Kirsi Kivivirta, Pekka Paikkari, Kristina Riska & Kati Tuominen-Niittylä

9 - 30 September 2009

The four artists gathered in this exhibition represent the pinnacle of contemporary Finnish ceramics. All are well known both in Finland and abroad, with many national and international honours to their names. At the peak of their powers, technically and creatively, they have forged out of a common cultural inheritance unequivocally individual styles that speak to their own particular concerns. At the same time, however widely their pieces vary in scale, texture and sources of inspiration, encompassing vessel forms, wall pieces and free-standing sculpture, there is an underlying sensibility that they share.

These similarities are partly explained by education - three of the artists (Kati Tuominen-Niittylä, Kristina Riska and Kirsi Kivivirta) studied at the renowned University of Art and Design in Helsinki. In addition, there is a shared attachment to the particular landscape of Finland, and to its difficult history wedged between the empires of Sweden and Russia. All four revel in the natural properties of their chosen material, eschewing highly coloured glazes in preference either for the colours of the clay body itself, or for natural pigments and metallic oxides. These subtly various creams and ochres, terracottas, blacks and rusts, echo back and forth, suggesting imaginations attuned to the restricted palette of the Finnish countryside and to the limited materials - wood, clay, wool, bone, paper - readily available. In the ethereal, thin yellow light of the north, small contrasts - the black and white of birch bark, the blue of water beneath the ice, wood or brick buildings in the snow, the soft green of islands in vast blue lakes - become magnified.

Three of the four artists (Kati Tuominen-Niittylä, Kristina Riska and Pekka Paikkari) also work in adjacent studios in the legendary Arabia Art Department. Since 1937, high up on the ninth floor of the Arabia (today Iittala) Factory Building in Helsinki, chosen ceramic artists have been invited to set up shop, simultaneously designing pieces for manufacture and making unique, one-off works. This respect for individual creativity has been a corner-stone of Finland’s strong design tradition, and has enabled these artists to move freely between functional and non-functional forms, between designing products to please many and creating single pieces that allow them fully to express themselves.

For Kati Tuominen-Niittylä, a common thread in all her work is simplicity. Her lovely forms are inspired by the archetypal shapes of buckets, sieves, bowls and baskets still found on some farms, with solid, flat, bottoms and rounded handles. Her high-fired, often coarse stoneware clay, either thrown or hand-built, appears almost geological. And yet the surfaces, patinated with colouring oxides or carved with tools, revel in a sophisticated interplay of colours and textures.

In Kristina Riska’s large-scale, hand-built forms the highly expressive surfaces are matched by the dynamism of the material itself. Her large vessels echo back through time and place, recalling archaic pots or carved out boats, while her pierced and interwoven abstract pieces seem inspired as much by the contemporary architecture of the city as by more primitive dwellings. Architecture inspires Kirsi Kivivirta’s work, also, both as context and as subject matter. Her gentle ceramic surfaces and mosaics, which play with simple, geometric or organic shapes, enlivened by many small variations in colour, shape and structure, hesitate between abstraction and simple formalism. Her Chamber series engages more directly with illusion, and the pictorial potential of clay.

Haunted by pots, their long history and powerful symbolism, Pekka Paikkari finds a different creative freedom in his own wall and floor pieces. Unapologetically a sculptor, Paikkari embraces the accidents and raw facts of his profession, leaving the marks of hands and tools on his clay, working with rather than against the uncontrollable transformations of the kiln. Firing is the dramatic process that gives birth to his cracked and singed pieces, which sometimes incorporate bricks and other building materials, as though already freighted with history. This is ceramic art as archaeology, resonant with time and place.

Emma Crichton-Miller

Kirsi Kivivirta (b. 1959)

Kirsi Kivivirta established her own studio in Helsinki in 1988 after graduating from the University of Art and Design Helsinki in 1985. In addition to working as a ceramic artist, she has lectured both at the University and, since 2000, at the Annantalo Arts Centre (art education for children and young people). She has exhibited widely in Finland and has also participated in group exhibitions in Europe and Japan, winning an honorable mention at the 8th International Ceramics Exhibition in Mino, Japan in 2008.

Pekka Paikkari (b. 1960)

Pekka Paikkari studied at the Design Academy in Kuopio and the Humanities Polytechnic, Turku before becoming an artist and designer at Arabia in 1985. He has been involved in exhibitions in Japan, Korea, Australia and Venezuela in addition to many solo and group exhibitions in Finland and Europe. His work is in public collections such as the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, the Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park Museum, Japan and the Design Museum, Helsinki. He has worked on a number of public sculptures and is currently working on a project for the inaugural British Ceramic Biennial, which opens in October 2009.

Kristina Riska (b. 1960)

Kristina Riska graduated from the University of Art and Design Helsinki in 1984, before arriving at the Arabia Factory where she works as an artist and designer. She has exhibited widely both in Finland and Europe and has also been involved in exhibitions in Australia, Japan, Korea and America. Her works are represented in numerous public collections including the The Museum of Applied Arts, Helsinki, Gifu Museum, Japan and the collection of The Embassy of Finland, Washington DC. In 1995 she was awarded the ‘Madaglia D’oro’ at the Faenza International Competition of Contemporary Ceramic Art and in 2002 the silver medal at the International Ceramics Exhibition in Mino, Japan. She was the recipient of the Finnish State Prize in 1995.

Kati Tuominen-Niittylä (b.1947)

Kati Tuominen-Niittylä studied at the University of Art and Design Helsinki and has held a studio at the Arabia factory since 1980, where she works as an artist and designer. She has had numerous solo and group exhibitions in Finland and Europe as well as America, Japan and Korea. Her works are in public collections worldwide and she has been the recipient of many awards including the Finnish State Award for Industrial Art (1984), the Kaj-Frank Design Prize (2007) and the Grand Prix and honourable mention (1998) and the Gold Medal (2002) in Mino, Japan.

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