Today’s Feature, May 27-28, 2007: Riiko Sakkinen

January 18, 2008 at 6:24 pm (Today's Feature)

One of the best parts about is getting to meet people
from all over the world. Today’s feature finds home in Cervera de los
Montes, a tiny village in the province of Toledo, Spain. Nestled in
the woods of this small town is artist, Riiko Sakkinen, whose humorous
take on art and pop culture has quickly put him on the map. Sakkinen
has put on several solo shows in Europe and the United States since
1996. His work has been displayed at numerous group shows around the
world and is included in the permanent collections of The Museum of
Modern Art, New York, and Helsinki City Art Museum. His work has been
called controversial, fascinating, genius and even
hilarious…regardless you have to realize that Sakkinen is changing the
way we think. His paintings show images of hamburgers, cocker
spaniels, plastic polar bears, cocktails, to name a few, with sayings
that make you realize how today’s advertisements can be interpreted in
several different ways.

I have to say, I truly enjoyed getting to know Sakkinen; his work
forces you to have an open mind about what exactly you look at on a
daily basis. After you see his work, you’ll never look at a hamburger
package, KFC and other pop culture favourites, the same ever again.
Enjoy his XXQs.

XXQs: Riiko Sakkinen (The following interview took place on May 4, 2007) (PEV): How and when did you first get involved in art?

Riiko Sakkinen (RS): When I was a crawling, my mother hung Picasso
postcards on my eye level.

PEV: Was there a certain event or moment when you realized that art
was going to be your career?

RS: When I was teenager, I wanted to change the world and be a
guerrilla like Che Guevara. I entered the army when I was 18 to learn
to fight but after three days I had to give back my AK-47 and I was
sent back home. They thought I was insane. Maybe they were right.
After this episode, I decided to be artist, though I don’t believe
that art can really change the world.

PEV: You have shown paintings, objects, videos, actions,
interventions, texts, and concepts. What is your preferred medium to
work with?

RS: Drawing is fast, direct and beautiful. But the galleries prefer
big paintings. I think my real medium is the attitude. You should look
the larger perspective of the oeuvre and not the single works.

PEV: Born in Helsinki and now living in Spain, when did you first come
to the United States and how did growing up in Helsinki impact your

RS: Helsinki is the safest place on the Earth and the most boring. I
of course love it like I love my mother. I studied there and moved
then to Spain – my wife is Spanish. Now I live in a tiny village
(population 383). Maybe the bigger change was to move to countryside,
not from one country to another.

RS: The first time I went to New York was when I had a show there
three years ago. I think that in Europe my art in absurd and excessive
but in America it’s more realistic. And in Japan it’s hyper-realistic.

PEV: What do you find to be a major difference in the US and the
European art communities?

RS: The gallerist I worked with in New York didn’t let me show a
drawing that had a text “Warm beds for wetbacks”. She said that she
couldn’t show anything politically incorrect. I think this wouldn’t
happen in Europe. Warm bed means a bed used in shifts and wetback is a
Mexican immigrant. If you write a book where somebody says Heil Hitler
nobody thinks that you are Nazi but in visual arts the work is seen
often autobiographical. I don’t know why.

PEV: Describe your creative process.

RS: I look for material in supermarkets and streets: snack, candy or
ice-cream wrappings with nice mascots. I read the newspaper and
collect slogans from demonstrations and prostitution advertisement.
Then I go to the studio and do drawings mixing all that up.

PEV: What has been the hardest part for breaking into the art community?

RS: I live in a total periphery that makes it a bit hard. Curators and
galleries don’t come to the countryside.

PEV: Having traveled all over the world, which city has the best
environment/appreciation for artists? Also, do you find one in
particular place that works best for you?

RS: If you think your career, you should live in New York, Berlin,
London or Shanghai but I like to be in the countryside close to the
nature that has nothing to do with my art. And I have a big house and
studio, I know that many artists live and work in shabby places in the
big cities. I want to be rich and famous but I don’t compromise, the
family is the most important.

PEV: When you are not working, what can we find you doing?

RS: Walking in the forest with my daughter and picking wild mushrooms
or wild asparagus. Or watching football on TV. I support Real Madrid.

PEV: What is a normal day like for you?

RS: I like every day to be the same. I hate adventures. I wake up
around 7.30. My wife and daughter leave 8.00. I work in my second
floor studio until 14.00. I cook lunch and we eat when my wife and
daughter come back around 15.00. I read the newspaper until my
daughter wakes up from siesta and then we go walking and play
together. In the evening I work a little bit more before having dinner
with my wife around 22.00. I go to bed 23.30.

PEV: Describe the feeling of seeing your work in a gallery for the first time?

RS: A gallerist found me in the street carrying a painting when I was
19. So I had a show in this small gallery in Helsinki. I was in hubris
and thought that I was a big artist. I had no idea how much struggle
there was ahead.

PEV: What is one thing people would be surprised to hear about you?

RS: That I’m sometimes lazy.

PEV: A lot of artists listen to music while they work. Do you? And
what are you listening to now?

RS: I listen to the Finnish national radio on internet – talk shows
about everything from agriculture to aeronautics and from politics to

PEV: In your opinion, what other artist, right now is making the
biggest impact on the art world?

RS: At the moment, I like Misaki Kawai, Jani Leinonen, Michael
Sailstorfer, Cecilia Stenbom, Judas Arrieta, Suzanne Dery, Alexandre
da Cunha, Manuela Moscoso, Herman van Ingelgem, Mikko Ijäs, Mari
Ishiwata, Anthony White and Erkka Nissinen.

PEV: If you could sit down for dinner with one artist, alive or
deceased, who would it be? Why?

RS: No doubt, Martin Kippenberger, my idol. Maybe with him it would be
more heavy drinking than eating dinner. I’ve been blamed to copy his
work but I think I’m just updating it.

PEV: How do you feel when people say they “don’t get” modern art?

RS: It’s natural, because art is difficult. I don’t get opera, cricket
or quantum mechanics.

PEV: If we were to walk into your studio right now, what would we see?

RS: A big painting with a super cute bunny biking and a text saying,
“Cold War was cool”. People see now the times of the Cold War with
nostalgia but when I was kid, I was all the time scared of the nuclear
war. Then I have on the table a just finished series of replicas of
used panties sold in Japanese sex shops. The dirt is acrylic color so
you can see them in the context of painting.

PEV: Explain what you mean when you say, “I do drawings, but cannot
draw. I do paintings, but cannot paint. I do other things, too, but
cannot do that either. It is a tragedy, but tragedies are appreciated
in Arts.”

RS: A tragedy is an event with a sad and unfortunate outcome. A Greek
tragedy is a form of drama characterized by seriousness and dignity,
and involving a great person whose downfall is brought about by either
a character flaw or a conflict with some higher power such as the law,
the gods, fate, or society.

PEV: How have all your friends and family reacted to your success?

RS: The people in my village think that success is driving a BMW or
having a swimming pool. I drive a small French car and dream of having
a true Finnish sauna one day.

PEV: So, what is next for Riiko Sakkinen?

RS: Now I go to cook some cute rabbit with vegetables for lunch. Then
I pack, I fly tomorrow to Helsinki for an animal theme group show at
Gallery Anhava.

For more information on Riiko, check out:


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