Who: Jukka Virkkunen
Born: 1986 | Alavus, Finland
Occupation: Painter | BA in Graphic Design, Universidade Norte do Paraná, Brazil
Lives & Works: Helsinki, Finland & Londrina, Brazil
Upcoming Exhibitions: Salada da Frutas | 16 Aug – 9 Sept at Cafe Roasberg, Helsinki
Article Image: Jukka Virkkunen with one of his works in background | Photo courtesy of the artist
Artworks Images: Photos courtesy of the artist
It’s early afternoon in Helsinki when I meet Finnish artist Jukka Virkkunen in one of the hipster places downtown. Virkkunen recently returned from Brazil, where he had been living during the past eight years together with his wife. He decided to move to Finland or at least to Europe for some time in order to pursue his art career.
Although his works are already booked for exhibitions in Helsinki in 2016 and 2017, Virkkunen’s art career is very much at the beginning, since he only started painting seriously a couple of years ago.
He became successful very fast as collectors took to his lively, colorful and happy paintings with enthusiasm. He sold his first painting two weeks after his wife Silvia decided to post them on Facebook. Talk about the power of social media mixed with an entrepreneurial spirit.
Virkkunen’s early success allowed him to close down his hardware store in Brazil and dedicate completely to his art, placing all bets on the same card as he says.
It might sound like a cliché, but I always dreamed of becoming an artist. Everyone thought I was crazy to leave my stable business and dedicate to my art. But my parents were really supportive. They are both entrepreneurs and art collectors. My mom encouraged me a lot, she wanted me to be an artist ever since I was a boy. I used to draw and paint constantly from the age of seven until seventeen-eighteen. Then I forgot art for some years, but it was a natural process that it came back.
Although a Finn himself, Virkkunen’s art stands out from the thematics and aesthetics of Finnish art. It seems like there is more Brazil than Finland in the colors and composition, as well as in the spirit of his paintings.
I guess I am a mix of Brazilian emotions and Scandinavian rationality. My works are inspired by fashion, advertising, architecture, street art, and folk patterns like the Portuguese “azulejos” and the Brazilian “tecido chitão”. People in Brazil, especially the young generations, find tecido chitão ugly and old-school. But I love it, I think it is a memory of something. When you are a foreigner, people allow you to have weird or unpopular likings without holding it against you (laughs). My work is also about taking something un-cool and turning it into something cool, changing its image or the way it is perceived.
The strong pigments and the bold mix of all-so-many colors and patterns make Virkkunen’s works look like a happy, buzzing Latino party. Or – like a tropical fruit salad, which is exactly the name of the artist’s next exhibition Salada de Frutas, opening on Tuesday 16 August at Café Roasberg in Helsinki.
There is something really mindful and happy in the way Virkkunen deals not only with his art, but with life in general. His positive way of being comes across immediately, from the very first thoughts exchanged in our conversation. There is no need for being overly-serious about the subject of his art.
I like painting colorful, abstract works that people enjoy having in their home. I get inspiration from things I see around me. I think that there is so much beauty in the details of every day, but somehow we forget to stop for a moment and just enjoy them. I like translating these little joys into my art.
I couldn’t help but wonder if he also has his “down” moments, where everything seems to be dark, sad and unfortunate. He smiles, shrugs and simply replies:
No, not really. I mean I have moments when I get annoyed, but it goes away fast and I find the good side of things. Generally, I am a really positive and happy person. I have always been like this, even as a kid.
“Happiness” as a scope or main topic is quite scarce in contemporary art, which often expresses concern over political issues, social injustices and environmental problems. Contemporary art serves as a mirror and interpretation of what is going on in the world around us. And the image today is rather bleak. Just turning on the morning news rapidly shifts from an informative, objective session on local and international affairs to building concern and anxiety over our future, our lives and those of the generations to come.
Strongly detached from this disheartening context, Virkkunen’s art mirrors the exact opposite: the happiness of our moments, the joy we share with others, the hope and trust in all that is good, beautiful and kind in life.
His paintings are a deep breath of fresh air. And my, how we sometimes need it!
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