Henry Wuorila-Stenberg

Mika Hannula

“Throughout my life I have reflected on my motives in different ways. They have changed a lot. In the 1990s it became clear for me that the less I understand about painting, the better. Now I know that faith and confidence in one’s work do not require understanding of what you are doing, faith is more important for painting than understanding. I have also noticed that the less the people around me are interested in painting, the more important it has become for me to continue painting.

“Faith in painting does not need any ideology. I have been part of the scene for so long that I have seen ideologies change, I have seen how each new generation seeks power through its own ideology. This perspective has given me a detachment that has lessened the importance of ideology for me. Ideologies always exist in time. I used to try to fill my uncertainty with the prevalent ideologies, but I no longer believe in any of them. I am not convinced, not by my own explanations about the meaning of art, or by those of others.

“One very important motive is that painting gives me pleasure. It always has, even in the most difficult of times. My person and my character are very contradictory. Painting is the only way for me to truly bring things together and ease conflicts. The thing is that I have not been able to choose what I have done and why, I have always been compelled to follow the path which at that moment was for me the only one available. I have an easily wounded, heavy ego, and painting has helped me with that. It has also helped me in sorrow and in pain. And at the same time, it has drawn its power from them.”

The meaning of art?

“Painting is like home to me, it is the only place, the only area where I feel completely at home. It is like sitting, just like in Zen, where you don’t meditate on why you are sitting, you only focus on sitting itself, and suddenly to your great surprise you see where it is taking you and what things it opens up for you. One of the greatest mysteries of painting is that, however useless it is in itself, its meaning and consequences are tremendous. It moulds people. Painting does not really have a beginning or a reason, it is a continuum of changing viewpoints. The best description of painting is the myth of Sisyphus. When we are doomed to roll the block of stone, the best you can do is to love that rock.

“Painting as action must have no aim, no answers. When you name something as art, what you do is you give a name to the incomprehensible. A painter must work outside of all closed and fixed systems of meaning, his job is to paint and keep on painting. It is not important to understand, what is important is to go on, it’s the attitude with which we do it that’s important.

“Painting as a path has brought to me all the things that are important, also those things that have nothing to do with painting. I mean things like philosophy or relationships, the whole spectrum of everyday life. Painting is like a Tibetan prayer wheel (the drum that believers spin around in meditation), it keeps you out of harm’s way. It is like a prayer wheel because it keeps evil away. I believe that a painter is a relatively harmless person when he paints. When you paint with concentration, you can be far away from dark, evil feelings. But the moment you step out of the studio, they can take over your restless mind again. I have a lot of destructive forces in me. Art has enabled me to confront this darkness. The darkness has become more familiar, something I am able to handle. I have also seen that the ethical attitude is necessary (such as compassion) if you go into realms of shadow and darkness, because painting is a tool that can take you deep into the world of magic and sorcery. The unleashed powers can destroy the painter.

“I have been a painter for 30 years, and now I realise that painting is the only thing that I have constantly defended and have never forsaken. Likewise, painting has never forsaken me. In many situations it has been my only support. I am certain that painting is an activity that belongs to the sphere of good. It is an area where Good has been able to manifest itself.”

What, in your opinion, is an artist’s task?

“I think the ideal task for an artist is to be an idler, to do nothing, in the sense of having no meaning. Expressing myself in this particular time in this particular manner: in an age when efficiency, commercialisation and economic thinking seem to be the only justified way. Another important thing is that an artist should nourish tolerance, and walk voluntarily in the dark, protecting the light, to carry it over from one age to the next. I think that in history, spirituality and ethics are largely passed on in art. You might say that light for me is the sphere of ethics.

“An artist reveals and gives that which he can. People expect art to give something, I believe it is solace and vision, something that has to do with personal emptiness. This means that the artist’s task also involves an ethical dimension, which for me is the same as non-violence (this must not be taken as implying that a painting should not embody anger or aggressiveness). For me it means that I do not harbour evil intentions in my work. In other words, I do not have a need to lash out if someone asks me for help. Instead of a fist, paintings should offer solace. If you exhibit darkness and violent energies, you do so in the hope that the viewer will become aware of those forces, those things that are within oneself, in all of us. The purpose is to heal, not to make the darkness and the bogeyman frighten the viewer or cause anxiety.

“Darkness, evil and ugliness were denied and forbidden in Finland for a long time. Yet they are part of life, and it is important that they too are depicted. The viewer can see them in the works, recognise their existence, and realise that he is not alone with the burden of these things. The viewer can find himself in the works. I think Finns have a solid relationship to their unconscious. It moves people and they react to it, yet at the same time it is neglected in painting. The reasons are historical, already surrealism was denied, for political reasons of course. Surrealism never became an organised movement in Finland, nor in Nazi Germany, even though it spread practically throughout the rest of Europe. This has had a considerable influence on Finnish art, as seen for example in a negative attitude towards imagination, play and automation in painting.

“I have used imagination quite a lot in my work. I see it as a sort of paradise and a field of light. By the word ‘imagination’ I do not mean something imaginary, fantastical vision or thought, it is a state of mind that transcends the division into subject and object, it is simultaneously the deed, its content and its foundation.”

Mika Hannula, “Kaikki tai ei mitään. Kriittinen teoria, nykytaide ja visuaalinen kulttuuri.” Kuvataideakatemia, Helsinki 2003