Updated: Jul 12, 2021
Erik Nieminen is Finnish-Canadian artist born in 1985. He achieved a BFA from the University of Ottawa in 2007 and an MFA from Concordia University in Montreal in 2010. He has exhibited in both Europe and North America, including recent solo shows in London, Montreal, and New York City. Present in both private and corporate collections, he is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Elizabeth Greenshields Grant and recently became the 2018 Grand Prize Winner for the Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series. Upcoming shows include a solo show at the Galerie McClure in October in Montreal, and a two-person show in Berlin at the Galerie Kremers in November.
My works present an independent reality, a world that is dependent on our real world yet is
separate from it. I seek to deconstruct the reality that we inhabit in order to remake reality
according the logic inherent in the painting process. With that in mind my works cannot be
easily categorized, as elements from many genres combine into one. The end result however is predominantly figurative. The paintings explore semi-real spaces where nature and architecture come into confrontation, and themes such as climate change are of implicit interest. While my work does not engage with the topic of climate change as a type of messaging, I am interested in the societal and cultural impact of these ideas and the conception that humanity can control nature or vice-versa. Aesthetically, I am mainly interested in the dissolution of space, perspective, light, and time through varying degrees of figuration where form is created through a responsive and adaptive process over a length of time. Colours and shapes are reworked until an ideal solution is found. The process itself mirrors the way time works –gradually shifting reality until what is familiar evolves into something renewed.
I see my work as post-photographic painting in the sense that while I have taken some of the
lessons and aesthetics of photography and inserted those into my works so that there is an
inherent contemporary veracity to it in the mind of the viewer, I wholly reject the basic
structure of photography or mechanical viewing. The painting you could say, transforms from
one form of viewing into another – from, at first glance – a photographic understanding, into a more human organic form of viewing where the composition happens from multiple
perspectives that have dozens of vanishing points and horizon lines, where one version of
reality is interjected and overlaid by another, so that it’s much more of a psychological way of
looking at the world.
1: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background in the arts.
I’m currently based in Montreal, Canada but I’m from Ottawa originally. Ottawa is a mostly
conservative government city, and doesn’t have much of an art scene apart from the presence of the National Gallery of Canada. I left that city after finished my BFA at the University of Ottawa and went straight into an MFA at Concordia University in Montreal. Thinking back, it might have been best to take a few years in between degrees, but hindsight is as it is. I think it’s important for an artist wanting to do an MFA to have some relatively concrete idea about their aesthetic interests and how it relates to the content and subject matter of their works. It’s great to explore, but in the context of an MFA perhaps the most important thing is to have something solid for others to challenge you on at the outset – and then explore out from there. I was still finding my footing so perhaps did not get as much out of the experience as I might have later on. After completing my MFA I moved to Berlin, Germany and lived there for a little over 4 years. That was a natural extension of my desire to branch out from Ottawa, and eventually Canada. It was important to establish artistic ties on another continent. Eventually I moved back to Montreal – Berlin is pricing a lot of artists out of town – but have maintained a presence there and in other parts of Europe ever since.
2: What kind of work are you currently making?
In October of 2020 I had a solo show at the McClure Gallery in Montreal, entitled “Freefall”. That show was a presentation of paintings that were not made with the usual notion of creating a body of work, but that instead imposed brackets (aka exhibition dates) around a sequence of works that were produced from mid 2019 to mid 2020. Over the last 3 years I have had one solo show per year, which is a lot for me given it usually takes me 2 years to complete a full cycle of new works. I took “Freefall” as an opportunity to put some works together that pointed towards many possible directions that could be taken coming out of the exhibition. It wasn’t random, but each work was less tied to each of the others than might have been the case in past shows. I wanted and needed to step back and make a conscious decision about what lessons were learned regarding the direction my work was taking.
At the moment I’m trying to synthesize all this information. On a practical level, while it’s great to take a step back and intellectualize things, I do still need to be making work – as it’s mostly through the process that the real discoveries are made; I work in a way that starts with a kind of abstraction and eventually ends up in pseudo-figuration. The painting currently in progress is a large work based in an urban setting, involving multiple spaces coming together to create a new reality. The composition of the work is very much directed by experiments I have been making in the studio with light (projecting and reflecting light off various semi-opaque surfaces). The forms, patterns, shapes, and colors found in these experiments are then partially adapted through a long process of drawing for use in the eventual painting, where light is again considered in the layering process. Elements of video and photography are also used to glean reference material. I’m not using one single photo or video as a basis for the painting, only bits and pieces from dozens. It’s all a bit uncertain as to how it will all fit together until the painting is nearly complete – I always hope for the best. My goal is to create the ideal painting – an impossible objective… so I keep coming back to try again and again.
3: What is a day like in the studio for you?
My studio is located about 30 minutes from where I live. On an ideal day I will arrive at the
studio approximately mid-morning. Prior to that I will have kept abreast of the news and taken care of other daily items such as email and other more mundane tasks. It takes about half and hour to settle into the studio. A lot of this time is spent just looking – considering where to begin, taking into consideration the prior day’s activities. I usually work on one or at most two works at a time, mostly due to the larger scale of my paintings and the amount of time it takes to make one painting (each work has anywhere from 4 to 15 layers). Very often it will take between 2 to 4 months to complete a single work, and during that time there is always something to work on in some part of an individual painting. I listen to podcasts or instrumental music (electronic, minimalist, some classical) while working, as it takes the edge off over-thinking the process. I don’t like to ponder a mark too long before making it, as it can always be adjusted later. I will work until late evening on the main painting in the studio and then with the leftover paint on the palette I may make some smaller oil studies on canvas paper – something for potential future work. This is a nice way to unwind as there’s no pressure to get anything particularly right… just try out forms and colors to see what results. Some days I don’t go in to the studio, but will work from my small home studio on drawings and other preparatory sketches, along with writing.
4: What are you looking at right now and/or reading?
I’m currently reading “Essays on the Perception of Art” by Pavel Florensky. Among other things he was a Russian Orthodox theologian, priest, philosopher, mathematician, physicist, electrical engineer, inventor, and polymath. My interest in his writing has to do with his research into reverse perspective, and is thus tied to my interest in creating shifting and unconventional spacial compositions in my works. Despite my best intentions to stay focused, I usually end up having a number of books on the go – aside from Florensky I’m currently reading “The Square and the Tower”, by Niall Ferguson, which examines the nature of networks and hierarchies, “The Rest is Noise”, by Alex Ross which tackles the story of contemporary classical music in the 20 th Century, and from time-to-time pop into David Salle’s collection of essays called “How to See”. While a lot of maximalist artists excite me due to the detailed and rather “full” nature of my own work, I’ve actually been looking at relatively more minimal artists recently, such as Alex Katz, Caspar David Friedrich, and Tomma Abts. I’ve become quite interested in creating an ideal initial gesture in my work out of which everything else will flow, putting down just enough information to convey the idea. Perhaps it’s the difference between looking at a photo of a tree, and considering its “tree-ness”.
5: Where can we find more of your work?
My Instagram is www.instagram.com/eriknart/ or @eriknart for short :) A lot of work can be seen on my website at www.eriknieminen.com. The pandemic has thrown a wrench into a number of exhibition plans, but I will nevertheless be having a small solo show at the Galerie Kremers in Berlin (https://galerie-kremers.de) from the end of April to the middle of June of 2021.