Timo Andersson’s paintings are part painting and part drawing, informed by an interest in synthetic materials as well as sculptural forms. I love how the marker sinks into the mesh and are contained by polypropylene straps, containing each piece in a sense, emphasizing their objecthood. Find more at the links below!
Can you tell me a little bit about you?
I’m a Finnish artist and I live and work in Helsinki. After stalling a bit, I finally got my MFA from the Academy of Fine Arts here earlier this year. I’ve had four solo exhibitions so far, and have taken part in a bunch of group- and two-person shows as well. I mostly focus on painting, but also work with sculpture, sound and installation.
When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?
I don’t come from an artistic family, but there was always an appreciation for culture and education growing up. I was mostly into video games, books and movies. Art was something I was sort off aware of, but wasn’t really personally interested in. I didn’t know you could dedicate your life to the practice or anything like that. I’ve always drawn a lot so I figured I might become a graphic designer or an illustrator, get employed by someone or freelance or whatever.
It wasn’t until my first art school that the whole world of contemporary art opened up for me. It pretty quickly became clear to me that it’s the only way forward – it felt huge and liberating to work in this field.
What do you like most about working where you do?
For me, the nicest thing is the short distance from my home. It’s good to take a little walk every now and then.
It’s also in the part of town where lots of stuff is constantly happening. I don’t often feel like doing anything but it’s cool to have that possibility, just in case.
What ideas are you exploring in your practice?
I would say materiality, information and information control, the tradition of abstract painting, drawing, haptic visuality and different aspects of digital culture are some things my works reflect. My work is often full of information and meaning; the paintings are busy and nervously crawling with detail because that’s the kind of uneasy, ecstatic world they come from.
I’m really into all sorts of internet ephemera, weird niche YouTube communities, video game speedrun videos, super self-referential jokes and stuff like that. I haven’t really gotten deeper into why that it all specifically interests me; it doesn’t really translate to any sort of direct meaning in my head. It just somehow feels important to dive into that world. I’m not really interested in directly reflecting that in my works.
What is your process like?
It takes me forever to make stuff, even though it might seem that I’m super productive according to my Instagram or whatever. There are some paintings in my studio that I’ve been on-and-off working for months, even years.
I’m first and foremost a practice based artist, who often shoots first and asks questions later. My main interest is in the production aspect of the work, especially any material-related qualities it has. Things like weight, gesture, color and haptic visuality are pretty important things for me, and they are the things that really define a work for me.
I’ve been painting and drawing on polyester mesh fabric exclusively for a few years now. To me, a conventional white canvas is too heavy and cumbersome to work with, whereas the slick, synthetic surface of the mesh fabric feels light and liberating. Most importantly, working with several layers of stacked translucent fabric allows me to treat them similarly to how layers work in Photoshop – albeit in an obviously less instantaneous, refined way. As the mesh fabric is translucent, it distorts and mutes whatever information is underneath it and pushes it into the background, and I’ve used this effect to add depth and even ‘reset’ a painting if it’s not heading to the direction I want.
I always frame my works with a particular type of colored polypropylene strap as a kind of sort border. I’m really obsessed with the edges of a painting – it’s always so satisfying to see them done well, it makes the whole painting feel like a wholesome object. The polypropylene strap is a kind of a memory tool for me as I go through different color periods. It also gives my whole body of work a sense of cohesion and unity that I’m always looking for.
Whenever I’m writing texts like this, it always feels like an odd footnote to finally add that I also work with sculpture, installation and sound a lot as well. I’m still pretty unsure how they exactly relate to the paintings, but they’re hugely important for me personally. Working with that kind of stuff is still a bit outside of my own comfort zone so any bits of success are super rewarding, and that affects how I relate to the paintings as well.
I find it hard to work with painting and other media in tandem, though; it’s always either occupying my time with this or that. It’s comforting to sometimes switch gears like that.
Is there any subject or theme you’ve been particularly interested in lately?
I’ve been thinking about the digital image a lot lately, and what it means to experience a digital image for the first time. I also had a brief period where I was obsessed with the colors green and yellow, and stuff like mangoes and plants, but that pretty much stopped when the summer ended.. I ruined one small painting by drilling a green marmalade candy through it as an experiment – that’s where I hit a creative dead end with the whole green period.
Now it’s all about red and blue, worms, rain and pumpkins and murky stuff like that. I don’t know. Just having fun in the studio and seeing what comes out of it.
What is the strangest thing you’ve ever had to do for art?
I’ve spent weeks trying to crystallize an oil painting in a sodium borate solution, making sculptures out of frosting, painting with bitumen, lots of silly experiments like that would probably seem like a lunatic waste of time to some people.
Do you have a day job or other work that you split your time between?
