Aki Turunen is a painter who challenges himself over and over again. When he feels like he has mastered something he has intuitively set out to examine through painting, he moves on to the next tantalising and vast subject. Aki has painted snakes, queens, spring, and the golden ratio. A wonderful colourist, Aki handles his medium radiantly, alchemising the surface of the painting into the most velvet-like blacks, gem-coloured hues and sensitive pastels. Aki is also very knowledgable, an intriguing conversationalist and a passionate pianist, who absolutely loves to paint.
Albert I Love You, 40x30cm, Silverpoint, Oil and Beewswax on Icon Ground, 2019.
What has been your path to become a painter?
I have drawn and painted for as long as I can remember; my memory of my childhood room is one of soft winter light washing over large sheets of paper on a drawing table. Painting is challenging, slow and difficult, yet it is also endlessly delightful – impulsive and alluringly slippery. Painting offers experiences that cut into the deepest layers; when I reach those depths, I can feel my body soften and those layers begin to melt.
How would you describe yourself as a creator?
As an artist I am a pleasure seeker and a diva. I create pictures sensitively and slowly. I am very much into the feeling of the materials: sophisticated linens, the glow of cobalt blue pigments and the smell of plaster primer – they take me back to Italy. I flirt with art history. I approach things with intensity.
What is your work process like?
I create from a need and my curiosity is limitless. Intuition guides me; usually the themes chooses me – I don't know why I have painted snakes, queens or spring. I am disciplined; I try to be at my studio whenever I get the chance. A satisfying day might be one where I have been looking at paintings all day and the required work steps happen when they are meant to happen. I have tried to take longer breaks from painting, but it made me realise that I also miss the gruesome bits of creating: the friction, the feeling of running out of steam, the moment when things get into a dead-end...
What do you want to convey through your work?
I foster my love for art history in my work characterised by a sovereign theme and in the abstract pieces that comment on these works. The paintings depicting queens deal with the subject of emptying the meaning of the picture. The line chops the picture into prisms, and the paint gestures empty the picture face into paint. The non-figurative paintings that comment on the queen paintings asks these same questions, but through the lens of the modernist tradition. I want to seek and express elegance, I want to defend sensitivity.
Isabella Regina, Oil and Beeswax on Icon Ground, 2019.
Your paintings have a beautiful surface texture. Where do they stem from?
I size the linen fabric with animal glue. I also often use a primer that is used for religious icon paintings. The chalk-like primer absorbs the oil and creates a mat texture, which I enhance by refracting the glow of the colour with beeswax paste. I favour heavy metal pigments that have a gem-like shimmer, like cobalt violet. I listen to what the primer has to say. Although, sometimes I, ever so slightly, subjugate the primer.
You spent some time studying at The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen. How was the experience?
The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts is situated in the Charlottenborg castle at Kongens Nytorv, right in the very center of Copenhagen, symbolising that art education is highly valued. The school was established in 1754 when king Fredrick V gifted the building to the academy in honour of his 31st birthday. The only requirement was that the king's birthday was to be celebrated every year, forever. I was there in the spring of 2011 and I remember how some of the studios had to be emptied and transformed into smoking and audience rooms for queen Margareta II, when she arrived for the celebration of king Fredrick V's birthday.
In 2011 the school had not undergone the Bologna Process, which could be seen for instance in the fact that the only written word expected from the graduating students was a signature. The art scene in Denmark is active, the student's feel confident about their opportunities to find their own path in the art field. From Denmark I took with me the excitement of the Danish artists.
What would you do if you wouldn't paint?
I think I would become a very cranky person if I wouldn't paint. I would be cranky! Painting channels a special kind of life force that I don't think can be channeled in any other way. On the other hand, I would probably do pretty much the same things that I do right now, but more intensively: I would play the piano, I would read a lot.
What excites you?
This year, I have been reading Virginia Woolf's oeuvre. The elegance of her writing attracts me. I experience her work from the 1920s and onward in colour: for instance, in Jacob's Room I see these deep moss-like views, in Mrs Dalloway I see lavender mixed with light violet. Virginia's style of writing in stream of consciousness reminds me of the surprising and interesting associations that happen through painting.
Aki Turunen was part of Marcy's Sensual Closeness exhibition