real eggs. But the best piece he sells is likely “A Solution.” He even offers to sell you a winning idea to any problems you might have at a price of 9,000 Euros. Note that he takes American Express, Visa and Mastercard – and takes up to 14 days for delivery.
I learned that Katja Tukiainen was cheeky the moment she threw open the doors of her Cable Factory studio demanding to know why I was late (“Finns hate that,” she said). Her comics, paintings and drawings are reminiscent of a candied kindergarten romp through the playground, but through the eyes of a kid who might get suspended for talking back. Her comics are an autobiographical glimpse into her past, channeling her feisty fists into a character named Mlle Good Heavens, a self-portrait of the artist as a child. But it’s not all child’s play: Katja graduated with a PhD of fine arts from the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts, has exhibited in Slovenia, Russia, London and Sweden. Here she stands with a mural of Karl Marx at the Nordic Watercolor Museum in Skärhamn, Sweden. “Communism is no longer dangerous anymore, it is only cool,” she says.
His Helsinki studio was hot but his art was hotter.
Kim Simonsson, a sculptor who has exhibited in Sweden, France and Germany, builds Japanese anime-infused sculptures which range from elephants to schoolgirls and ethereal alien-like creatures. He redefines the meaning of ceramic and glass without calling to mind grandma’s teacups or touristy figurines. He really is crafty with his ceramics.
My goal was to get to the heart of the Helsinki art scene – but found the fringes way more fascinating. Stay tuned for the Finland Trilogy, three episodes revealing what the artists speak for themselves, next up on ArtStars*.