Raija Jokinen interview: Figurative textile art
Finnish artist Raija Jokinen began creating figurative textile art in 1990 after graduating from the University of Arts and Design in Helsinki. Raija’s work combines painting, paper making, graphics and textiles to explore the relationship of our emotional and physical surroundings. With her colleague, Leena Lukkarinen, Raija started the Northern Fibre event which is a forum for international artists to exchange ideas and cultural perspectives.
In our interview Raija tells us about her process of ‘drawing’ and ‘painting’ with fibers and talks further about the Northern Fibre event.
My way of thinking
TextileArtist.org: What initially captured your imagination about textile art?
What or who were your early influences and how has your life/upbringing influenced your work?
My mother did a lot of knitting, crochet and sewing like everyone in the 60s. It was every woman’s duty as there wasn’t that much stuff in the shops in Finland. She bought a green Husqvarna sewing machine and was kind enough to let me to use it at the age of five. The machine is still in the family, I use this along with two other similar sewing machines. My mother is also skilled at drawing and I remember watching her draw time after time. I would also look through photography books we had at home. Besides my mother, my great grandmother was an influence as she was the only person in the family who had an education in textiles. She attended weaving courses and received honours for her designs. I inherited her framed testimony from year 1922, which is now hanging in my working space. I suppose all this gave me an understanding of the possibilities.
What was your route to becoming an artist? (Formal training or another pathway?)
At the age of 15 I somehow found out that there is a profession called textile artist or designer and I didn’t need to think twice. After college I applied to the university to study textile arts but was not accepted until the third try. While waiting to get in I studied at the handicraft school to learn basic textile techniques. In the same year I was accepted to the University of Applied Sciences to study Fashion but I choose textiles. I graduated with the highest degrees and got a grant for it.
Paper yarn structures
What is your chosen medium and what are your techniques?
During my studies I concentrated on weaving and knitting and my focus was industrial textile design. I am interested in all techniques except printing (I haven’t done that much, though I have made print designs). I am fond of structures and my favourite techniques employ fibers and yarns. Technique is determined by the content and I felt I needed something else to free myself from the warp and weft. I researched the qualities of materials and ended up with the messy looking paper yarn structures that I used for sculptural forms. Gradually I started to add handmade paper and fibers to my work which eventually led using mainly fibers. At that point I started to sew again as I wanted to “draw” on the fiber surface. The technique I’ve developed combines painting, papermaking, graphics and textiles.
Besides my figurative textile art, I also do textile design and feel that I have my best skills in knitted structures and customer related services. That is also something that benefits my commissioned art.
How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?
My artistic approach is focused on the everyday feelings, situations and thoughts we all have. I observe the relationship of our emotional and physical surroundings, including our body and mind. Visually my works are based on body-related details, such as skin, blood vessels and nerve tracks and they intersect with the forms of roots or branches without representing either of them.
Focusing on the human being is the age-old subject in arts, and my approach to body and nature follows this path but hopefully I have found some new aspects when combining it with textile traditions. Textile arts in Finland have been relying more on nature and abstract expression – figurative textile art is not as common. In spite of the general subjects in my work, I am often surprised about viewers’ relationships to body-related issues. It appears to me that we have drifted far away from nature, including our bodies. However, this is not the case in fine arts where all topics are equally accepted. Perhaps this is why I want to shake up our perception of it.
Tell us a bit about your process and what environment you like to work in?
I use waste material from the spinning factory – the fiber roving that was cut during the spinning process. I bleach or dye the fibers in a small pot, then I brush them to separate the short and long fibers. That is the dusty stage in the process and I try to do that outdoors during the summer. Sometimes colorful fibers fly in the wind and I amuse myself thinking of how birds may use it in their nest building process.
Preparing the fibers can be compared to the process of artists mixing paint in former times. After preparing the materials I start to ‘draw’ and ‘paint’ with the fibers. I have a rough sketch for the outline but in practice the work is like painting and drawing, only with fibers. I add stitching to keep the fibers together and emphasize the image with ‘drawing’ and colors. The process for my figurative textile art can be seen on my website.
I have a studio in the basement of the block of flats where I live. My studio is quite small. Some ten years ago I got a commission for a piece that was longer than my studio! I made the parts for the artwork and after composing the pieces I laid them out on the street, ran up to the third floor to our flat and looked out from my window to see the full view of it. You just have to find tricks to cope with the situation.
The past as inspiration
Do you use a sketchbook?
Yes, I keep a book with me all the time. I especially try to use it on public transport – It’s a good place to follow your fellow passengers and draw up some gestures, body positions and facial expressions.
What currently inspires you and which other artists do you admire and why?
I am inspired by all kinds of images, people, buildings, dance performances, materials, colors, plants… I do some gardening too, which is an endless source of inspiration. I enjoy browsing the web and looking for artists’ web sites. I enjoy my colleague Marian Bijlenga‘s works for the mathematical order they represent but also many others using free techniques.
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
My work has gradually moved from using paper to the use of fiber, still I occasionally jump back and return to something I’ve done years ago. The past is providing inspiration too as you tend to see it in different light today. I am constantly trying to find a better way to express my ideas, but I cannot say what it will be in the future.
Variety of patterning
Can you recommend 3 or 4 books for textile artists?
I love Japanese Nui project book with free embroidery and books of African Shoowa textiles with wonderful variety of patterning. I collect textile books and have many books of textiles in different cultures. They are all marvelous and inspiring.
What other resources do you use? Blogs, websites, magazines etc.
Everything I can find! I am addicted to the web and digital formats, but I also love all tangible things.
What piece of equipment or tool could you not live without?
Do you give talks or run workshops or classes? If so where can readers find information about these?
I’ve been teaching part-time for about 15 years and was a full-time lecturer for six years but I didn’t give workshops in my art. I taught mainly knitting, textile design and eTextiles. In 1995 I founded the textile art workshop event Northern Fibre. It has been organized on a voluntary basis five times in different Nordic countries and has helped textile artists to network. Voluntary work for textile arts is one of my passions.
How do you go about choosing where to show your work?
My fellow artist once said that an artist should carefully choose where to show as that builds an artist’s brand and reputation. Maybe he is right but I’ve also found it interesting to exhibit in many different places, whether in libraries or offices. For me exhibiting is a form of communication and I would like to reach many different kinds of viewers.
Where can readers see your work this year?
At the moment my works are in “Wexhibition” at the Nordic Textile Art Web Gallery and in EgeArt exhibition in Izmir, Turkey. In 2014 I’ll exhibit in Bratislava (Slovakia) and in group exhibitions in Istanbul (Turkey), Schwäbisch Gmûnd (Germany) and in Finland.
For more information on Raija visit: saunalahti.fi/raijoki
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