"For me, painting is about physicality, colour, and materiality. My artistic practice is built on the idea that the studio is an arena where I perform and experiment. "
Art of Semiology: Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
Jukka Virkkunen: I've been interested in creating and making things since I was young. The afternoons after school and weekends, I would make drawings, clay sculptures, and filming with my brother's old VHS camera. Probably because of this my parents enrolled me in a municipal art school in Finland from the age of 8 until I was 18. At the art school, I studied architecture, film, graphic design, and printmaking. Looking back to the works I did back then I can see that my interests now are the same as they were when I was growing up.
A.S.: You have a very diverse experience in the art scene. You were born in Finland, got your BA in Brazil, then you did an MA in London. What's different (or similar) about being an artist in those places?
J.V.: I've been lucky to have interesting experiences and to have lived in a few different countries. In Brazil, I got my BA in graphic design and took my first steps in showing my work and having exhibitions. In 2016, after I moved back from Brazil to Finland, I had a studio in Helsinki for a couple of years. Then in 2018, I moved to London to do my MA at the Royal College of Art. What feels very similar in all these three places is the sense of community. In Brazil, as I was living in a city that’s outside the Sao Paulo - Rio de Janeiro gallery scene. All the artists create their own opportunities to show their work and that’s very remarkable.
J.V.: Where are you heading now? Or are you perhaps thinking of staying in London for now?
S.O.: I got a studio space in London, so I'm staying here at least the next couple of years. I have a few gallery shows coming up in the next 12 months and I'm planning to keep showing my works in the public spaces. Like what I have been doing with my “Outdoor Monochromes” series in Hyde Park.
A.S.: You have a very specific style. How did you come up with it? Was it a long journey? What were your early works like?
J.V.: I ended up with the work and style by stripping down my artistic practice to the minimum.
The transformation of my practice started in the first year of my MA. I took away elements and introduced something new visually or with materials. I kept doing that for about nine months. Removing and adding, experimenting, and failing.
Then my second year started at the RCA. I had stripped my practice down to one colour of spray paint and one colour of acrylic paint. That's when the first “Twin Poles” painting happened. The painting is a red monochrome with two black marks, it’s about 280cm x 380cm in size. At that point that I had found the size of a canvas that felt natural for my physical size.
The “Twin Poles on Red” is a key work for my practice. After that painting, I started adding little by little new materials and elements to my works.
During the quarantine as I didn’t have access to my studio so I thought that I’ll paint on the street in front of my home. With my work, I want to have a dialog with the environment where the paintings are shown. Painting outside and hanging my works from scaffoldings and trees I realised that I need to make larger works for them to have a dialog with the space they are shown in. It was then that I started working on these very massive 700cm x 1000cm sized canvases.
A.S.: What’s the inspiration behind your works? Are they all united by a similar idea, or does each piece convey a different message?
J.V.: For me, painting is about physicality, colour, and materiality.
My artistic practice is build around the thinking that the studio is an arena where I perform and experiment. It's a place to think, and a place to debate.
A.S.: You recently graduated from RCA. Congratulations! Has your time there changed your habits and practices? If it did – in what way? What are some important lessons you learned there?
J.V.: Thank you! My work and thinking transformed massively during the two years at the RCA. For the first time, I’m doing the work I always wanted to do.
A.S: What would your advice be to young creatives wanting to become artists?
J.V.: Be passionate about what you do. Follow your gut, have perseverance, and most importantly enjoy the journey.