"Vesa's art is amongst the most integrally advanced in the history of Western abstraction – no small claim, but one backed up by the works themselves. Rather than abstraction as a fleeing from life, his works are a diving into the incarnate mystery of human being – direct celebrations of the fullness of Life." Michael Schwartz, Professor of History and Philosophy of Art, Augusta State University, March 2014
“Close your eyes”, he tells me. “Take two deep breaths.” A simple relaxation exercise begins. Once I feel that numbing feeling begin to filter down my body, the next step guides me to a positive place. Afterwards I am surprised to find that I feel thoroughly, thoroughly relaxed. This is Finnish artist Vesa Kivinen’s demonstration of how he gets to a personal level with the models he works with.
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Vesa's works from this link.
I would describe Kivinen’s art as first and fore mostly a study of human experience and connection. It is a collaboration of topics; a personal process of working with the experiences of the model, and an appreciation for the raw human form. Who we are when we stand naked. On another level it is a yearning to understand our religious past and find harmony with it in our present. In sum, it searches and appreciates where we have arrived in our development both spiritually and scientifically.
Kivinen is the architect of a new technique called Artevo combining painting and photography. Artevo is a portmanteau word combining art and evolution. Art is painted on woman’s skin, and the model is photographed. Kivinen aims to create a frame where a story can take place for the protagonist, to allow the individual to experience their own story and something more.<
You’ve created a new form of art. Can you describe what it is?
Body painting is mostly associated to women having their breasts painted as footballs in sporting events in order to sell beer. Even amongst the best, it is rare that the expression goes beyond aesthetic beauty and visual trickery to intellectual content and emotional processes. The models don’t get to offer more than their bodies as a canvas.
There’s maybe a moment of erotica when someone undresses in front of you, that’s only natural. But the moment the paint comes on, it vanishes.
My background is in filmmaking so working with the model as a collaborator is as natural as working with an actor to make the story come alive. My work is to create a frame in which the story can naturally take place for the character. One in which the real life person gets to experience their own story line and perhaps go beyond it.
Another way bodies are depicted are in oil painting and photography is in decay. This to me, is as shallow as the mere glorification of the prime state of health and youthfulness. Even if decay is reflective of a lot of what is going on, for me good art does not only need to be a mirror of our society but can also offer a vision where we are headed. While something old crumbles something new is always emerging.
Traumatic experiences, fears, mental barriers and stressful life situations have proven a fertile springing board to creating an evolving art piece that lasts as something of value. It is emotional alchemy. How to transform the negative into something creative and positive both personally and for society. The eternal relationship of our world as an incomprehensible mystery and what is understandable about it inspires the intellectual content around it. This is what I aim to bring with Artevo.
My method is a mixture of a variety of disciplines from traditional painting to body painting, photography, digital processing and high quality printing to make something fresh. But I would say I’m an entrepreneur even more than I am an artist. Innovation is pretty much the lifeblood of any enterprise.
What is your goal in art?
The challenge is to re-introduce to society the idea of our spiritual origins without dogma and theocracy as the source of inspiration for art, merging age old themes with current issues. Being stuck in between Richard Dawkins and an equally dedicated Jehovah’s Witness is my idea of a time that could be better spent. Both perspectives seem a little detached.
To me, God never died. Our interpretation of what God is did. Spirituality and religion are two very different worlds. Spirituality describes personal empowerment through responsibility, where religion mostly seems to be about giving our personal power away.
If religion to you means respect and freedom to explore our world through various disciplines without rigid concepts of should and shouldn’t, then we are on the same page. The esoteric, societal and personal need to be present in order for the piece to qualify as Artevo, which is what I named this mixed media form of art.
I get the impression that the work is also a lot about the models.
Being naked is a really vulnerable place to be. You’re naked on multiple levels. But once you get past that, that’s where you can find strength. I think it’s really courageous; I’d be terrified to do it myself!
But that’s where the real power is. I’m inspired by people’s courage.
You’s started something new. What reactions do you expect?
My friend Rory Winston once said: “Sibelius took a lot of ideas from Wagner and his national romanticism was already old fashioned from a global perspective. Stravinsky and Shostakovich were already re-inventing music.” Us Finns don’t have a tradition of being groundbreakers in the arts internationally.
I love the 7th symphony and fully appreciate what Jean did for our national self-esteem but to value him as an innovator is simply not true. Having said this, to say I’ve invented a whole new field in art comes across as rather suspicious for many.
I expected many to be critical. The auspicious reactions have thus far mostly come from abroad. In Finland the art was presented as not more than pretty pictures, and I have been presented as someone impressed by bare glossy boobies, as written in Helsingin Sanomat article on my Veena Malik project. This, of course, is false as I’m much more of an appreciator of the female hip and bottom area.
What is your most memorable project?
In the Veena project I painted landscapes on the body of Bollywood actress Veena Malik. The core was simple even if the execution was elaborate. I would sum it up as: the same force that grows mine or Veena’s fingernails, the forest in Pakistan, Finland, China or the US, is the same invisible force everywhere.
The whole thing started from an email and was ultimately well received by hundreds of millions of people all over the world. It was made possible by grace under pressure, a few miracles, an uncomfortable personal investment and some material sponsors.
The project became current again as Veena is now facing 26 years of jail time in her home country Pakistan due to blasphemy charges. To me it has stayed current for many reasons. It never got presented as what it was.
The more intellectual rationalisation for the main piece “Flower of Life” comes from the integral theorist and philosopher Ken Wilber. He summed up how our four main patriarchal religions are at fundamental odds with values of older matriarchal religions. My innovation was how to present those ideas and symbols in a visual form.
What have you been working on recently?
