It is a great pleasure for us to have Veera Kaamos Pitkänen as our first artist working in the visual medium featured on the new Covenant Magazine. With her first German exhibition impending, and the recently released masterwork accompanying the Finnish language version of Johannes Nefastos’ book Argarizim, published by Viides Askel, still fresh in the minds of many, we are catching Veera when the flame of inspiration is burning brightest. Sit back, and relish her truly elucidating answers in the first edition of our series of artist interviews: Ars Moriendi.
Veera, you and another Finnish artist, Noora Ylipieti, have an exhibition opening next month in Berlin. ALLEGORIE seems like it is going to draw on themes that would have been important to create together. Is the work you’re going to display something that was made in collaboration, or will you two be showcasing pieces that share common themes but were created separately?
Noora and I communicate quite a lot, so in this way our creative processes are certainly entwined, and the lines between what is “hers” and “mine” do at times become blurred. We have been working within similar thematic fields for this exhibition, each coming from our own angle. As the artistic process is always an intimate and sensitive thing, we do not share a working space.
This becomes interesting in that our medium and working methods are opposite. Noora paints mainly on acrylics, so her reaction times are a lot shorter than mine. The process for her is more “bodily”; she paints many layers and her work goes through visible changes which she often shows me prior to being finished.
This contrasts to my own working method – paper collage – which is incredibly slow and isolated. It obsesses over detail. I spend a huge amount of time reading, in contemplation and research about the tiniest of meanings, shades of colour, symbols and the rest is somehow ‘knowing’ what to do. I never show a work in progress to anyone, nor speak about it prior to letting go of it. I can’t. It’s too personal. My work seeks the spirit which has become obsolete in our times. This search is present in everything I do.
Lately this has gone more and more in depth to the study of Renaissance art and its particular symbolism, which I use as a basis in many of my later works.
I could loosely summarise that Noora’s work is humorous and wild; it uses fresh and crazy colours, whereas mine naturally takes on sombre, serious moods and earthly, Saturnine tones. But perhaps that is a testament to our temperaments. In this way I’m more introverted. For some reason they work together, perhaps as we both use a fair amount of intuition.
Because of this deeply personal attachment to your work do you ever feel that your work is only for personal digestion, and actually not meant for sharing at all? Do you ever find difficulty with the concept of sharing in a gallery space?
Perhaps if people were to see only the artist when they look at a work of art, I might find the idea of exhibiting my work unpleasant, as I’m a fairly private person. Art is – or should be – like a mirror. A good work of art reflects back our own experiences and innermost thoughts, finds our secrets, gently takes us captive. A work of art must be able to stand on its own, this is what I always hope for. In truth, I find the concept of pushing my ideas onto the audience quite invasive. I would rather they form their own thoughts and opinions of matters. This is infinitely more interesting for the concept of the artwork; the more it becomes read in varying ways, the unfolding of it. If I was worried about being misunderstood, then perhaps I would give explanations. But my work is not about me; the aims of it are higher and more profound than that.
I think the meanings behind my work – the process and what I take from it on a spiritual level – are meant for me alone, as is the case for all things of that nature. I do not usually share the innermost, subjective meanings because the paths which are necessary for my development as a professional and an individual may not be identical to those of others. I hope that my work encourages the audience to contemplate.
I usually publish my pieces on my website, unless I’m working towards an exhibition – as is the case now – and thus choose to keep the lid on things until the opening day. But regardless of the platform I choose to exhibit my work in, I do think it will still keep the intimacy of my thoughts and processes.
There is of course then the fact that certain things are just a part of my chosen profession as an artist; there are many unromantic sides to it.
I’d like to talk a little about your process for the Finnish language reissue of the Star Of Azazel’s esoteric text Argarizim. Because the complexity of the Dantean allegories in the writing of the book, there must have been a large wellspring to draw inspiration from. Did you look to Dante for inspiration there, or did you pull more directly from Nefastos’ writing?
I’m quite fond of Italian poets, and in this Dante is no exception. For the illustrations of Argarizim I re-read the Inferno in order to inspect its structures and moods, so certainly Dante was very present throughout the process. Particularly striking to me has always been the beginning of the text, wherein the narrator suddenly becomes lost in the dark wood, facing beasts he can not evade. These apparitions made their way to my illustration “Mirage”, which bears certain reminiscence of myself and Nefastos.
I was fortunate enough to be in close contact with Johannes during the entire illustration period. This was no small task, as it took around eight months. At that time I was living in Sweden, so we kept in contact via letters. Looking at it now that feels quite correct – that it was such a challenging and time consuming project. After all, one can’t rightly express hells too easily!
A very clear difference between Dante’s hell and my own is the population. Dante’s is full of people and acts as a warning. My own is a vast, dead space with no one but yourself. This is the loneliness of Lucifer, bound in darkness. I made the illustrations rather large, which makes them open up quite differently when seen as originals. Good for the artworks but for printing, a real challenge. The folk at Viides Askel did a really good job though.
The distinction between your underworld and Dante’s is interesting. Is the dilemma of Lucifer a primary source of inspiration to you in other work? (Perhaps you just relate to being stuck alone in a cold place! Hahaha)
Mythologies, symbols and esotericism found the stone upon which I build all of my work. I work with archetypes on a large scale, rather than with just one. Lucifer was an important figure in the Argarizim period, but there is always a kind of evolution to one’s work. I have periods of working with one core thought intensely, and then it begins to change and morph into something new. So you could perhaps say that the face of Lucifer has undergone a change. For example, I consider Venus as a representative of the same energetic ideal. This has lead me to consider colours differently, more closely related to the way they were thought of in the era that gave rise to the western high painting medium.
It is true that I am attracted to the myths wherein there is – in my opinion – a seeming misinterpretation, or figure of a scapegoat. There’s usually so many layers in these stories that contemplating them may be good for my creative work, but admittedly also on a personal level. Usually, a kind of impossibility persists in these; that there is no way of knowing for sure. I find this grey area, this mystery, to be very fascinating. To seek always that contact point between the known and the unknown, between our world and the next. That point then adopts a symbol via which I represent it. Sometimes these are existing concepts, other times, personal interpretations which come from contemplation, reading or dreams.
As the ideas in my work evolve, so too do my working methods. I used to work with drawing and painting, but for the past few years collage has become my main medium, even if I’m still mostly recognised for my drawing. I still hold true to the same ideals regardless of my medium; if I can not create an artwork by hand, I will not make it at all. Digital manipulation is just not my thing. Of course in our day, this puts quite a hard limit one oneself, so there’s difficult technical restrictions which could be quite easily overcome were I to use a computer in my work. But I don’t want that, it’s the challenge which forces one to think and solve. This leads to growth, evolution and understanding.
June 5-23,2018 @Galerie Pleiku, Berlin, Germany.
Open Tuesday to Sunday 12:00-18:00. Exhibition opening on 5th of June 18:00-21:00.