Prologue | Personal
Erik, imagine if the pandemic did not dominate our lives at the moment and we could meet in your home or in your studio. Where do we talk together? Maybe we are sitting at your favorite place? I don’t really have a “favorite” place. Most of my time is spent either at the studio or at home – I wouldn’t describe either as favorites, per say. They are both quite comfortable though. I always imagine some kind of forest dwelling as being a favorite place. Nothing but shady forest. Where do you come from, where were you born when? I was born in Ottawa, Canada in 1985. How and where do you currently live and work? I currently live and work in Montreal, Canada.
Erik Nieminen’s studio © Erik Nieminen
Which stations and people have shaped you? Numerous people have shaped me – my parents of course, but also so many others. The list is exhaustive and too in-depth to get into here. Which writers do you currently find exciting and which books are on your bookshelf? 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 spatial 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”. Which books have influenced or shaped you? Hard to say… it’s strange, I can’t think of specific books that have been significantly more influential than any others… What are you currently reading and where do you keep the book? I mentioned above what I’m currently reading, and I keep the book wherever I last left it! What music do you listen to and when? I listen to a lot of experimental electronic music, contemporary classical, and minimalist music. Usually when I’m painting. Otherwise I listen to podcasts or occasionally the radio. If you would cook something for us, what would it be? Some kind of smoked salmon… What do you like to eat most? There’s not one thing I enjoy most – I enjoyed variety the most, I suppose. What do you think about breakfast? I think breakfast is an important meal. It’s the first meal. Some people don’t eat breakfast, and that’s their prerogative, but I am skeptical. Maybe it makes lunch taste better. Of course, then lunch is breakfast. I suppose breakfast is whatever you eat first.
Erik Nieminen’s studio © Erik Nieminen
What kind of sport or counterbalance to your work do you practice? I am a semi-serious runner and a cross-country skier. Do you have special passions for which you are burning, and if so, which ones? I’m looking to get into filmmaking – though on a serious level, to take it beyond the hobby stage. I’ve felt for some time that film is the closest visual experience to painting. It is not photography, as some might suggest. The similarity between painting and film is clear: both are time-based mediums, who unlock their meanings only after giving them the time to deliver their narrative. In painting, there are a number of narratives, but the technical narrative (the story of its creation) predominates the time element. I’m interested in the moving image, and in pure aesthetic surprise… something that is also achievable with film.
Erik Nieminen’s studio © Erik Nieminen
What personality trait defines you? That’s probably for others to say, some have said stoic. Some have said humorous. Humorously stoic. Do you have a concern that you would like to share with us or a certain question (that we did not ask), which you would like to give an answer to? Not at the moment – though I am curious about the focus on breakfast.
Erik Nieminen working in his studio, 2021, © Erik Nieminen
Interview | Artist + Position
To begin, please tell us your artistic vita in a few sentences.
In the last five years I’ve had solo exhibitions in London, New York City, Montreal, and now Berlin in addition to being in many group shows. I have been the grateful recipient of numerous awards and grants. I’m currently showing at the Galerie Kremers in Berlin, where the exhibition “Metamorphosis I – Possible Worlds”, is opening.
Briefly explain your current project exhibition.
The exhibition at Galerie Kremers – entitled “Metamorphosis I – Possible Worlds” – presents a world in motion, in constant mutability. They say that the future is always in motion, and I believe the same can be said of painting, a medium that is fundamentally about time, not only in the very material itself (the various layers or opacities of paint hit the eye at differing lengths of time), and not only in the technical narrative (the story of its construction). In this case the architecture of the painting, how the space of the painting is constructed, is centrally about bringing together a multitude of moments and creating a convincing independent reality – the canvas becomes a stage on which a new understanding of our present and future may happen. The paintings in the exhibition open up possibilities for new experiences and reflections, which is itself a statement about the future. The exhibition as a whole creates a unique possible world for each viewer.
Erik Nieminen, Primates, 2019, Oil on linen, 160 x 130 cm © Erik Nieminen
What are you most concerned about at the moment; what is on your mind?
