Artist profile: The World Through an Ironic Lens

Erkki Mykrä and the pieces ‘Jeue a injecter’ & ‘Trois Bloody Mary, photo by Karoliina Lehtinen

 

Erkki Mykrä is a Finnish sculpture artist who celebrates his 70 th birthday and 50 th anniversary as an artist this year. I had the pleasure of meeting him and discussing his interesting career and current exhibition Ruokailkaamme (Let’s Feast) in Galleria Harmaa, Turku.

We meet in front of the exhibition, where Mykrä is adding teeth shaped candy to a bowl. The candy is meant for visitors to taste. Mykrä guides me into the very detailed exhibition. The exhibition starts outside the actual exhibition room with a welcoming neon sign and a menu in French along with a few other sculptures. The menu is quite disturbing. It consists of human body parts that are packaged as fancy dishes. The main exhibition room consists of different dishes on separate tables and a video in the background. The video shows prestigious historical buildings and areas in Rome.

Exhibition “Let’s Feast” by Erkki Mykrä, photo by Karoliina Lehtinen

 

The contrast between the elevating background pictures and the artificial human body parts on fancy plates is notable. A laid-back music piece completes this collision. The exhibition offers a magnificent blast of tragic irony served in a very colourful package.

After the exhibition, we sit down for a cup of coffee and have an insightful conversation about Mykrä’s career and art. It was clear from a very young age to Mykrä, that he wanted to be an artist. At the age of 20, he moved away from his childhood hometown Heinola to study in Turku Art School. Later the school was made a part of the Turku Arts Academy. Mykrä knew from the very start that doing sculptures is the most natural form of art for him. At the time, doing sculpture art was not that common in Finland. However, the headmaster of the school saw his potential and released him from the obligatory drawing courses. Mykrä became the first sculpture student of the school. Irony has played a strong role in Mykrä’s work from the very beginning of his career.

Mykrä tells that the spark for this exhibition was generated from his concerns about the state of the world. “At times, I find it sad how violent our time can be. Spiritual and humane matters are not valued, and harshness and coldness are becoming more and more public and normal. I wanted to make the exhibition as grotesque as possible to underline the conflict between these values. Yet, the exhibition is also humoristic.” For Mykrä, the idea for a piece or exhibition comes first and then he chooses the materials that suit the idea. He does not see himself as an artisan, but he primarily spends most of the time thinking and then starts doing when he has a good idea. “Handcraft skills are important, but solely with those, you do nothing. You have to have the skills, but then you can forget them.”

Exhibition “Let’s Feast” by Erkki Mykrä, photo by Karoliina Lehtinen

 

Mykrä worked as a professor in Turku Art School for over ten years, while doing his own art, and this was something he used to teach his students. He feels being a sculptor is in a way similar to the profession of a musician. As a young artist, Mykrä made his living also as a musician for a while. Because of this, comparisons with music come naturally from him. “You have to practice, in order to keep up your skill, but that is only a part of the job.”

We also have a very interesting discussion about art in general. Mykrä sees that the job of an artist is to be an interpreter. That with art it is possible to make very hard issues at least somehow understandable. “There are dimensions in life that cannot always be clearly seen, but with art, we can try to open these up.” He takes an example from the music world. “The band The Beatles is a good example of successfully interpreting this world to an understandable form. They realized how to talk about the essential things in life in a way that was comprehensible to everyone.”

Our discussion about art wonders from music to literature and eventually, it is time to start
wrapping up the conversation. At the end of the interview, Mykrä reflects on an inspiring art quote from John Lennon: “Art is communication. We are art. You are art. This is art and there are no limits, art isn´t something that has a corner, it isn´t in a box.”

 

Interview by Karoliina / Kunstportal