I’m lucky enough to be supported by a working grant right now. It’s very hard for me to personally separate artistic work from the rest of my life, so a day job would be a pretty difficult thing to maintain at the moment. I know the situation could easily be very different for me, so I’m thankful for every full day I can have in the studio.
Do you have a mentor, or a piece of advice (or both), which has influenced your practice?
Nothing particular springs to my mind at the moment, but like with everyone, there’s tons of stuff that people have said that has shaped my work. It’s mostly the technical things that more evident, I guess – how to stretch a canvas properly, where to get the right materials and so on. Boring.
Is there any piece of advice you would offer to others?
I think just having a good taste can get you pretty far. Obviously there’s no such thing as an objectively good taste – whatever that even means – but just looking at things, reading, listening to enough stuff can give you a sense of what’s been done, and what should be done.
Also think about your place in relation to others. Privilege isn’t the kind of minefield some people think it is. It’s fairly simple to make works that aren’t racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic or ableist. Also, don’t try offend people on purpose. You’re not 14.
It’s also good to remember the conditions that allow you to make your work in the first place. Most people in the world don’t have that luxury.
What does it mean to you to have a “community?”
It doesn’t often show, but I’m very influenced by what people I know do, subconsciously or not. Nobody’s an island and you don’t always know better, so it’s good to have people around.
There’s always people IRL who get your stuff and also care about you. It’s good to remember that. Instagram and social media like that have tons of perks but they also obviously distort the way you think others view you and your work.
What is your studio like?
I have a pretty spacious workspace within a short walk from my home. It has a quite high ceiling and enough room for all my stuff. I’d go as far to as to say it’s probably the best studio I’ve had in my life so far. I’m not sharing it with anyone at the moment, so I can do pretty much anything there. The only downside is that there’s only one, quite narrow window so there’s not a lot of natural light. It’s not really important to my work but I often miss that.
Do you have any routines or rituals in the studio that get you into the mode or mindset to make your work?
I listen to a lot of music in the studio and just look at the works, take photos of them, sit down and have a coffee, basic stuff like that.
I’ve stopped bringing my laptop to the studio so I’m not as occupied with internet stuff as before. I’m pretty focused on working, which I’m really happy with. I might as well stay home if I wanted to watch Netflix all day like I used to. The studio is less of a hang-around place, more of a working space now.
I also used to do both sound stuff and physical works in the same space, but now I’ve taken all my gear home. It’s a different kind of zone now.
How significant has attending art school been on your practice?
Mostly it just really helps to see how the art world at large functions and what role larger institutions play in it. Art school can be great for networking, exhibition opportunities, meeting tons of people and that sort of things. It can also be a terrible experience with teachers you don’t connect with, lots of bureaucratic chaos, issues with facilities, bullying, economic woes, stress and mental health problems, extremely negative things like that. It’s not for everyone and attending an art school shouldn’t be the defining moment of anyone’s life.
Personally, I mostly enjoyed my studies – it wasn’t always perfect but I got a lot of good feedback that shapes my work to this day. I guess I was still a bit lost when it came to my own practice, though. It feels like things didn’t really fully develop until after I had my degree show and found my first studio outside the school. There were a lot of good studio discussions and feedback from teachers that I’ve only lately began to fully appreciate. I’m pretty socially awkward and dislike talking, so those situations were always extra stressful back then.
All that stuff is still pretty secondary to the social effect a higher arts education has had on me, which is one of the most wonderful things in my life. I’ve never met such honest and caring people anywhere else, and being an insider to other people’s practice is a treasure. It’s just the framework around such places that can often be so cruel.
What do you find most daunting, challenging, or frustrating about pursuing art?
It’s just the simple fact that you’re your own boss and worst critic, really – and what you’re working on ultimately doesn’t make any conventional sense, yet it’s still the most important thing in your life. How do you find the motivation to keep doing something like that? How does that even make sense?
How would you define “success” in art?
Feeling good and confident about your stuff, and having it really mean something to someone, even if it’s just you and a bunch of friends.
It’s not about the size of your CV. Most people won’t care.
What is the most exciting thing you’ve done or accomplished so far, related to your work?
Getting into the polyester mesh fabrics was it for me, it’s what started a whole new thing for me. It was a simple material choice but it changed everything I thought about painting.
I also had a pretty crazy last year in terms of artistic stuff happening, lots of shows and grants out nowhere. That gave me a lot of confidence – but also a bunch of stress and self-esteem issues.
Are you involved in any collaborative or self-organized projects?
Me and my friend Joonas have done some collaborative works in the form of a few exhibitions and we’re gonna keep doing stuff in the future. It’s a pretty wicked, different world for me. Most of my own work is so introverted, it’s good to break the mould from time to time.
What are you working on right now?
I don’t really have any concrete plans for exhibitions in the future or anything right now, but I’m going to continue my studio practice and see where it takes me.
Right now I’m in the middle of a pretty exciting painting period and that’s giving me a lot of energy.