MADE BY is the Institute’s series of interviews that allows artists, designers, thinkers and doers to unfold their creative process in their own words.
Ilona Niemi is visual artist who lives and works in Salo, Finland. Niemi’s works have been exhibited in numerous international shows both in Finland and abroad. Her exhibition Poison is showing until 11th October in Aberdeen, Scotland.
My working process starts from my sketchbook. I make a character or an installation on the basis of sketch I often paint the face first, and then after comes the body. If something doesn't work, I grab a pair of scissors or a saw, and cut out the part that works. As a painter, I have a very subtle and light touch, but my other processes tend to be rough and raw – I destroy in order to create something new, and to get rid of too much sensitivity.
Thematically my works address the questions of childhood and adulthood as well the transience of life. My childhood friend disappeared without a trace as a fifteen-year-old, and her unresolved tragedy still feeds into my work. I do not portray her as such, but rather imagine what may have happened to her. Having kids has also influenced my work.
The transience of life becomes palpable when you watch your kids grow. I have recently become very interested in gardening. The plants demonstrate the cycle of life in fast motion, crystallising my thoughts on life and death, and providing an apt symbol for my artwork.
The feeling of success comes when a piece of work is finished and gets a life on its own in a new environment. Of course, it also feels great when I receive an exhibition offer or a prize that has some significance to me as an artist. To receive The Royal Scottish Academy Painting Prize, and later to be included in the 500 Portraits-book published by The National Portrait Gallery, were one of the most important achieviement. Sometimes it is reassuring to gain such feedback, just to remind me that I'm not just making art for my own entertainment.
I have developed as an artist most when I have been able to work in my studio without any disturbance. Often something new happens as a result of circumstances, such as me turning into photography when I didn't have enough time to paint after my kids were born. Being an artist is such a strong part of my identity, I cannot separate the two. Everything that has matured me as a person, has also made me grow as an artist: all my life experiences, the books I have read, the people I've met. Some of my idols are Eeva Kilpi, Yayoi Kusama, Tove Jansson and Marimekko. My husband David Graham has influenced me the most. We give each other very honest and unedited feedback from art and life.