07 Feb - 02 Mar 2008
"I Enjoy My Minimal"
7.2. - 2.3.2008
Friends of Janne Räisänen Unite!
I first met Janne Räisänen (1971) when I, thoroughly sozzled, went up to praise his first exhibition, something that could have well been done completely sober, too. This was sometime in the mid-90's, and we are friends still. During this time, Räisänen's paintings have gone through some severe changes, but they appeal to me still in the same fascinating way, which is not unlike infatuation. Janne's paintings are funny, smart and undeniably sexy. Their appeal is based on their charming openness and manifold appearances. Räisänen describes friendship in the following words: "I like the idea of having friends around, at home and elsewhere. Minna (Janne's partner) is and important figure and my best friend. I get a lot of influence from my charismatic friends (both directly and indirectly). Friends are the best that there can be."
Räisänen is a maker of dense works, because his paintings are ripe with meaning. For instance, I Enjoy My Minimal (2006) refers, according to Räisänen, to a particular brand of electronic music, minimal techno, but it can also be read as an ironic statement on the abundant cornucopia of Räisänen's own painting. His works are instantly recognizable, but what this is based on, is a little trickier to recognise. Basically he is a descendant of the expressive tradition and in particular the style know as bad painting, of which the most prominent names are David Salle, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Julian Schnabel, who mixed high and low culture in their art, with varying bad and good taste.
Räisänen sees himself as primarily an artisan and works accordingly. To him, paintings are, to the highest degree, physical objects, and producing them means familiarising oneself with a range of materials. His work, which is based on the process of trial and error, is considerably guided by the materials used. The artist has for some time now approached his canvases from many directions, and thus the canvases move and rotate and finally settle on one of their sides. This whole business of the artisan can also be seen as a conscious reaction against a way of thinking that emphasises the distinction between high art and low. In this way Räisänen associates himself with an earlier era, where art and artfulness hadn't yet separated into their own respective fields.
The artist comment on this in the following way: "All my hobbies are interlinked, and thus also linked with painting. I see many similarities between painting and cooking, or DJ'ing. I also like the sandbox-effect of painting. In school, some of my favourite subjects were history and chemistry. These two subjects also pop up constantly as I paint. Chemistry on a material level, and history (and also sports) on a thematic one." The previous links Räisänen with the historical continuum that began already during the Renaissance. The art historian Moshe Barasch notes how the mechanical and artistic skills of producing art started to separate during that period, making the artist a creative individual akin to a poet or scientist. Räisänen rocks the boat of high and low art also as a postmodern artist, but one who has lately become interested in modernism.
For Räisänen, the allure of modernism is perhaps a demonstration of his open-mindedness towards art. This same openness is apparent in how he, even from the beginning of his career, has always stressed how the roots of his art lie in music and other cultures, rather than the strict context of fine art/ visual art. Sneakers, for instance, are extremely important to Räisänen and his favourite shop is the Adidas Superstore in Berlin. That city is a particular favourite, too. He is inspired by its liveliness. Internationalism is also important in a general context, and on his own nationality Räisänen has said the following: "I've never liked Finnish music, I've never acquainted myself with Finnish literature. I don't know if I'm proud of this or not. I don't like the idea of 'Finnish-ness' in general. I've often felt that I'm in the wrong place."
The excessive is the most thrilling of Räisänen's strategies. Rattling such things as modesty, reason and "good" taste is a moral virtue for the artist. Räisänen's tolerance to different ways and styles of working is reminiscent of Sigmund Freud, who is particularly famed for the tolerance of the inner conflicts of his earlier works. Räisänen writes: "One important matter is tolerance towards other people and my own painting. It frees me up to tackle just about everything. You can whip yourself with humour, for instance. You shouldn't take yourself too seriously, either. "Combining oil and washing-up detergent (Fairy) is at the root of Dump Site of Dawn (2006). A combination arising from the cleaning of brushes brought with it an interesting effect of transparency, which the artist utilises in a very unbiased way.
One could spend unlimited time writing about the names of Janne Räisänen's paintings. They form their own artistic universe, and reveal the artist's penchant for word-games and linguistic play. Or what do you think of these - The Windshield of the Nunnery (2007), Itching & Bitching (2007) and Cherry Pachaboys (2007) - just to mention a few recent ones? Räisänen leaves clues for his audience with these names, but they also work as an independent literary discipline, through which the artist separates himself from the unnamed quality of modernistic paintings. The humoristic nature of the names also highlights the visual humour apparent in Räisänen's works. His humour if often black and mischievous and he doesn't shy away from sex as a subject. In the end of the 90's a stick-figure with monstrous testicles could be found in many of his paintings. This wasn't as much an alter ego of the artist, but more like a character on a TV-show, who appears regularly in every episode and whose life becomes important and meaningful for us.
In 2002 Räisänen started working on paper, which, coupled with the textual, freed up his art. What are the recurring themes in Räisänen's art? Music, movies, other artists, the Third Reich, football. Does this then mean that Räisänen a fan of these things? Not all of them, but some. He is a good fan in the sense that he very clearly and openly announces the objects of his passion and admiration. He is also one of the few artists I know who can objectively look at the works of others and appreciate very different ways of making art. This makes him a well liked teacher, who is interested in helping art students find their own style without enforcing his own view. Räisänen's talent for understanding a wide array of styles is also apparent in the way that his own works range from the almost Baroque to the nearly monochromatic. Themes, too, vary considerably. Every now and then the artist has painted famous footballers, and some time ago a series of different Nazis was completed. In the autumn of 2007 the artist painted a series of works picturing candles.
Another matter is Räisänen's paintings that refer to art history and contemporary art. Gangbang mit Wolfgang of course refers to the German artist Wolfgang Tillmans with its naked men. On one painting the words "half ronson" can be found, and this refers to the Swedish artist Rolf Hanson. I myself have had the honour to observe how Janne has begun a drawing of a Renaissance figure in a museum in Rome. The result was undeniably Räisänen, but in a renaissance framework. The freestyle approach has worked in the artists work. His artisan nature is apparent in the names of the works, for instance in Side Effects of Acrylic, Marker and Oil on canvas (2006), which is a study of acrylic and oil paint and marker on a canvas. The artist has wanted to reflect on the how these materials interact, and the end result of this coming together. The artisan nature of Räisänen is somehow reminiscent of the Finnish sculptor Kain Tapper (1930-2004), who picked up a piece of wood, stated scratching on it and created some very fascinating results. Räisänen takes a canvas and starts manipulating it with the same passion as his colleague sculptor. Both men are so charming, that even if you didn't know who they are, you'd still known that they are Someone.
Janne Räisänen's paintings form a group of versatile fantasies. These fantasies become tangible through their material nature. Räisänen's oeuvre is baffling in its versatility, because he has also produced three-dimensional sculptures and now and then the paintings include relief-like surfaces. In addition to this, performance pieces and his way of constructing an exhibition have to be included into his oeuvre. Among his artist friends, Räisänen is a particular favourite assistant around the time of an exhibition, because his eye for hanging an exhibition is considered legendary. He somehow manages to look at the works in such an objective manner that the works being hung seem to be born again. Räisänen has yet again performed his magic, and brought out meanings from the works hung.
The artist sums himself up in the following manner: "I really like the superficial. If you really immerse yourself in the superficial, you'll really end up in deep waters. I don't know how to swim, but there you can swim undisturbed. And you won't drown." Not drowning is a given, for his talent holds the artist afloat, like a cork.