Samuli Heimonen is a 39-year-old Finnish artist who uses symbols and relations between the visible and the unseen world to express the fact that, art can materialize everything once thought impossible. He teaches visual arts and plays guitar in his free time. His first artistic’ infatuation’ was Salvador Dali’s painting, ‘The persistence of memory’ in which time itself suffers a meltdown within a dream. Samuli sees everything through the eyes of a dedicated believer in art, agreeing with the fact that art itself has the capacity to feed the emotional child that lies in each of us.
He graduated as Master of Arts from the University of Art and Design in 2002. His paintings are currently displayed in art museums of Tuusula, Oulu, Mikkeli and Kuopio, Finland.
We can learn more about him from the following interview.
I admire your art work and the sensitivity behind it. Do you think it’s important for artists to know how to deal with human emotions?
I think it’s essential for everybody. Perhaps artists tend to look at emotions from a different angle. In art, there’s always the question of how far can you go and how small can you grow into something huge and wonderful. In this respect, emotion is a tool. You can use it in a million ways. I’m always trying to find a picture that moves me. Perhaps then, it can move others too. I’m hoping that my pictures affect people like they have affected me. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. There is no formula for that. I’m counting on honesty. If people sense honesty in my paintings, they are more willing to interpret them.
One important part of painting is to deepen the knowledge of my own emotions. I’m testing myself by painting and learning at the same time.
‘I am fascinated, as a creator, by emotions that mix interest with fear. It is striking to encounter something that is exciting, almost scary, and yet so interesting that it draws you to it. ‘
‘A work of art is just paint that drips and bubbles, but if viewed from a right angle, it can change someone’s life’, is your personal statement. If you had to choose a painting or work of art that changed your life completely, which would it be?
It must be Salvador Dali’s “Persistence of memory”. It’s not Dali’s best painting and it most certainly isn’t the best painting in western art history but it opened a door for me. There was something very simple and magical in that painting. It was the landscape of Cap de Creus and the yellow light and of course, the melting clocks. First, it affected me like a strange joke but I didn’t really laugh. I had stumbled into a surreal metaphor that couldn’t be solved with reason. The picture felt good but I didn’t know why. It was the first time I thought a picture can be something “more” than a picture. Seeing John Martin’s paintings in Tate Britain was also a thrill.
You started your training in visual arts in 1994. Do you believe it’s important for an artist to have the basic studies in art? Or can the artistic skill be self-taught? To what extent?
I think that basic art studies helped me a lot. It kinda showed me what I was up against. It really isn’t all about the teaching, it’s more about the whole social scene. In art school, I learned as much from fellow students as I did from the teachers. In my opinion, you can learn all the technical stuff by yourself. It might be a bit slower but you can do that. But learning the worldview that you face in the school and getting all that influence from other people, I don’t know if you can do that by yourself. Artists can be self-taught but at some point he or she must interact with the art world and decide to be part of it. Perhaps, some people want to do stuff by themselves and only for themselves. For me, that is not art. For me, the core of art is communication. I strongly recommend art studies for everybody who wants to be an artist.
There is little of the human element in your paintings. Do you think that there is something out there more gripping than the life of a person?
Most of my work is about us. Landscapes and animals are just metaphors for something very human. Through these euphemisms, I try to capture my point more accurately and more emotionally. Evoking emotions and stories is the path to communication. And art happens somewhere in this communication between the painting and the spectator. I portray people sometimes in my paintings but usually, they are “general humans”, not individual persons. I like to look at the world in a way that we are all the same. We all born and eventually we all die. There’s a lot of pondering in my paintings about what is beyond us.
You talk highly of Salvador Dali on your website and some of your paintings reminds me of ‘Galatea of the spheres’ where the portrait of Dali’s wife captures the discontinuity of its atomic particles.
What is surreal art for you?
I don’t think that much about surrealism or surreal art. In my world, surrealism is connected strongly to art history. A lot of the themes and ideas come from romanticism and symbolism. Surrealism is continuing and connecting particles that already existed. As a literary movement, it’s much more powerful and revolutionary.
But back to your question… For me the core of surreal art is to combine objects, worlds, concepts that are highly unlike to occur in the same place. This opens a door to subconscious and makes the picture resonate with strange intensity. At its best, a surreal image can reveal something hidden in us, perhaps for a short moment, can create a path between known and unknown.
Fear and the concept of impossible are two intriguing elements in your painting, that you speak of. Can you talk more about them?
Both of these concepts are related to each other. For me, it’s a question of border.
Fear tells us that we are getting nearer to some border. Fear is always pinpointing something very important. It’s very personal and subjective. You cannot understand other people’s fears but you can relate enough to them.
Impossible is something without words, it’s beyond the language. But through art, we have a tool to approach it. We don’t necessarily need to define it.
We can build scenarios around it and built metaphors to understand it better. The unique part of the knowledge art can produce is that, things don’t have to be completely defined to be understood. In this respect, we don’t have to break down anything.
Do you have a favorite color? Which one and how does it make you feel?
I don’t really have a favorite color. But I like a lot of blue-green turquoise kind of colors. For me it’s the color of the iceberg, just beneath the sea level. It represents the last visible parts of something before disappearing into darkness.
You can paint great paintings whatever colors you happen to choose.
Animals are symbols that are often used in your paintings. What do they mean to you?
Animals mean different things in different paintings. Mostly they represent us, humans or human emotions. In some pictures, animals are just what they are: a dog is simply a dog. I don’t have complicated symbols. I count on the feeling that rises from the animal or it’s relation to something in the picture. In general, I consider my art very simple. It’s all about the feeling of deepness that I can evoke. In overall, I feel that animals in my paintings represent me or parts of me.
Painting animals also reflects my love for nature. I’m very worried about the way we treat animals, for example the way meat industry works. Animals deserve a life with dignity and freedom, like we do also.
‘An animal or the nature is a mirror which provides an interesting platform to study the human being.’
What do you do apart from painting? Do you have other hobbies?
I like music. I listen to a lot of music while I paint. The morning starts with the right music. Sometimes, it might take two hours to find it but I think it’s part of this job.
I was very happy to make a connection with my favorite Finnish band. My painting was featured in the cover of Von Hertzen Brothers’ album “Nine Lives”. One dream achieved.
I also play guitar. It’s really nice to have guitar in the studio and to refocus by playing something.
I used to have dogs and they were a big part of my life. After losing the last one, Hilu, I was sure I couldn’t paint anymore. It was like losing a very close colleague. I was lost for a while.
Any future plans for displaying your art work somewhere other than in Finland?
I’m really hoping to make some connections abroad and exhibit my paintings somewhere. Competition is very hard and it takes time to make something happen. But eventually it will happen, I’m sure of that. I see my work very international and easy to move from one culture to another. Perhaps, America or Australia. We’ll see.