The Visceral, Existential Portraits of Reima Nevalainen, Finland’s 2016 Young Artist of the Year
The young Finnish artist Reima Nevalainen has compared his work to the study of both anatomy and archeology. His dark and existentially loaded works fall somewhere between painting and collage. Using unconventional materials such as cardboard and sand, he depicts bodies twisted in impossible poses, with faces smudged and barely perceptible in a muted palette of gray, sepia, and dusty red.
This month, Nevalainen was honored with Finland’s Young Artist of the Year 2016 award, a distinction that will bring him a solo show next year at Tampere Art Museum. The award, intended to honor artists under 35 with an international appeal, is an appropriate fit the painter, who recently spent two years abroad in Japan—years during which he completed daily drawings, posted them to his blog, and expanded his practice into photography. “Living in the midst of Japanese aesthetic traditions in Kyoto...energized and intoxicated me,” he has explained. Still, Nevalainen is primarily focused on painting, which has garnered him acclaim in his native country and is beginning to draw attention from other parts of the globe.
His unsettling assemblages of mutated humans are viscerally driven: he has said he “tries to forget concepts, names … conventions and things regarded as self-evident” in his work. For Nevalainen, the way a moment is remembered, is often more interesting than the physical reality of that moment.
Throughout Nevalainen’s work, a single figure appears in several forms, and whether or not the figure is a a self-portrait is left up to the viewer. His paintings highlight the basic discomfort hidden within the human form through soft and subdued colors, clearly influenced by the landscapes of his native country. The softness of this spectrum and the artist’s delicate hand suggest a melancholy sense of introversion. It’s an impressive feat, considering the trappings of his images—hollow eyes, blank faces, half-formed bodies.
But for Nevalainen, the process of making a work is a process of discovery rather than perfectly planned execution. “A painting is formed of many layers of images,” he has noted, “and painting can be a form of archaeological excavation of these buried layers.”