Interview by Sofia Järnefelt | Photographs Erno Enkenberg

I meet with Eeva-Riitta Eerola at the Artek flagship store in Helsinki where her new series of work titled Turning Point, is being exhibited amongst furniture classics from Alvar Aalto and Ilmari Tapiovaara. Before we sit down on a bright red couch I have a look at the exhibition, a series of paintings in oil and acrylic on canvas. As I walk across the space I find myself not wanting to think too much, not analyze, nor rush. I just want to stand in front of the works, and stare. I tell Eeva-Riitta to get herself a coffee and enjoy it in peace. I want to linger still by her paintings; listen to a story that isn’t told, look at a character that does not exist. I’m intrigued about the process behind such seemingly reduced works. A series on minimalism. Marked out surfaces, strictly selected colors, unintentionally achieved emotions. 

How do you start with a new piece, Eeva-Riitta?

“Sketches. Lately I have been making collage sketches.”

Eeva-Riitta starts her process by cutting paper and photographs. “Photographs that I take of myself. But that’s not essential. What is essential is that they are quick snapshots from transient moments. However,” she stresses out,“These are not self-portraits.” Taking photographs for the sketches is a way for her to include the process more extensively to the painting. Then she breaks the character of the images. The collage-like sketches are not supposed to define the final work. They are just output pulses to get her started. There must be some room left for spontaneous novelty, while maintaining minimalism. The complete process includes a lot of staring. And then those moments, when you have to plunge. She wants to let the piece of artwork find its form through the act of painting. “And then there are works that are completely planned. When I have a painting ready and I want to react to it with a juxtaposition. Or a coordination of some sort,” she adds.  

Eeva-Riitta Eerola, Turning Point XV, 2021, oil and acrylic on canvas, 27 x 22 cm. Photo: Erno Enkenberg

Eeva-Riitta Eerola, Turning Point X, 2021, oil and acrylic on canvas, 100 x 90 cm. Photo: Erno Enkenberg

The canvas. Making it visible. A choice of using simple acts to make surfaces prominent. To study the possibilities of building a space with the use of only raw canvas and paint. “ I have kind of a weird relationship with color”, Eeva-Riitta ponders slightly smiling with her eyes and continues, “Previously colors were more intuitive to me. For this exhibition I wanted to delimit the palette to an exceptional amount. To just vary with a few colors. The sky blue. And black. They’ve been primary colors to me now – tools that I attach character to. And with the help of these colors I can create meaningful relationships between pieces.”

As we continue with our discussion I explain to Eeva-Riitta how I feel captured by the female figures in her works. And she notes “To me the gender of the figures does not matter, because I have no need to create a narrative.” For her the shape of the figure has more to do about exploring the picture. She uses it as a mark. By abstracting the figures to such an extent anything can become a character, an acting element. The elements that she works with become equal to each other without any hierarchies. No emotional state is associated to the character. It is an area of color as part of an image. Without references to a story. The painting becomes a tool to explore the painting itself. To explore things that can only be made through paintings. To explore what is essential to a painting. How to observe. How to interpret an image.

Eeva-Riitta Eerola, Turning Point IX, 2020, oil and acryl on canvas, 81 x 73 cm. Photo: Erno Enkenberg

Eeva-Riitta Eerola, Helsinki Contemporary x Artek Helsinki on view at Artek Helsinki flagship store until 31.3.2021.