I’m thinking about how to complete this large painting that I’m about 75% of the way through. It’s been like a raft, carrying me through the waves of the recent months. I’m not quite sure yet where it will land, but I see shore on the horizon. Aside from that, I am looking forward to my exhibition that is about to start in Berlin!
Erik Nieminen, Paradise Not Lost, 2020, Oil on linen, 95 x 165 cm © Erik Nieminen
How did you come to art? Why art?
Art has been in my family for generations. More immediately, my father is an artist, as is my uncle. I grew up spending a lot of my time in the studio – probably absorbing a lot of turpentine – and so artmaking never seemed like an exotic or unusual activity to do with one’s life. In fact, other more mundane jobs seem far more unapproachable and difficult to comprehend at times. Ultimately, it’s the only activity I’ve seriously considered doing.
Erik Nieminen, The City Rests, 2019, Oil on linen, 140 x 185 cm © Erik Nieminen
What makes you happy at the moment?
I’m happy to be painting – I get enormous pleasure through my eyes. The privilege to be able to take what I have experienced, what I have seen – to reconsider it in my mind and send it back out again onto coloured dirt spread across a piece of cloth… which then creates an alternate reality, is something magical to me. That ability makes me happy.
What is currently scaring you?
My main concern as it relates to artmaking is that I can carry on making it without interruption – not being able to do so for whatever reason is a worrying idea. It’s best not to worry too much though, about most things. Worry is just something conceded to defeat before it even happens.
Erik Nieminen, Ricochet, 2014, Oil on linen, 160 x 210 cm © Erik Nieminen
Do you believe that art has a social responsibility? And what do you think it can do?
I believe art can change the world, but social art is mostly boring or shocking – and shocking is ultimately boring once you get over the shock. Art carries the burden or responsibility of renewing our visual and associated senses.
What makes your art special? What is it about – what are the central themes of your work?
I’m looking to create an independent reality, a floating unreal world that is based on ours but ultimately exists on its own terms. Almost every work begins as a non-objective or abstract drawing. Slowly, recognizable forms take shape, replacing some (but not necessarily all) of these shapes. The composition comes into reality based on drawing, photography, video, intuitions, and momentary insights. There are various concepts or signs that relate to our current era that filter into the works, that happen through the process, but they exist only insofar as the viewer chooses to recognize and assemble them. They can be put together in any order, and so the meaning or intent of the work is always quite fluid. My job is to create possibilities in the mind of the viewer.
Read Erik Nieminen’s answer further in THE DEED | DAS WERK.
Erik Nieminen, Clear Enigma, 2020,
Oil, sand, and sawdust on linen, 90 x 170 cm © Erik Nieminen
How do you protect yourself from too much inspiration these days?
Too much inspiration? I’m not sure that would be a problem! In any case, I never rely on inspiration as it’s nice to have around but it’s very unreliable. I try to cut myself off from the noise (not always successfully!). Mostly I rely on each work kicking the door open for the next, telling me what to do. I have a belief that things will grow out of the activity itself. The possibilities that are created by this idea are ones that you may never have thought of if you’d been waiting for “inspiration”. I try not to be too influenced by others, and so it sometimes seems that my work stands apart from trends and recognizable aesthetics in painting. This isn’t to say it exists in a bubble – it is a product of its environment… it’s just that I try to actively avoid having it resemble other kinds of work. While this may make the work difficult for some to understand or contextualize, it actually makes me quite happy. I want the work to exist as a unique thing on its own.
How much in your works is planned in advance – how much is created intuitively?
Although my work often looks highly planned, it’s a mix of intuition and advance planning. The initial sketches are very intuitive, but the final drawing before the painted stage is fairly planned.
Erik Nieminen, Sketch 2 for “Paradise Not Lost” © Erik Nieminen
This is necessary as each work takes a few months to complete, so I have to have a certain amount of guidance in the direction of the work before actually putting paint on canvas. At the end of the day though, the painting is in control.
