To define the painter Marika Mäkelä’s work with a few adjectives seems unjust, as her paintings seem beyond summary definition. As we got to sit down with her and discuss how she approaches her work, her new exhibition Pre-Language at Galerie Anhava, and also about reaching a certain absolute emptiness in a painting, we will say that as a person she has a candor, enthusiasm and abundance that we can not help but be very smitten by.
Marika Mäkelä, From the series Pre-Language, 2016-2017, mixed media on wood
How do you approach painting?
I have been painting for over 40 years, so there have been quite a few hours of painting along the way – so many in fact that it is quite difficult to grasp. When I begin a new process, it’s like standing in front of the work for the first time: the act of making brings back my previously processed ways of doing and from these I can intuitively select those that will be needed to build the new. What is both delightful and demanding, is to find new paths and entities: to be able to merge the unprecedented into the continuation of my paintings and experience. Sometimes I also wonder if there is something abnormal about me as I am still as hopelessly passionate about creating, as I was when I started working. I continuously strive for the perfect painting.
What kind of working methods do you have?
Painting requires much physical and psychological presence, meaning lots and lots of time lingering and idling at the atelier: painting, waiting, and thinking. During this process everything else tends to become secondary – one paints, eats whatever there is, and sleeps. Nowadays it is much easier to do, as in addition to myself, my household includes just me and a griffon called Lilli. As a female painter it has proven to be hard to maintain a harmonious family life, but I have tried!
Your Pre-Language exhibition is now showing at Galerie Anhava, can you tell us a little about it?
To me, Gerhard Richter puts it well: “I steer clear of definitions. I don’t know what I want. I am inconsistent, non-committal, passive; I like the indefinite, the boundless; I like continual uncertainty.” This thought represents the idea that one has the freedom to work without being influences by others. To freely be you, just the way you are. It sums up something that I have always looked for and something that I have stood up for. Because inevitably there will be people who try to influence what you do in different ways, and therefore to me this is something of declaration of independence.
At the moment, I’m interested in the idea of emptiness in the painting. At its best, when I feel that I have succeeded with a work, I have been able to make the painting complete in a way that it becomes empty: none of the elements in the work stick out or annoy the viewer. Everything lives together – form and color speak to each other in harmony, creating something that strikes a balance between substance and emptiness. It goes hand in hand with my interest in visual imagery that lets you freely experience the work without commanding you to look at it in a specific way.
Marika Mäkelä, From the series Pre-Language, 2016-2017, mixed media on wood, 65 x 65 cm
The colors in Pre-Language are strong, which is not so typical for you. Where does this come from?
During the past years I have only been interested in painting. The choice of colors used for these works spurs from a thought about bathing in color and what that would feel like; colors I would want to surround myself with – colors as a safety network. After a period of more muted colors, these stronger hues might have something to do with this feeling of freedom as well as the idea of finding strength in color itself. However, as the work is still new, so it is too early to say where the colors came from.
I have also been interested in 3-dimensional forms and the work in Pre-Language has some similarities to bas-reliefs. If you look at it up-close and from the side you will se this more clearly: the texture and surface has something of a subtle movement to it. Like the quiver of life, the glitter of the sea – the delicate nuances surrounding us.
Now that your exhibition Pre-Language is ready, what are your thoughts on that?
Admittedly the metamorphosis that unfolds before you when you are with the work in the gallery and the pieces transform from being painted paintings into hanging material is pretty bizarre. Your head spins with thoughts about the time spent with the work in the atelier and it all feels quite surreal – why is this taking shape and will the pieces ever transform back into paintings? And if, and then when, you see them again as paintings, you feel extremely relieved and incredibly empty.
Often I leave the exhibition to its own destiny and I get depressed, or I decide to travel elsewhere. A change of scenery usually helps and I feel lighter again. As a person I am quite loyal to certain places; I have had a house on the Italian Riviera in a small village so everything in that area is familiar and nostalgic, or I go to Paris where I have spent time alone and with friends. A bit of escapism but it works!
How do you perceive the role of art and artists today in Finland?
Lately it seems that much of the art discussion in Finland has been around the Helsinki museums, which of course can be seen as some kind of critical discussion that leads to development, but the lines drawn have seemed a bit stiff. My generation saw it as a prerequisite to be very active, and see what was being exhibited in the Nordic countries and Europe when they were current. I sincerely hope that the younger generations also stick together, support and encourage each other.
Another thing that I have thought about is that it would be wonderful for Finnish art that in exchange for all the international touring exhibitions that we get to experience over here, there would be opportunities to display Finnish contemporary art internationally as well. 20 years on and it seems that we are still waiting for something to happen. I hope that there will be a change in this regard, that the art field in Finland will become more united and work together towards things like taking Finnish art abroad.
What would you want the younger generation of painters to have?
These days I feel a deep compassion towards other painters and in some way I feel like I belong to a worldwide community that senses that what moves us profoundly and infinitely. As a word of advice to young artists, it has been said that you should get out of your own country and get connected internationally, which obviously is one good option. Yet, shouldn’t it be possible and appropriate to also work from your home country and see your work move around and give the work the opportunity to be of influence: to be displayed in different contexts, places and with various other artists because I think that it is important to physically see the work in different places, in relation to different works as well as in interplay with different viewers.
I remember being told that not many young artists are interested in having a career and fame; instead that they are more interested in doing what they want to do. Of course there is nothing wrong with that, but I see it as a privilege to present your work to various audiences, to strive and push to be the best version of yourself. Also, showing your work in different places is a good way to interact with different people in this lonesome profession.
Adapted and edited from the original interview done for Around Journal, published on April 9th, 2017. See the whole story here.