We are consumed by nature in the same way as nature is consumed by us. Mutual erosion is inevitable. We form a landscape. The landscape resembles a body. It's lying on the surface of the earth, hands growing out of it, towards space. The human skin, the earth's crust, the layers of a painting – they are worn out, they have been used well. On the road and in the gardens, faces and flowers wither away. Names change but heartlands remain.
Another year spent in the studio, another year spent learning how to see. What's the most private space for me, is yet again, open to the public eye. Not private in the common sense though, it's a dimension where I'm at peace, a place where I've been walking and lying down, a place that I've defined. In short, an exhibition is a collection of footprints. Exhibitions are mere vertical cuts into the flow of painting. And because of that there are many different themes that might come together in the end. Or they might not. Maybe it doesn't look like it to the viewer but I feel like I've been making many different lines of work simultaneously through the years. I'm in this for life, making one lifelong retrospective rather than different kind of exhibitions for every year. I'm slowly building my own imperfect, clumsy temple. Hopefully in the end, the red lines connecting the works can be seen, the unity of different windows revealed.
This year's paintings partly continue the idea of representing substance with pattern rather than through material. I've been exploring the contrast between a surface that evokes a tactile feeling of matter and two dimensional textures made by simple markings, dots or lines. The textures can be seen as immaterial sensations like sounds or light, something you know is there even though it's not tangible or visible. However, this is only one of the ways of painting I'm interested in. My work consists of mixed media, but rather than using it to create a strong effect or a contrast to the traditional use of paint, it has simply become the most natural means to create an image for me. I aim for subtlety in both color and texture creating a surface where also the viewer can lose the sense of time. The things I want to tell you I'd rather whisper than shout.
Before adding paint I cover the canvas with a layer of paper. The collage and mixed media techniques I've been using since art school suit my thinking well, as the working itself is thinking by hands. Painting is simply about adding and removing layers and through collage this layered third dimension is made clearly visible. The collage technique makes not just adding but also removal of layers possible, and it does it in a very fine-textured way.
I start the painting with my mind filled with doubt, but the doubt doesn't come from a lack of ideas or mistrust in my skills. Rather, my head is filled with impressions and pieces of images. The possibilities of the painting are overwhelming in the beginning. Only after a certain threshold towards the end, after the image stops fighting back, does it get easier and somewhat enjoyable. But by then a lot has been lost both as the torn off layers of the painting and as images that have been forgotten. Thematically the sense of oblivion and absence are in the center of my work too. It's the forgetting of names, meanings and habits. Nature is abstract and nameless, it doesn't represent anything. Maybe you can see a face on an abstract form, but can you see the abstract behind your own face?
I paint quite fast trying to keep up with the fleeting images and often end up making drastic changes to the work at hand. Sometimes it's simply because of my impatience and frustration but often it's because of a learned mechanism. I believe that to become a good painter I have to be ready to let go of both good and bad. This kind of thinking leads into images where all the forms have gone through a rigorous process of testing if they really work, if they are real and right. Even things that I've worked on for hours have to go through the test and sometimes be destroyed. I have to make sure it's right because it might be my last painting. I want to get it right when I still have the chance. But in the end I can't rest in any certainty or trust in my knowledge or perception. I'm to rely on the fact that I can't keep up with the fluid reality, I can only produce images that are, in a way, broken. From longing to exhaustion, all that is left after the painting is finished is just an image, an attempt.
The human being in my paintings is not just a part of nature and animal kingdom but also a part of the natural cycle. If there is emotion, it's ecstasy and catharsis coming from the realization of this fact. Or there is no emotion at all. I often refer to my work being something that is not created but what remains. More than expression, my work is about searching. I'm looking for what lies underneath when all the layers and properties are stripped off, in the nameless heart. Rather than indulging in the cold facts of life that is characteristic to expressionism, I want to look for a fine balance between the two extremes without being lukewarm.
My work lies somewhere between human and nature, abstraction and form, light and darkness. The ascetic world that I'm after has maybe started from a vision or something visible but often it ends up being a world that evokes other type of sensations through eyes. When I look at paintings by others I'm most interested in the friction between the clumsy matter and the nimble vision, the intention and the outcome, the taming of matter. I don't use reference images as I'm working, so everything is dependent on memory. And often the image is put together from pieces of different impressions and memories that I find myself being obsessed about. It's funny how clothing that seemed like a separate being on some passerby becomes a lifelong search. Or how the impression of trees and people making a network of sounds into the landscape really starts taking a significant part of one's everyday life. For me all the sensory impressions are the origin for the image, not just the ones received through eyes. Painting is a rigorous study of reality through uncertain senses.
Reima Nevalainen, 2018
My exhibition Heartlands is open until 28th October at Galerie Forsblom, Stockholm. Welcome!
- Gallery's page for the exhibition
- All the paintings from the past year at my homepage
Here are some installation and detail photos: