March 2009, Interview with Anders Oinonen

Anders Oinonen, Aftertime, 2006, oil on canvas, 20 x 24 inches, courtesy the artist
Anders Oinonen in Conversation with Dan Tarnowski
Anders Oinonen is an artist living and working in Toronto, Canada. He received his MFA from University of Waterloo in 2004, and has exhibited throughout Toronto, as well as in Houston and New York City. 
Oinonen's intriguing work caught my eye in September of 2008, when I saw two of his oil paintings in a group exhibition in NYC. He paints expressive images of faces, using a unique style: his characters appear to be assembled out of colorful 3D planes and shapes. His forms have weight, but retain the right to defy gravity, and often involve uncanny interplay of light and shadow. 
Oinonen's facial constructions are both precisely crafted and mysterious. His intense pictures resided in my mind's eye for months, spawning many questions about his artistic process. In February of 2009, Anders agreed to conduct an interview with me via e-mail. Anders's e-mail correspondences have been as witty, profound and concise as his artwork. 

DT: Hello Anders. Thanks for agreeing to talk with me. I’ve selected questions predominately dealing with your artistic process. Your work is both fun and enigmatic, and I’m looking forward to learning what techniques, ideas, and feelings go into it‘s creation. What painting are you working on right now? 
AO:  I have one on the go in the very early stages. It’s a facial construction in a skewed star conglomeration. It’ll be emitting a light and casting some strange shadows on itself. 
DT: Can you remember creating one painting that you knew marked a new direction, or maturity, in your art? 
AO:  Most recently, I’d say it’s been Lay of the Land which was in my last show at CTRL gallery in Houston. It’s a bit less anthropomorphic and had a funny flow on the edge of my comfort level, so it’s interesting to me right now. 
Anders Oinonen, Lay of the Land, 2008, oil on canvas, 60 x 84 inches, courtesy the artist
DT:  Do you consider any of your facial expressions to be portraits of people you know? 
AO: No, they’re completely made up, although they do start to remind me of friends sometimes. 
DT: What is your primary aim as an artist? 
AO:  I just want to make exciting pictures and contribute something to the big conversation out there. 
DT:  What informs your work? 
AO: Light, atmospheric conditions, landscape, perceptual psychology, ambiguity, spatial illusion, faces… 
DT:  Is there one person who has been instrumental in guiding your artistic development? 
AO: Art Green was one of my advisors in grad school and was exemplar for me because his art really seems like a reflection of himself. 
DT:  What does exhibiting mean to you? 
AO: Its when others get to see you and you get to see yourself through their eyes. 
DT: When you look at an older painting of yours, can you pinpoint a specific situation or feeling that inspired it? 
AO: The first painting I made of a head lying on its side caused me to tilt my head a lot while painting it - like an inquisitive dog. I’m not sure if the blood starts to collect in one side of your brain when you do that for a long time. I likened it to lying down, sleeping and dreaming. 
DT:  What's a book or film that had a profound effect on you? 
AO:  For a while, I’ve liked the book Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter which ranges from under to over my head. 
DT: I've only seen your oil paintings. Do you work in any other mediums? 
AO:  I paint mostly and my ideas most often gravitate towards painting but, I have done some video and sculpture. 
DT:  Similarly, I've only seen your paintings with the geometric, facial style. Do you work in any other styles? 
AO: Not really anymore. I used to be all over the place as a student and couldn’t ever imagine doing a focused practice like I have now.  Eventually I started paring down into what felt right and am building on that. 
DT:  One painting I've found that's somewhat of a departure for you is State of Zero. It employs a series of colorful brush lines within a human bust, rather than your typical, chunky 3D forms. I like that painting very much. Is there a special story to it? 
AO: That’s true it’s a different one. State of Zero was a weird one in my first solo show. It’s a figure in transition in and out of ether. The brushstrokes are broken on that transition line negating the expressionistic strokes. 
Anders Oinonen, State of Zero, 2006, oil on canvas, 28 x 36 inches, courtesy the artist
DT: Have you always drawn, or been fascinated by, faces? 
AO:  I’m probably drawn to faces as much as the next person. I like the face as a subject just because of its ubiquitous meaning. It’s a kind of non subject and a structure to hang other ideas on. 

DT:  I don't think I'll potentially get bored of your "facial" style; it's a fascinating and expressive visual language. In fact, I'm quite interested to see how far you'll push it. The more recent paintings on your website only get more powerful. I especially like Nimbus, and Travelling Light. Do you find working within specified guidelines appealing, or is the sky the limit on your future work? 
AO:  This genre I’ve found myself in is still interesting for me so I don’t know how far it’ll go. I think I do like guidelines and certainly am fascinated by the determination of artists like Morandi and Jawlensky.  
 Anders Oinonen, Travelling Light, 2008, oil on canvas, 20 x 16 inches, courtesy the artist
DT:  Does sketching play any role in your artistic process? 
AO:  Yes, a big role. I draw constantly. Usually in a loose, doodly way.  I like the small sketchbook format for the initial stages of ideas because it’s a harmless place to make terrible things. 
DT:  I can't imagine what your sketches would look like. I consider your paintings to be all "plane" and no "line." 
AO: Thick lines. I guess the lines get extruded in the painting process.  I do draw with mass and weight in mind. 
DT:  Do you use any mathematical or geometric techniques in your work? 
AO: My work is very geometric but, it comes from subjective impulses rather than mathematical planning. I generally try to stop short of illustrating concepts too soundly. 
Anders Oinonen, Nimbus, 2008, oil on canvas, 30 x 36 inches, courtesy the artist
DT: In a previous correspondence, you mentioned that most of your paintings are preplanned, while the colors are frequently generated on the fly. What goes into the preparation? 
AO:  Just a lot of drawing that gets narrowed down into a composition for which proportions and size are determined. I usually approach the painting with some colour relationships in mind; a plan that usually gets rewritten as it goes.  

DT:  Do you identify with the so-called action painters? 
AO:  Sure.  I like deconstructing paintings and understanding their makings.  I use expressionistic strokes both sincerely and ironically. But, I think I work very differently from them, the actions are often very much restrained. 
DT: How about the cubists? 
AO:  It’s an amazing period that has probably been the most influential. 
DT:  Is there any element of randomness in your work? 
AO: A little because in my sketching I try to make forms I haven’t made before, so I approach it quickly without much plan and then catch up to it later.  
DT: Do you use visual reference for your forms? Models or photographs, for example. 
AO: Rarely.  The forms come mostly from my imagination. 

DT: Who's your favorite artist? 
AO: Asger Jorn. 
DT: I noticed your website says you have a two person exhibition coming up this Summer. That's very exciting; I wish you luck. What are you planning on displaying? 
AO: This is a show at Modern Fuel in Kingston, Ontario with a friend of mine, Mike Murphy. I’ll be doing some very different work- the ideas are in progress but we’re talking about brown light with loud noises, magnetic fields and at least one painting. 

DT:  I consider the colors you paint with to have a certain commercial appeal to them. I can imagine many museum gift shop products based on your work. Does this interest you? 
AO:  I haven’t really thought about that. I guess if it’s done right, sure. Maybe some paper weights.  

DT: There's a cool, interactive Flash version of one of your faces on your website entrance page. Does any software or technology come into play in your painting? 
AO: Not really - my painting doesn’t involve any recent technology. The animation was fun to make, but is a very different entity. 
DT: What motivates you to paint? 
AO: I just like making my ideas tangible. My paintings usually never turn out exactly how I imagine them, so there is also a curiosity in seeing and problem solving the process. 
DT: Do you have any advice for young artists? 
AO: Don’t save the good ideas for later. 
Anders Oinonen has an upcoming two-person show this summer at Modern Fuel in Ontario, and a personal website where you can view many samples of his work. Anders Oinonen paper weights are hopefully coming to a museum gift shop near you.


Dan Tarnowski

Dan Tarnowski has published reviews of culture, and several chapbooks of his poetry. He lives in Brooklyn.

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