Elina Aho: body parts freed by movement, inner history and intuition

Elina Aho, an artist and a psychologist, is portraying people or their body parts consistently exploring oil painting textures in an attempt to let a person’s inner story emerge, as her recent exhibition ”Body/images” at Galerie Oljemark demonstrates.  We met in her studio in Töölö shortly before the show was to start.

– What brought you to painting and more in particular to portraits?

–       Painting is a one of the most powerful mediums to explore the world. As a student in my last year of psychology, I got hooked by this art and started to attend painting classes intensively. I am exploring techniques that enable the expression of a form of ”embodied thinking”. I like the sensory experience of painting with oil, which opens to more awareness and thoughts. I mainly paint portraits, body parts and nudes because I am interested in human beings and human life, more specifically people’s complexity and identity.  In my current exhibition, I am paying attention to the flesh as an embodiment of a person’s inner world.

–       You are a psychologist by education and now further study dance therapy. How do painting and dance connect in your art?

–       Movement and dance are mediums supporting the exploration of our self-awareness, inner processes and history as well as our unconscious material. My current training in dance therapy helps me gather all my interests in creativity, psychology and brain science and use them to deepen my intuitive approach to painting. I work as a psychologist only episodically because it helps me balance my quite solitary life as an artist by interacting with very diverse people. I should stress that these part-time work episodes don’t keep me away from painting but rather enrich my life experience and ensure the financial stability I need to develop my art.

Do you use real models for your portraits?


–      I use models from time to time, including myself, and I surely like painting from live situations, especially when it resorts to landscapes (nda: they were recently exhibited in the Ruoholahti metro station). I also very much enjoy painting live models. I am almost always working from perception. The world of perception is so rich and offers endless exploration possibilities! I am however also very inspired by advertisement pictures. I translate my feelings towards what is often a stereotyped and polished, “on-the-surface” image of woman into oil portraits. I then want to bring out her fragility. When painting from an advertisement, I want this process to somehow free women from such condescension and add the depth of their inner world to their representation. I then paint from a visual imagery present in my mind followed by some mirror work to manage a proper expression.

–       Three years ago, one of your portraits was censored here in Finland. Could you tell us more about this?

–       After few days of exhibition, I was asked to remove a portrait called ”kaipaus” (”longing”) that was exhibited at the Cable Factory in Helsinki. I was told the girl’s expression was too shocking and people were disturbed after looking at the painting… It was indeed a so far unique and very strange experience.

–       Today’s contemporary scene is dominated by conceptual art and the research of shocking experiences when it comes to bodies.  Do you feel that classical figurative painters still have a say today?

–       I am not receptive to conceptual art. I prefer the warmth of figurative art: painting real people, their inner world exhibited on their body and by constantly work on my techniques to be able to better express my perceptions. I am open the perspective of integrating painting with dance and performance however but I don’t see it impact on my figurative approach.

One of the most fascinating questions in art history is the one of the representation of bodies and their movement not only because it requires understanding – and accepting – a form imposed by a two-dimensional perspective but also because such questioning enables to reach the very essence of movement and this perhaps in its ability to define the self and its shell: our body. Over the last century, dance and performance arts have grown alongside visual arts, but recently some artistic phenomena’s have brought this connection under a new light – let us alone consider Trisha Brown’s work. Elina Aho’s professional background, her openness and dedication will certainly propel her at forefront of such explorations.


  • In your agenda’s this month:


Elina Aho’s ”Body/images” exhibition is visible at Galerie Oljemark www.galleriat.net/oljemark from 3rd November to 28th November. Two meetings with the artist are scheduled: Saturday 20th November 12:00-15:00 and Saturday 27th November 12:00-15:00. To know more about her work, please consult: http://elinaaho.carbonmade.com/www.galleriat.net/oljemark , www.nayttely.info ,


  • At the forefront of the graphical explorations with ”Body parts” – and possible censorship:

Daniel Gordon www.danielgordonstudio.com is an impressive young photographer who manages tridimensional effects in his collage works on body parts. Gordon’s work will culminate in a book on “Body parts” to be released next autumn.

Ashkan Hornarvar www.ashkanhornarvar.com is brilliantly exploring a world of mutilations and the impact of disease and war on the body. Last year, the city of Haarlem in the Netherlands “censored” – it was a more complex mechanism – his work because it was felt to be shocking and inappropriate for display in a public place, such as the Haarlem City Hall that welcomed his joint exhibition with Sander Reijgers www.sanderreijgers.nl and Adrian Brun www.adrianbrun.com on the theme of “corporality and intimacy”. His series “Meat” – visible on his website – is certainly more explicit than his “faces” series which was so decried at the time. What do you think: was Elina Aho or Ashkan Harnarvar censored work “shocking” enough to justify their works being removed from public space?


  • When dance, performance and painting collide:

Trisha Brown http://www.trishabrowncompany.org is not only an iconic American dancer and choreographer but also a successful drawer creating large-scale pieces with charcoal, oil sticks, etc. using her whole body to draw during much awaited performances at the end of which her graphical work is sold.  

  • On the art of perspective


Daniel Arasse Histoires de Peintures, Denoël, 2004: some must-read chapters on the fascinating history of the adoption of two-dimensional perspective by Western civilization.

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