Ilkka Väätti's art involves inconspicuous stealing. He pinches little things here and there, without anyone noticing they have gone missing. I dare say that Väätti is a pictorial kleptomaniac, who cannot help himself. Don't get me wrong, however. The artist himself will be the first one to admit his guilt.

The methodology of Väätti's painting is strongly eclectic. He picks up details from various kinds of historical material, straightens and crops them, then raises them to the centre of his own work. He has been seen as an ethnographer and an explorer of the memory of mankind, as a hunter of archetypes. But his accuracy and systematic approach should also be understood as formal pictorial thinking. Väätti's sources can be far removed from each other both temporally and spatially. It is pointless for the viewer to try and trace a particular cultural-historical viewpoint, as a good topic can come from anywhere. The logic of his art can be found not from the original subject, but from the mechanism of magnification and focusing, the microscopy of pictorial crafting.

It should be noted that the pictorial preform framed by Väätti is often decorative in origin. It can be a section of a floor mosaic, a part of a pattern on a fabric, or some seemingly irrelevant detail. Generally speaking, it is a fragment, and a reminder of the ornamental lavishness that European modernism once wanted to ban and abandon. This is precisely one of the charming paradoxes in Väätti's art: An artist raised in the purity of modernism smuggles ornaments to the center of his painting. The pleasure of the forbidden fruit has been partially denied, however, as the result - a magnified and reorganized detail - successfully masks itself as a continuation of the 20th century tradition, as a geometrical, abstract painting.

Despite the seemingly contradictory basis, Väätti creates cohesive and recognizable art. The diversity of the original pictures behind his works blends into unity. This effort is not only visual - Väätti's works have no exact form or pictorial programme - but also a deeper attempt to see the possibility for the centre of the world in whatever catches the artist's eye. If Väätti's method is like an admirably focused microscope, his personal point of view expands as wide as the Earth. Very often, the context of Väätti's art is ideological. Still, it would be a simplification to explain this with his interest in old maps and cosmology, and to see the paintings with their diverse roots as map points in a larger picture. Instead, I assert that each work in its own presence without a vanishing point is much more than a memory of the original fragment, pilfered without permission. In its birth, each work takes the place of the centre and prompts us to view the world from it. Therefore, the embryo of a world view is before us at any given moment, precisely where we see it.

Jyrki Siukonen
Translation Mikko Alapuro

1993, oil and putrido on wood, Ø 60 cm


Since 1993, Ilkka Väätti has been working on a series of works called Mundus. It consists of works with a common basis: They are all part of the artist's own research project - history writing in a visual form, so to speak. The themes of these works come from the cultural images of the past and of different continents; Ilkka Väätti has studied thousands of them. After choosing a pictorial detail or full image, he borrows it as the theme of his work and presents his own interpretation of it.

Väätti's works are ostensibly quite abstract, but at the same time, they represent existing pictures, which ties them to the realistic tradition. Perhaps that is why his works often feel somehow familiar, even if you have never seen them before? This familiarity is partly due to the artist's personal handprint and the expectations associated with it. On the other hand, the forms and colours of these works can vary in unexpected ways, and yet remind the viewer of something.

Why did Väätti start digging the past in the first place? One of the works precipitating the Mundus series was a commissioned piece called Time, sun and world, which Väätti made for the Messukylä school in Tampere in 1992. The artist began to feel that offering a pure abstraction for a school environment was rather harsh, so he started looking for a visual framework in the school's immediate surroundings. He chose the ancient symbols found in the medieval stone church of Messukylä as the formal starting point for his installation. This solution was the beginning of the artist's personal and systematic project of pictorial mapping. It also signified a new form of historical representation that also had a pedagogical function - traditionally, schools have produced images associated with the past almost exclusively by literary means.

Väätti describes himself as a cultural nomad, who is interested in archetypal pictorial material and collective memory heritage. He pays particular attention to those basic forms that appear in different cultural and historical environments. These universal contents - according to Carl Jung, at least - are based on people's collective consciousness. On the other hand, the choice of pictorial theme is also a process of individual psychology. It requires identification with the creators of these pictures, finding a link, and a similar formulation of questions.

Studying Väätti's works does not necessarily require knowledge of their historical backgrounds. The works function as individual entities, and can be interpreted purely through the beauty of the forms, colours and compositions. Awareness of the previously existing sources of inspiration almost unavoidably arouses curiosity, however, leading to a desire to find the primary sources. Still, I believe that even then, only Väätti's cropping and choice of focus help us see that which would have otherwise been obscured by history or one's own consciousness. He lifts up his subjects for closer inspection in a way reminiscent of the development of eyesight: One must learn to look close in order to see far.

Tapio Suominen
Translation Mikko Alapuro