What can I say, the minute I laid my eyes on Joel Slotte's work while intuitively scanning Instagram for interesting art, I knew I was looking at something special. There's a powerful emotional charge to his work and the themes that he explores that, together with an awe-inspiring technical dedication, creates a polarity that makes you stop and stare; to want to get to know more about Joel Slotte and the humane, yet kind of otherworldly sceneries that he paints.
Joel Slotte, Kruunuhaka in May, Oil on Canvas, 2019
What has been your path to artistry?
I've been drawing my whole life and I still consider drawing to be the foundation for how I paint or sculpt. I also always wanted to paint, but growing up I kind of disliked actually doing it because it didn't feel as immediate as drawing with a pencil. While studying in the painting department in The Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki, I mainly kept making large-scale pencil drawings because I knew I was good at that but also because I felt really lost as a painter. I'd had a rocky relationship with painting, but some time after graduating from the Academy I started going to the studio to paint almost daily and learned to love it.
How would you describe yourself as an artist?
I am an empath, a daydreamer, a nerd, a jack of all trades, a dumpsterdiver, a codemaker and a craftsperson with a rebellious disposition toward myself; if I catch myself making a habitual decision while making a painting, I try to go against that habit and find another way of doing it.
You were invited to participate in the CHART / Emerging section of the fair? What was that like?
Participating in this year's edition of CHART / Emerging was a great experience which I find myself thinking back on a lot. I keep having dreams about that weekend and the people I met there, so there still seems to be a lot to process. The whole CHART weekend from Thursday until Sunday feels like a fever dream of an adventure complete with highs and lows, scorching sun, meeting old friends and making new ones, endless partying, emotional talks at 4 am on a bench next to a small church, greasy falafels and fries, cemetery strolls in the morning for a moment of quiet alone time, feeling zoned-out, meeting new friends at a beach and going for a swim in the salty sea before rushing to a panel discussion with fingers still sticky from nectarine juice, a baptism by an angel, a thunderstorm and a fire alarm, a snakeskin cowboy hat, a final melancholy pizza shared while sitting by the canal before parting ways with new friends.
Emerging’s curator Helga Christoffersen is very good at what she does and it was a pleasure to work with her! Also the staff and volunteers were always making sure we had everything we needed, so I felt very safe and looked after. What does your work process look like?
I'm inspired by things that are close to me; everyday situations, anecdotes, images that sort of just appear into the world for a moment and observations, experiences and conversations shared with friends.
Usually, but not always, I start working by writing down verbal descriptions of images I have in mind. The descriptions can be anything from just a few sentences to a few pages of written text. There are also often some keywords for sensual qualities I want to communicate, like "a thunderstorm slowly dragging itself toward where we are - sharp, dry blades of grass stuck on our clammy skins - the taste of infection in the gums".
The work put into the paintings is quite straightforward: I try to come up with a composition that would accommodate the image I have in mind, then start sketching and browsing old reference photos or taking new ones according to what I might need. After the preparatory work is done, I start painting. Even though the technique I use is slow and laborious, I usually work on a few paintings at a time so I can have more time to look at them and just be with them in the studio. The preparations only give me a certain frame of ideas to work within, but I let the idea grow and transform during the course of working with the painting.
Do you have role models?
Hugo Simberg is a long-time influence for me, definitely. There’s a lot of spiritual, folkloristic and mythological dimensions to his work, but also a deep empathy towards the characters he portrayed. The New Objectivity with Otto Dix and George Grosz was an important discovery, which still echoes heavily in what I do.
Joel Slotte, A Star That Stalks the Salty Seas, Oil on canvas, 2019
What would you do if you would not paint?
I'd be bitter about not being able to paint, but I'd probably just focus more on drawing, making ceramic sculptures and chainmail, embroidery, writing and letting myself be obsessed with learning any kinds of new skills.
What excites you right now?
I’ve been really into recent autofictional literature by e.g. Johannes Ekholm, Aino Vähäpesola, Saara Turunen and Tuomas Kokko. I feel like autofiction as a way of writing or creating is very close to the way I make my works. Reading these books excites and inspires me, but I can also let go of the aspect of work and just enjoy them while laying about.
Joel Slotte was part of Marcy's Ripples exhibition in 2019.
Joel Slotte, The Sight of Pigeons, Oil on Canvas, 2017
Joel Slotte, Under the Raspberry Bush, 46 x 41cm, Oil on Canvas, 2017