By Nadja Sayej, August 2010
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.
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. The Finnish comic artists 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.
Below are the top ten 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, the towering bearded and bespectacled comic guru Jelle Hugaerts 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 cooperation 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!” With the feisty archive of ArtStars* episodes behind me, who is to blame?
Many Finnish artists backed away from an interview – but not Timo Vaittinen. 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 DIY 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 Ojala considers fantastic. From 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 Kuti tabloid.
This free art newspaper (all comics, no articles) distributed at key locations around Helsinki showcases the comic world of the Kutikuti collective, a group of 12 artists who have their own 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 DIY, handmade masterpieces featuring the works of musicians, art students, illustrators and animators from Finland, Switzerland, Sweden 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).
Possibly because Nissinen is also a touring musician who roams from town to town, his characters rarely stay the same.
Jyrki Nissinen on Wikipedia
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 – through 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. Her comic volcanoes spout a rainbow of tears, her shooting stars look like spray paint and she also publishes a comic called Kuvatus3 with fellow artist Kaija Papu.
Louhi 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 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. The coconspirator of the King Nosmo Cookbook with Tomas De Rita, Strömman has exhibited his comics at Myymälä2 in Helsinki, 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 offers to sell you a winning idea to help resolve 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 in Helsinki, demanding to know why I was late (“Finns hate that,” she said). Her comics, paintings and drawings are reminiscent of a candied kindergarten romp on 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, channelling 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 in fine arts from the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts and has exhibited in Slovenia, Russia, London and Sweden.
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.
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