Katariina (Kassu) Tonttila - A Young Painter (Interview)

Katariina (Kassu) Tonttila is a 24-year-old social sciences student and a painter. Her first exhibition Omakuvia (self-portraits) is open until Friday, 30 October (that’s this week, folks! Go see her exhibition asap!) at Espresso Edge ( Liisankatu 29). I interviewed her about the exhibition, the painting process and the experience of being a young artist in Helsinki.

The exhibition consists of self-portraits. Why did you decide on this topic? What inspired you?

I’ve always enjoyed painting human figures. A self-portrait is a very meditative form of art for me because you need to stare at yourself for hours and hours trying to copy what you see. You cannot be too critical because the portrait needs to be truthful. You just gotta let everything you are to be there. Of course, you've the freedom to express your feelings and thoughts as you like; self-portrait does not need to be photographic.

Which painting do you like the best? Why?

I find it very difficult to choose a favorite painting. All of them have gotten personal and intimate, for I’ve worked on them for so long. But if I've to choose one, I would say it’s the Aamukahvilla, because it does really look like me and I like its calm atmosphere.

Aamukahvilla (photo credit: Katariina Tonttila)

Who are your inspirations?

All kinds of things around me get me inspired. I follow many artists and drag queens on Instagram. I saw Grayson Perry’s Exhibition which gave me chills. The way he uses colors and humor to talk about important societal issues was excellently smart.

What technique did you use when painting?

I use oil paint on canvas. I usually start with light sketching and just start painting. The picture will build up by its own time. My childhood painting teacher said that oil painting is like building because you put another layer on top of the previous one. But all of the layers are important for the final picture.

The paintings are bursting with colors! Do the colors have a deeper meaning?

I wanted to make really colorful paintings because I enjoy them the most. I also wanted the viewers to get a certain feeling, which I think colors highlight. Of course, everybody has a unique way to see the pictures, but I feel that for example, red corresponds with passion and strength.

What kind of a process was it to create a set of self-portraits?

I wanted to create a consistent, uniform set of paintings. I finished the paintings in a quite small amount of time and worked on them simultaneously.

It’s your first exhibition! How do you feel about it?

I’ve dreamt about having my own exhibition for a long time, and when I finally made up the timeline, everything happened very fast. It feels amazing to see how people are interested in my work. I’ve gotten so much good feedback!

What was the best about the process? What was the worst?

The inspiration, energy and flow that painting has given me. I've had quite a tight schedule, and the exhibition has taken a big chunk of my time. From time to time, I've been frustrated when something hasn't quite turned out the way I've wanted, or when I've been too self-critical about everything. You learn to value your mistakes too, though, because they might be just what makes the paintings interesting and special.

What are your goals as an artist?

Fine art is an amazing way to communicate things that you're not capable of putting into words. For me, it's a way of creating beauty around me and to examine the world and myself. I'm planning to gather the courage to exhibit more of my art in public.

Any words for aspiring artists in Helsinki?

Just do your own thing! People are interested in new, exciting things, and they're ready to support you!

Uneton elokuu (photo credit: Katariina Tonttila)