Erik Nieminen, Oil study for “Primates” © Erik Nieminen
What are your (next) goals?
I’m currently working on a large painting based in urban space that combines several moments in time into one. Themes related to ecology are seeping in and out of it, providing an undercurrent of organic instability about the scene. A horse is appearing near the middle of the work, emerging from a streak of light – an ephemeral apparition… a Pegasus-like creature which might allude to flight to the ineffable one, a divine moment (Pegasus ultimately flew to Mount Olympus before becoming a constellation). In this work, the head of the horse crosses over what would traditionally be the vanishing point, which is the point of infinity in perspective. It is the maximum maximum and the minimum minimum. It’s always a bit problematic talking about current projects though, as the aesthetic of the work is constantly in motion, as is the meaning. It only settles into something more concrete well after its creation.
Once I have completed the current painting, I will begin a period of exploration. I hate self-repetition, and I am always a bit worried about developing a recognizable “style”. Some significant developments are on the horizon, I suspect. I’m also still trying to make the perfect painting – so that’s my (permanent) next target.
What is your opinion about faith? Do you have principles of faith or is there a motto?
I have faith in transformation – the ability to transcend boundaries of perception. Making art requires some amount of (positive) delusion – that the material fact of the medium can summon a whole new universe into existence. I have faith – delusion – in that possibility.
Erik Nieminen, Shroud of Neptune, 2019, Oil on linen, 200 x 260 cm © Erik Nieminen
Which project would you still like to realize, if lack of time, courage or financial resources would not play a role?
I’d like to transform the interior of a gothic style building (though gothic isn’t mandatory) into a space for quiet contemplation through a total immersion into aesthetics. I’d want to create a jungle, both real and imagined, inside this space. Not chaotic, but ordered – yet full of revelation. Ideally in the middle of a large city. Like most dreams, it is currently undefinable.
What do you consider to be attributes of good art?
This is too difficult to answer. As soon as there’s an answer, there’s something that would contradict it.
Is one born as an artist? Or is studying art compulsory in your view?
Nobody is born an artist. You might be naturally creative or artistic – but I wish to reserve the word artist for those actually practicing art. Artist is one of those words that gets tossed around and can mean almost anything – it’s actually a job though, a rigorous activity done by a person. However I’m not going to get into trying to define art!
It’s not compulsory to study art – it may even be better not to for some people. To each their own. In any case, it certainly won’t teach you to be an artist.
To whom do you show a new work first?
To my wife – also an artist (Catherine S. Genest). We share a studio, so there’s actually no real way around this! (not that there should be!)
Erik Nieminen working in his studio, 2021, © Erik Nieminen
What does the first hour of your day look like?
I either go running or eat breakfast while reading the news. Nothing fancy or exotic.
In Times of the internet of things, are galleries still necessary? If so, why and what for?
If we think of a gallery as a place to see new art in person – then yes, it is essential. The arts in general need to be experienced in their ideal settings to be fully absorbed, and painting for instance requires the sensory experience of live viewing.
Social media – in your view a blessing or a curse?
It’s both. It’s great that it creates a community of like-minded people and allows exposure to all sorts of new ideas and artists. It’s bad in that it encourages a dependence on it for gratification. It’s bad in that it encourages art to be made that looks best in reproduction, on a small screen. Ultimately I don’t know if the good outweighs the bad or vice-versa.
Epilogue | Current
The solo show Metamorphosis II – The Cosmic Tiger with new works by Erik Nieminen is on view from 29 April to 3 July 2021 at Galerie Kremers, Schmiedehof 17, 10965 Berlin–Kreuzberg. You can reach the gallery under email@example.com, Tel.: +49 30 46 99 80 68 or Mobile: +49 176 64 72 72 47.
In times of Corona, when travel, studio visits and personal contacts are inappropriate or even impossible, the written interview remains an important medium to introduce artist personalities, to spread their messages and to stay in touch with art lovers. The interviews are not edited or shortened by the editors and are always reproduced in original sound. Therefore, we do not translate the interview into English or German unless the interviewee submits a translation.
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