Contemplative Landscapes

Tamara Piilola paints large canvases that depict imaginary landscapes. We speak with the Finnish artist about the inspiration and process behind her work.

A: Nature, when undisturbed by humankind, is often portrayed as either idyllic and pastoral or brutal and unforgiving. What is your personal conception of nature that you convey through your art?

TP: As a painter I use nature as a platform to embody a series of thought and feeling processes. It is not so much that I have decided to use nature, but the feeling of familiarity in it. There are so many things you have to take in account before you’re actually able to paint like I do, that it’s essential to feel at ease with the subject. I need to build a relationship with the motives: I want them to be familiar.

A: Colours in your paintings are particularly vivid, but do not seem to adhere to traditional, binary or elemental notions of light and dark. What is the methodology behind employing such novel subversions of colour and form, for example combining bright colours with unusual angles of tree branches?

TP: I have photographic memory and I often work with images that have a lot of details. I start sketching by doing a collage with a computer (I used to work with paper and scissors). At the end, there is a sketch that gives me a solid structure: a composition to work on top of. This is an extremely important stage.

After that I can start painting and I have quite a lot of freedom of which colours to use, how the brushstrokes will look and overall how the end result will look. This structure gives me freedom to improvise. I have learned to use only the best materials in my paintings and usually paint just one layer to keep the colours pure and bright. I love the freedom in which colours to use and the effect they make – I have fun with them.

A: The art critic Veikko Halmetoja has said that your subjects “are not recognisable landscapes but the creations of countless memories stored over time as photographs and sketches.” What is it about natural landscapes and environments that provokes this sense of shared memory?

TP: The heavy load that comes with the term “landscape painting” was at first a turnoff for me. When I got to terms with the subject (which I felt I had to do), a whole world opened up to me. I felt I was completely free to do whatever I felt like with this subject. It felt like it was mine – all mine to explore – and I still feel like that after ten years.

A: The environments depicted in your works seem to have definite personalities, reminiscent of Germanic and Nordic paganism of old. Has this old cultural heritage had a conscious effect on your artwork, or is it merely coincidental?

TP: It’s coincidental. I have travelled a couple of months of the year all of my adult life and the influences have therefore no specific origin per se. I recognise certain similarities in Finnish and Japanese cultures. We have both had our animistic past and it is still present in some mysterious way, though both countries are highly developed.

The recognition of energy in things was very natural for me already as a child, as I was raised by the sea in the countryside, and the wilderness started right behind our fence. I think natural materials can be very sensual to look at and to touch. In our times, it’s a luxury to have the time to look at things in peace. That’s what I do, I look at and appreciate things. Maybe it’s the energy or the sense of given time in my works that resonates with an old cultural heritage.

1. Fan.
2. Infinite.
3. Lacemaker.
4. Raindrops.
5. We are Dreaming.
All images courtesy of the artist.