The Finnish American Reporter, August 2016: Finnish artist to exhibit at Finlandia

There is a book — a novel called "Benim Adim Kirmizi" / "My Name is Red", written patiently and passionately in Turkish by Orhan Pamuk. The book was published in Turkey in 1998, eleven years ago. I had it in my hands very soon after that, I read it immediately, I loved it and I translated it into Finnish, patiently and passionately. My translation — "Nimeni on Punainen" — was published in Finland in year 2000, and since then the Finnish audience has had the opportunity to read about the colours of Istanbul centuries ago.

I am Red, work in process, 2007 After that seven years passed, and suddenly one day, in 2007, I got a phone call from a Finnish artist, Irmeli Mäkilä. She told me that she had patiently and passionately read my translation of "My Name is Red" and wanted to make a painting inspired by the novel. She asked me if I could possibly allow her to use parts of my translation — written in golden letters — in her piece of art called "I am Red", a huge painting which is over three meters high and nearly two and a half meters wide.

It was of course a matter of copyright of my translation — and of course I allowed her to use it in her painting! But what is more important is the dialogue which begun to live it's own life; first between me and my translation of the original book and all the books that had inspired the author of that book, "My Name is Red", then between my translation and the Finnish artist, Irmeli Mäkilä, and after that between her painting and the new audience of visual arts.

Well, again some years passed, and finally - some weeks ago - the dialogue continued: she called me again. This time she asked me to read aloud and record parts of a Finnish classic novel in Turkish in order to be played from tape later this summer at her exhibition with the theme "Colour". She wanted me to record parts of "Seitsemän veljestä" / "The Seven Brothers", which is the very first novel ever written in Finnish and a traditional story of seven guys living in a dark forest ages ago. "The Seven Brothers" was written by Aleksis Kivi, published originally in Finnish in 1870, and translated into Turkish by Lale and Muammer Obuz in 1975, when it got it's Turkish name "Yedi Kardesler".

Aleksis Kivi: Yedi Kardesler, Turkish translation, 1975 Irmeli Mäkilä wanted me to read parts of "The Seven Brothers" in Turkish, because also her new pieces of art are partly inspired by the colours of Turkey. She saw connections — somewhere deep inside the human nature — but she also wanted to create an atmosphere of strangeness, beauty and even anxiety by combining a Finnish classic, read in Turkish, her paintings inspired by Turkish colours and the countryside where the exhibition would take place: its a place where the author of "The Seven Brothers" lived and which he renamed Mount Tabor, inspired by the Holy Bible, the first translation of which into Finnish was published in 1642.

I recorded parts of "Yedi Kardesler" in Helsinki patiently and passionately last Wednesday, just before I came to Istanbul. And after a few weeks in Nurmijärvi, in Finland, there will be seen and heared a new dialogue between a Finnish classic novel, read by me in Turkish, paintings inspired by Finnish translations of Turkish literature and the Finnish art-loving audience — Next time we meet, I hope I will be able to tell you which direction the dialogue has moved on after this appointment — who will be the next patient and passionate?

Tuula Kojo

Istanbul 30.5.2009, introduction for the panel "Promoting Intercultural Dialogue Through Translations", at the "2nd International Symposium of Translators and Publishers of Turkish Literature", organized by Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Turkey, General Directorate of Libraries and Publications and The Bosphorus University.


Aurora Oriens / 1999 (2004) / oil, dry pigment and metal leaf on canvas / 200 x 255 cm "The inspiration for the paintings I have completed in recent years has arisen from my interest in the traditions of Islamic art, its philosophy and its way of depicting reality in a non-figurative form. This is expressed in my paintings primarily in the form of a metaphor, as there is not always a direct connection between the subjects I handle and the way they appear in my paintings.

There are identifiable details in my works, including details of ornamentation, which has, admittedly, gone through a filtering process. The pictures also have more personal themes, such as the subject of nature, which is familiar from my earlier works, as well as organic themes connected with botanical forms. My works are not, however, based on the precise mathematical requirements of ornamentation and arabesques. Neither is the purpose of my paintings to serve as a channel for meditation or other mental concentration. My ornamentation and figure skating on the picture surface is disobedient, undisciplined and has a mind of its own. I try to ensure that my work has something organic, unknown and undetermined, which is outside the frame of reference and codes of culture, something which arouses an immediate feeling and which lets the viewer's own imagination run free."

Irmeli Mäkilä
Aikamuoto, Contemporary Art from Tampere, Tampere Art Museum, exhibition catalogue, 1999, Finland

Cutting / 1991 / oil and various materials on canvas / 200 x 250 cm At first glance, the works of IRMELI MÄKILÄ's (born 1957) and Teemu Saukkonen suggest a similar artistic approach. Indeed, during the last few years, Mäkilä has also had a predilection for attaching concrete objects and other visual signs to Expressionist colour surfaces. Dynamic surface treatment is not an expression of emotion in Mäkilä's any more than in Saukkonen's art, but instead it marks the degree of intensity. The similarities between the two artists extend no further than the painted surface. In their search for new esthetic meanings, the artists have drawn from different sources: Mäkilä from nature and Saukkonen from the layers of our collective consciousness. In the case of Mäkilä, one should put strong emphasis on the multiple meanings of the concept of "nature", because there has never been an imitative relationship between her art and nature.

Irmeli Mäkilä moved to Tampere in 1984, when the most intense period of Neo-Expressionism in Finnish art had begun to subside. Her early works consisted of the typical painted abstractions of the time, in which a certain narrative element, usually a fragment of the landscape, revealed the source of the abstraction. The mid-eighties erased the last traces of direct experiences of nature from Mäkilä's work. Only the borders separating different areas of colour can in some of her paintings be interpreted as references to landscape. The creative act itself now became the basis of realization, and the works gained their expression in the course of the work process. The thin strokes of bright colours gained depth and were filled with sand, additional material, or tissue paper. The plane surfaces took on a relief-like quality and the coarse material made them vibrant with movement. As the mark of the artist grew stronger, so did her presence. Similarly, the mystical sense of nature is, paradoxically enough, more intense than in her earlier works, which actually made direct visual references. For all the originality of her tones, the material beauty and expressive power of colours did not provide a lasting basis for Mäkilä's expression. All too easily, the abstract surfaces would become windows into the artist's personal feelings, giving rise to random and monotonous associations. There was also a clear danger of repetition.

As I mentioned earlier, Mäkilä has, in the last few years, attached concrete objects onto the painted surface. The outward appearance of her works is decorative and solemn. The decorative associations are misleading, however. The relationship with nature remains the most essential factor in explaining Mäkilä's art, except that now it is being treated much more analytically than before. The combinations of objects and paintings correspond more fully to her need to carefully analyze what is happening on the painted surface, at the same time reflecting her relationship with the environment conceptually. In these works, Mäkilä's view penetrates through the landscape into basic biological factors, which she interprets as she understands them, for example, by changing proportions or by pasting objects or pictures of objects found in nature directly onto the painted surface. In her art, Mäkilä no longer works with just one experience at a time. Her aim is to make use of all her experiences and all that she has seen by incorporating intuition, imagination and thinking into her work method.

Tapani Pennanen, researcher, Tampere Art Museum
Views and Visions, Contemporary Art from Tampere, 1993, Finland

(Translated by Sari Hänninen and Roger Lake)

Irmeli Mäkilä © Kuvasto 2020

Technical implementation © Petteri Heino 2020