Elizabeth Xi Bauer gallery is happy to share an interview with Karoliina Hellberg, a Finnish artist, whose vibrant works are full of symbolic meaning. Karoliina lives and works in Helsinki. She graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts, Helsinki in 2015 and has also studied at the Slade School of Fine Art, London in 2013. Hellberg has exhibited internationally, with solo shows in Finland, Russia and numerous group shows across Europe. Karoliina has exhibited her works in institutions and art museums in Finland, such as Helsinki Art Museum, Kiasma Contemporary Art Museum & Didrichsen Art Museum who collected her work after she won the Pro Arte award, a top yearly award for emerging artists, as well as European institutions Finnish Institute in Saint Petersburg and Finnish Institute in Stockholm. She was awarded a grant for artistic endeavours by the Finnish Cultural Foundation. Karoliina Hellberg’s works are held in private collections in Europe.
Q: Could you tell us a bit more about the imagery that you use for your works? Do they carry any symbolic meaning?
A: Yes of course – I do have a visual vocabulary that I don’t usually reveal directly to the viewer, but I use it as my personal language or sometimes as a play or motivation for me in painting; something that I use to make notes about things that have happened to me or others around me, they could also be secrets or feelings. People and events in my pictures can be viewed through symbols: someone is for example a cigarette and another one a snake or a waterlily. Especially in my bigger paintings, I build the image in sort of a “collage”- kind of way, there can be many stories and symbols in one painting. I like the idea that the viewer can project their own feelings or symbolism in the paintings I make as I don’t see my own symbolic meanings as the only truth or reading for the work and like the idea that the work can live its own life without too many explanations from me. They should be able to survive without them.
Q: What is your process when creating artworks? Can you please describe your state of mind when you are creating something?
A: I tend to work with several images simultaneously at the studio but usually, within one day I concentrate only on one specific work and turn the others around so I don’t see them. The ability to focus and concentrate is very important in the working process. I aim to go to the studio daily to keep things constantly moving and ideas evolving. The more you paint the more interesting the process becomes. I rarely sketch or plan my works beforehand. It’s more like one thing leads to another, you can’t predict all the choices you’ll make in a painting, how you will feel about it or what you might need to solve in the painting. I find that painting has a lot to do with kind of problem-solving; you might find that something is not working for you in the image but you can’t really go back in it either, you might need to put something next to it so that you find it somehow does it for you, which means that it feels right and sincere. There can be many different states of mind in which one finds themselves creating and painting, but the things I value the most in creating something is sincerity, concentration and perseverance. You have to care sincerely about the work you are making in order to be able to concentrate on it and for it to go further, and I believe that’s the only way it might be meaningful for someone else as well.
Q: Could you elaborate on the meaning behind the pieces featured at The Cholmondeley Ladies exhibition at Elizabeth Xi Bauer gallery?
One of the themes of the exhibition beautifully curated by Maria do Carmo M.P. de Pontes at Elizabeth Xi Bauer gallery is repetition and the title of the exhibition is a reference to the wonderful and well-known British painting from the 16th century of which the author remains unknown. I was drawn into the idea of “doubles” and pairs, and the repetition that they can create. In the “Cholmondeley Ladies”- painting the women pictured are like twins at the first sight, but then with a closer look there are clear differences in their appearances, and that among other things creates an interesting atmosphere and an air of mystery to the painting. You find clues and information in the painting with a closer inspection that seems to lead to that mystery that is left unsolved. In the works I show at the exhibition, I use, for example, snakes and oyster shells as a reoccurring theme. The snakes can be seen as healers in their mythological symbolism and they do have a positive connotation for me. The duality of menace and help or their capacity to shed their skin is fascinating and yet bizarre.
Q: Who or what inspires you?
A: People that become important to me, stories and mysteries. Other painters. So many different and sometimes surprising things might appear to be inspiring, it’s hard to know beforehand what might lead to feeling inspired, but the beauty is that you definitely know when it does happen!
Q: You work in different mediums, how do you choose which medium to use for a new piece?
A: The ideas and concepts for three-dimensional works which I do in, for example, glass, bronze or ceramics with the help of artisans – always come from the world of the paintings I make. I pick up visual and symbolic elements from the works and start to think in which material it would be interesting and fitting to bring it into being in the three-dimensional to come outside from the painting. So the two-dimensional painting always precedes the objects in different mediums.
Interview with Karoliina Hellberg by Mariia Kashchenko