KATI IMMONEN in wonderland: there is war, there are demonstrations

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful young woman called Kati Immonen*. She was an incredibly talented artist who, after experiencing different forms of graphical expression, fell in love with watercolours to which she decided to devote all her skills and imagination. Witty and sparkling, Kati did not want to paint the traditional landscapes and flowers that come to people’s mind in association with watercolours – although she appreciates them too. She wanted to tell about wars, about demonstrations, about environmental issues, in brief: today’s world. At the same time,  she wasn’t yet ready to say the playful world of children tales goodbye… One fine sunny winter day, we met at her atelier in Turku to discuss about the collision of these two worlds…

"Talvisota" album

"Talvisota" album

– Your last solo exhibition at Gallery Kalhama&Piippo was called “Riskiperimä” (“Inherited Risks”, 2010 – in English) and was focusing on the Finnish Winter war. This theme has been present in your work for many years now and started with your watercolour album “Talvisota” (“Winter war”, 2005-2006 – in English). Aren’t you afraid of being catalogued an official painter of the Winter war post tempore?

– I wouldn’t like to be catalogued a winter war painter but over the last years, I have been inspired

"Sotasatu" album (detail)

"Sotasatu" album (detail)

by this theme a lot, and by the Lotta’s in particular. In Finland, we are taught only with praise about this period of our history and as I grew up, I wanted to emancipate myself from this one-directional teaching because war should not be lauded! War is a terrible thing in any country’s history.

In my album “Talvisota”**, I wanted to explore how a certain type of humour could be applied to war, resulting from a sort of collision between the world of “fairy tales” and the world of “war”. There are little characters from children tales glancing at war scenes, characters from fairy tales imported into war scenes, etc. I like to think that they make the all theme of war a little lighter to bear, turning the pages of the album as if you were turning the page of a story book.

– Your models, especially your portraits,  are rather realistic. What are your sources?

"Riskiperimä" installation at Gallery Kalhama&Piippo, 2010

"Riskiperimä" installation at Gallery Kalhama&Piippo, 2010

For “Talvisota”, I used various public documentary sources: historical

photo album detail

photo album (detail)

accounts from newspapers, books, pictures, etc. For “Riskiperimä”, it was more personal: I turned to a photo album that existed in my family. It is a strange album because my father, who was an orphan during the second war, has never been able to name a single person from his family as represented in the album. Quite clearly, some people in the pictures have his very clear eyes, similar features but there is nobody we remember of. Besides this was a period of his life, my father was not willing to talk about. Few years ago, as he wanted to get rid of it, my mother gave it to me thinking it would be in good hands… My father was very moved after visiting the exhibition at Kalhama&Piippo because the whole album came to life somehow.


work in progress

work in progress

– On your working table, I see some more “winter war” portraits in the making…


– They will probably be the last ones in this vein. I feel I am now able to turn to some other themes, although I am not yet sure which ones.

As we talk about the themes present in your work, another one is the protection of environment. You have notoriously painted animals demonstrating for their own rights and protection – a series called“aktivisti eläimet” (2008)



– I wanted to turn to something more political. These animals are also fighting against



unemployment, for a more environmental friendly lifestyle. To those who understand Finnish, I hope their banners sound very humorous. There is, for example, a polar bear saying “isn’t it irritating that you hardly can find nougat ice-cream from anywhere…”, a mouse simply saying “I can’t take it anymore”, cats asking for “good people” to lead them but at the same time saying that “cats are idiots”, etc.

– Your environmental concerns were appearing at a very early stage with “Puhdistus” (2002), a very flattering series of multicolored butterflies underlining the adaptability of these insects to their environment through their change of colour. Maybe environment is also your next theme…



“Puhdistus” exhibition at Ama gallery Turku (2003)


– Minna Lappalainen*** – who has an atelier neighbouring to Kati’s – and I are working on a project with Turku Energia. The idea is to curate as series of art works to be displayed on electricity boxes. Minna pushed this idea through transforming dull electricity boxes into an art space in harmony with its environment. Could “environmental art” could qualify this approach…? It might be interesting to have some animal activists demonstrate there… we’ll see!

– As you plan to switch to another theme, do you plan to switch to another technique too after ten years of exclusivity in watercolour art?

– No!!! I tried a more expressionist way of painting while I was an art student but after I started to work with watercolour the thought of turning to anything else has never crossed my mind. Watercolours offer endless possibilities of playing with shades and transparencies and I love that.

– Is there a painter in watercolours you admire, one you could say is guiding your work?

– I admire Petri Hytönen’s work because of his technical mastery but also because he has a great sense of humour in his works!



* Kati Immonen’s website: http://www.katimariaimmonen.com/

Kati Immonen’s atelier is located in the Alpha building, Turku. I very much enjoyed taking some pictures of her working environment in the wide sense of the term the day we organized the interview http://www.flickr.com/photos/49478590@N04/sets/72157626002165061/

** Her watercolours album “Sotasatu” just returned from Turkey were it was successively shown at Platform-Garanti in Istanbul and K2-gallery in Izmir. She will also comment it at the Lotta museum 4th March as from 12:15  http://www.lottamuseo.com/eng/index.html

*** Minna Lappalainen’s website: http://minnamaijalappalainen.net/

**** Petri Hytönen’s website: http://www.petrihytonen.com/ Kati Immonen and Petri Hytönen have both been part of the collective exhibition “Play time” at the Nordic watercolour museum http://akvarellmuseet.org/Kultur_Default.aspx?id=47012 .



Meet with Kati Immonen at the Lottamuseo in Tuusula: 4th March 12:15. She will present her album”Sotasatu” .

Collective exhibition at Pyhäniemen kartano www.pyhaniemenkartano.fi This is a beautiful concert (also in the gardens) and exhibition manor located close to Lahti and KatiImmonen’s work will be displayed alongside Pekka Jylhä’s, Panno Pohjolainen, etc. It constitutes an ideal summer excursion from Helsinki (one and half hour drive) if you happen to visit then. Opening/vernissage: 2nd July 2011 14:00-18:00 ; exhibition and concert programme 3rd July 2011 – 14th 2011 August 11:00-18:00; different types of access passes – for further details please consult their site.

Visit the Nordic Watercolour Museum: the Akvarellmuseet http://akvarellmuseet.org/Kultur_Default.aspx?id=47012 opened in 2000 and has an extensive collection of watercolours by Nordic artists. It also organizes temporary exhibitions focusing on contemporary watercolour art (next in line: Julie Nord, Emil Nolde and as from 25.9.2011 “Mexico – poetry and politics” which seems very promising. It is located in Skärhamn, about 50 km North from Göteborg.

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