Speaking eloquently and precisely, visual artist Jenni Hiltunen is wonderful company: very present, honest, and attentive. She has a warm, infectious laugh that fills up her studio when she contemplates how nice it would be to change certain ways we live and work, if only we could.
When and how did you choose art as your creative outlet?
There was never a specific moment, but nothing has ever interested me as much as art. Making art is a big part of my identity. I could not imagine a life without the process of making – it is a way to perceive the world, to put up with it and to celebrate it.
How would you describe yourself as an artist?
Restless, abrupt, voracious – I have a need to constantly move forward. I want to learn, to come up with something new, to run in circles and to jump out from that circle. At the moment painting feels incredibly important to me; it becomes more personal all the time. Painting keeps me attentive, sane and it has a calming effect on me when the world feels oppressive.
From where do you get your ideas?
The world we live in today interests me: different phenomena, social media, adapted identity, a gaze, design, fashion, colors, all that is beautiful, all that is ugly. The human being is at the center of my art – the human figure, often a women’s figure. Gender interests me, as well as genders, other gender and everything in between.
How do you feel that your new works in the “Nothing Else Matters” exhibition at Galerie Forsblom have evolved from your previous exhibitions?
I held my previous solo exhibition in Milan in 2013, after I had a child and spent a year at home. In other words, this exhibition at Galerie Forsblom is my first after a long break. My starting point was the work shown in Milan because I felt that I had captured something new in those pieces – they were more figurative and more portrait-like than my work before. During my maternity leave I missed painting enormously and I realized for the first time how important painting is to me. It felt like something significant in me was missing. This was a vacuum that even my child could not fill; I was disoriented and anguished. When I returned to my studio I was eager; I wanted nothing else than to paint as much as possible. Somehow I am more open now, more honest and also more selfish in the way that I do things that feel good without listening to others. Perhaps this can be seen in my work.
If I look at my old work and compare them to the new ones, I sense a certain youthful frenzy as opposed to something calmer in the latest work. However, I don’t mean that I don’t have this urgency in my work anymore – I do, but it is different. I am still restless, abrupt, and frenetic but there is a sense of breath in the work. With the new work I did not look for a specific technique or gimmick in the brushwork, I just looked for an authenticity in the expression – in the process of painting itself.
How did you come up with exhibition name “Nothing Else Matters”?
Coming up with a name for an exhibition is always a challenging process to me. I never know in advance what’s coming; the process tends to be open and left to chance until the very end. Also, I avoid defining too much with the choice of the name – not to put too much emphasis on the words because I don’t want to lock down the exhibition to something very specific, or around one definite theme. Music has often been an instinctive point of reference to me in the naming process as I feel a strong connection between experiencing music and making art. There is this similar experience of aliveness when listening to music as I get when looking at art or making art. The feeling is movie-like: a soundtrack is playing in the background of everything that I do.
I stumbled upon Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” and it, being the commanding song that it is, just resonated on many levels with the body of works that are shown in this exhibition. Also, this name fits well with the starting point of this exhibition, which is also the underlying theme in all my work – my interest in the posing culture. How people present themselves in a virtual reality: How real is that and is something more real than the other?
What about the paintings? How do you name them?
There is no pattern behind the names: the process is quite multifaceted and the names can come from almost anything. Sometimes they come from the work or from the process of painting itself, or from a thought that is the starting point of the painting. It can also be something that you sense in the work when it’s ready, or it can be a feeling that you have while working.
Another thing that I have noticed is that I find it difficult to choose names for the paintings that become more significant to me – after all how do you catch the essence of the work with a word or a phrase, without guiding the viewer too much. I find it really important to leave a space for the viewers to make their own interpretation of the work.
How do you feel about your workspace and do you have work-related routines?
My studio is a very dear place to me. I like being here a lot and I come here daily. Before having a child I did not have any particular routines around my work – I worked very freely and with little regard to time. Now, however, I have quite specific routines regarding both hours and also the process from where the work begins. I used to thrive on working during late hours so it has been a challenge to balance parenthood with work – I have had to become more efficient and specific with my use of time as opposed to a very free rhythm of working that I used to enjoy.
I usually collect a great amount of visually fascinating images from various media over a longer period of time. My inspiration is purely visual. What I find particularly interesting is when I begin noticing some sort of repetition of images in for instance blogs, on Tumlbr or on Instagram. Then I research around this phenomenon, contemplating what it is about, which becomes the starting point for the paintings.
You have previously painted with acrylics. What made you switch to oil colours?
With acrylics and the use of water with them, I used to play and splash around more while painting. I also find that they worked well with a more abstract expression. I have been going back and forth between the figurative and the non-figurative, intrigued by the variation between the two; working with either one for a certain period of time, then jumping back to the other. When I got pregnant I didn’t feel comfortable using acrylics because they are not as natural as oil.
When painting with acrylics I pretty much always worked with the canvas horizontally on the floor, so when I changed to oil colours I had to rise up from the floor and work upright. The evolution from working on the floor to standing up, combined with the difference between these two materials, has been a big change for me and it has effected my expression as well. The oils immediately felt very good to work with, very natural and exciting, which together with the newness of working upright, made the process of going back to work last year really wonderful. As a material, oil has a lot of lovely qualities: the naturalness, the variety that comes from possibilities to play with the degrees of translucency of color, as well as the glow of the colours.
What about your use and choice of colour?
Colours play a big part in my paintings. I love painters who work with very monochromatic, subtle and sophisticated colours but I myself cannot manage to work in that way. Bright colours always seem to find themselves into my work – it happens constantly and there’s not much I can seem to do about it (laughs). You look at certain people’s work and think to yourself why don’t I paint in that way, but no of course, it doesn’t work that way.
The same goes for the process of change that we talked about earlier. It’s not something that happens very quickly and it’s not something that you can force or decide on doing in a certain way. I don’t know what has happened but I think I have become a little bit more merciful regarding how I approach my paintings. Before, I used to be quite harsh towards my work, whereas nowadays I can approach each individual piece a little bit like a partner: it’s easier to find something important in each one.
Can you tell us a little bit about your video pieces?
I have done a few videos – the last was in 2012. Videos are exciting to make, as they are a change from painting and you get to work with a team, share ideas and investigate other people’s perspective on thoughts. Some ideas work better in videos and I don’t even try to work them into my paintings. Through video it is easier to observe something from a broader perspective and come up with stories. I see an interconnection between the world of my paintings and that of the video: a similarity in the rhythm and the way of looking at the world. I would like to make videos in the future as well.
What have been the turning points in your career and why?
Getting represented by Galerie Forsblom has been the most significant thing so far. It is important to have a gallery that supports and encourages you. The year 2016 has also been important to me – it was wonderful to get back to work and I have been painting a lot.
What are some of your favourite places in Helsinki?
In the spring of 2016 we moved to Kumpula, a place with which I have become infatuated. The whole area is like one big garden; the forests of Viikki are close by as is Lammassaari and the sea.
What kind of career related dreams do you have?
I wish to progress as a painter and an artist. I want to be able to work a lot, to be able to make a living through this work and have exhibitions in Finland as well as abroad.
Jenni Hiltunen: Nothing Else Matters
February 10 – March 3