COFFEE WITH AN ARTIST | Maaria Märkälä talks about her Apocalyptical paintings and the end of the world as we know it

Who: Maaria Märkälä

Born: 1964

Occupation: Painter | President of Finnish Painters’ Union since 2008

Lives & Works: Helsinki, Finland

Next Exhibition: MAARIA MÄRKÄLÄ Paintings | Galleria Katariina. Opening reception & discussion with artist and guests on Tuesday 21 June @3:00 pm – 5:00 pm.

The smell of coffee and fresh paint welcomes me into Maaria Märkälä’s atelier. Rays of sun coming through the two big windows cast a warm light on her new series of paintings, silently waiting their display at Galleria Katariina on the 21st of June.

Märkälä’s upcoming solo exhibition reflects on change as the pivotal moment when an old world order ends and a new one is bound to begin. The subjects of her Apocalyptical paintings raise questions over social and political issues such as the refugee crisis, inequality and wealth distribution, as well as climate change and environmental concerns.


How did you decide to address these issues through your new series of works?

So much is shifting in the world today. The refugee crisis in Europe, pollution, environmental issues, drying waters – all raise questions over who really owns the planet, who has the right to own wealth, what is equality – are we all equal? Through this new series I wanted to initiate an open conversation on these subjects.


Why “Apocalyptical paintings” as a title of the series?

The title refers to everything that we receive through mass-media – news of wars and conflicts, natural disasters, it’s all very gloomy and worrying. It looks like the end of the world.


Thinking about war zones, conflict and displaced people as a result of this, what kind of impact do you think the refugee influx had for the Finnish people?

I think many people here saw it as the end of the world, because things are changing and need to be further changed to accommodate the newcomers. For this to happen, there needs to be a lot of acceptance involved and people were not prepared for this change. Many Finnish people are afraid and fight not to lose what they have, they don’t really want to share and change.


Do you think the overall sentiment has improved during the last months?

To be honest, I hate the discussion so much that I don’t want to follow it, I’m not part of it. I don’t think it’s truly getting better, and of course the current lack of jobs is also not helping the conversation move towards a more positive direction.


When we met the last time you mentioned that you want to show Finnish people that the situation is not as bad as they think it is.

Yes, because I don’t think it is as bad as people perceive it. Although for some the situation is like “the end of the world”, there are changes that can be done to integrate the newcomers and I think we should be open and find solutions in order to do this the right way.

I wanted to show that the end of the world is also beautiful, because it is always creating or growing something else. There are “world ends” in everybody’s life, moments in which one phase comes to an end and you’re left wondering what’s next. In many ways we are at that point now, the question is how we take this further.


To open the conversation, you have invited a couple of guests at your exhibition opening.

Yes, I would like it to be different than the typical exhibition opening, where people come to see the works and the artist is present. So I invited three guests who will be speaking about the subjects raised through my works from their own professional point of view.  One of the guests is Tarja Cronberg, who is a Finnish Green League politician and was Minister of Labor in Finland from 2007 to 2009. She was in the European Parliament from 2011 to 2014, where she led the relations with Iran. Much of her recent work has been focused on peace and security. She also worked in Russia and the US studying the conversion of military industries into civilian uses. Another guest is Ari Aaltonen, who was the first person to state that in the future all work will be done by just 10% of the world population. If there are not enough jobs for everyone – what then? How do we overcome this in a step-by-step approach? I want to open up a serious conversation around these issues. Otso Kantokorpi will also take part in the discussion and he can take the lead in case I am too nervous because of the opening (laughs). Otso is also very critical and analytical about the “world end” and what this means.


Many of your new paintings have black as a dominant color. What is your own take on the outcome? Is there room for hope?

It’s hard to say. I have always been an optimist and I think it’s important to be open. Despite the dark colors, the light is the most important element in my paintings. There is always light.


Much of your body of work is comprised of landscape paintings. Many are bordering the abstract or can be perceived as completely abstract. Do you still keep the initial snapshot images in your mind when you start painting?

I often take long bike rides and observe the nature – sunsets, changes in seasons, nature is so unbelievable sometimes. I see something and then I have the urge to paint it. But then when I start, the paint is leading and I let it lead. The landscape alters with the paint. When it’s not what I wanted, I try to re-touch and do it better, or then there are times when I’m satisfied with the outcome. It’s important to be open and let it flow.


How are the nature landscape and the mental landscape interrelated in your works? Any possible interpretations?

I am not keen on stating interpretations in my own words. I like it when people find their own feelings and interpret my works from their own perspective. There is a lot of openness and free-feeling in my works, everyone can take what they relate to.


In some of your previous exhibitions the landscapes went beyond the frame into another canvas or even multiple additional canvases. Why this choice of display?

It sometimes happens that one canvas is simply too small, it needs more space for me to be able to complete it. Other times, the additional canvas develops so much that it becomes a stand-alone painting.

Although your new series of paintings touch upon larger topics, a couple of the works have a more personal story.

I thought of naming two of my works “Don’t make my daughters cry”. Both of my daughters have been in relationships with men from other cultures. One of my daughter’s husband is from Gambia and he often goes back home for Ramadan, as it is difficult for him to keep it here during the summer. He cannot eat or drink anything during daytime and in Finland summer days are very long. When he is away, it is difficult for me thinking my daughter is alone. The paintings’ title reflects over the distance between the two partners and the difficulty of being apart for such a long time.


If we talk about men and women in the art world – what is your take on the gender equality in Finnish art nowadays?

I believe that there is not enough discussion on this topic. There was a recent story in the media stating that 25% of the exhibitions in museums belong to female artists. At the same time, there are over 50% female artists working compared to a lower percent of male artists. More could be done to create a further balance of works in museums. It is also interesting to observe that in many instances women who are artists are always referred to as “female artists”, whereas men are just “artists”. Thinking of my own experience, someone once said about my paintings that it’s fantastic a woman had made them. I don’t know if they were referring to the size of my canvases or something else. I’m not the only one, Camilla Vuorenmaa recently received a similar comment.


Except for your upcoming exhibition at Galleria Katariina, what other exhibitions are you planning this year, where else can we see your works?

Some of my works are now on display in the group exhibition “Made in Heaven” at Galleria Fogga in Helsinki until the 2nd of June. I currently have a solo exhibition at Instituto Iberoamericano de Finlandia in Madrid. The exhibition is entitled “There Are so Many Ways to Kiss the Earth” and it is still running until the 2nd of June. I’m also participating in a Scandinavian Meetingpoint exhibition called “Fresh Legs” that will open on the 1st of June in Gallery Heike Arndt in Berlin. There I will present a series of black-and-white drawings based on selfies of my husband and I from our various trips. Other drawings will be part of a group exhibition at an annual festival in Viljandi, Estonia, where works from different artists will be connected together as a puzzle. The group exhibition is called “All Together”.