My latest project LUX carries on from where the Veena works left. It offers more tangible solutions and ideas on how to fix our energy crises. First it is about identifying sun appreciation and worship as a common denominator in most of our cultures. It is the one constant humanity knows and through photosynthesis; we are already solar powered in many ways.
The work of the Desertec Foundation really opened my eyes to the amount of panels needed locally to power the whole planet without the cost of pollution.
The piece has our national tradition of Kalevala merged with Egyptology as well as some solar panels, which will power an air purifier attached to its back. We will present the finished art piece in California at the 4th Integral theory conference in July 2015. If “Flower of Life” was the mother, LUX is the father.
What challenges have you faced?
People spend an average of five seconds with an art piece. To counter this artists have often started behaving like abandoned children.
That is, when not intentionally designed to be a marketable product to comfort upper middle class walls. A lot of fine art is boring, but killing beauty from art all together seems like a bad move.
So there is a challenge in finding appreciation for art, although all you need is an observational walk in a forest to completely trash the idea of beauty as innocence. It is something that often traps you as lunch.
It’s important that art has the liberty of exploring our half dark psyche in our obsessively advertising-saturated world.
It’s also a challenge to do something different from general expectations of what art is. I’m so bored with the phase “The important thing is to ask questions and not arrive at any answers.” Why does art need to be in a perpetual state of stupid? It’s equally important to find some answers that satisfy you personally and express them.
The only tangible realm I’ve found in life is the immaterial core of being outside of all things in material transit. Meditation and a few great teachers helped me to discover it as well as an Ayahuasca ceremony in Sac Be. Both Egypt and Mexico left me forever grateful.
What do you think affects how art is perceived?
Secularity has driven spirituality out of art, which to begin with was a positive phenomenon much like the emergence of feminism and white guilt. It’s great we got way from the world view of set ideas on how God is a man on a cloud watching you masturbate, women being oppressed and one race marching over everybody else. They all seem to have turned rather toxic however sometimes these days also.
Denying any understanding of our world in art after the dominance of religion ended was and is a very self-destructive collective decision. We are its image now.
Art should be free to explore ancient and new ideas about beauty, spirituality and purpose with as much freedom as it does excrement, ugliness and chaos. They are just perspectives. It’s been a long time since the church dictated what divine art should look like so re-defining purpose would be a tremendous benefit. This of course is not only a challenge in art.
What role does religion play in your work?
I perceived myself as an atheist till my mid 20s. It’s not until I discovered Alan Watt’s work that something transformative happened. He actually made sense out the world, which was previously – to me – about virgin births, making sure the earth was flat and how that nice man was nailed as a warning sign on that cross.
All of a sudden the mythological was made comprehensible. I challenge anyone rational and logical to listen to his On being God on YouTube and not have their fundamentalist atheist views compromised in one way or another.
What have been the major critiques of your work?
Some have brought up that it feels too “New Age” and that my collaborators are often youthful and attractive.
To be honest, I don’t think there are many academics who feel adequate in sufficiently critiquing the substance well unless if they happen to be fluent in Integral theory, NLP and esoteric knowledge as well as art history. I don’t want to come across high horse with this but it is my honest conclusion as to why the academics here seem to ignore Artevo. It is certainly not due to a lack of substance to those who are not purely pre-judging.
Why have you mostly collaborated with women?
Some of my collaborators have been professional actors, models or dancers but most are dentists, students, athletes and one contraction worker. With regards to painting more men, I would most certainly be excited about painting Gabor Maté, Eckhart Tolle or Jeff Bridges.
What inspires you?
I’m professionally curious and I want to leave this place better or at least not worse by being here.
Humans today are so brand orientated that fighting against it seems like a waste of energy. We no longer trust our institutions so we substituted that with a Starbucks logo and a quarterly profit. It does not matter how insane a McDonald’s hamburger is but eating it underneath that golden umbrella allows you to bathe under something seemingly steady.
What keeps me up at night is how to make Artevo into a brand like Tesla and the even more emerging Space Energy by Sage. In a field as intangible as art this can be rather tricky but completely transformative when successful.
My goal is to be a part of building a movement for modern art where it becomes a driving force for positive change.
What do you want to say about society?
Banks and corporations seem to be the ones who dictate where we are headed much more than politicians today but they have very limited desire for the whole structure to work long term to say the least. The seemingly untouchable monetary system needs as much of an overhaul as our ideas of styles of government before politics become interesting to me again. The only real PhD we are all soon qualified for without real change in these fields are burnouts and despair. But what I believe is: don’t hate the player, change the game.
How do you intend to do that?
One must be commercially successful before you are given the ‘talking stick’. A lot of my time goes into studying the inner workings of our monetary systems and new economic ideas. Bitcoin is interesting but still underground in most ways. Money certainly is not going away any time soon but modern banking could certainly encourage healthier behavior on a systemic level. This and the current state of modern art sales led me to innovate my own pricing system.
How did you get the idea?
At the turn of the millennium there was a crazy uprising in prices in modern art. This was not only due to an outrageous amount of money spent carelessly but art was also used in washing illegal money clean. When this bubble burst, the reputation of already considered risqué contemporary art was left in shambles for many.
Artists like Picasso and Koons were holding their value but some installations costing millions could be worthless the next day. It seemed as if the intrinsic value of art and the price of art were two completely separate things.
The age-old myth of the artist as a struggling and sick creator of value, from which others benefit, needs to be more balanced. The legend of how the game of chess was invented gave me an idea. What if I sold my art in a way that would benefit my early collectors with a predictable curve of value? Something that would be tied to limited resource availability and allow me as the artists to control it. What if every successive print would double its price and the edition is only limited by money, which is only numbers on a screen today? This would get me the resources to contribute to worthy causes as well as take care of my family’s well-being.
Why Artevo and not Vesa Kivinen?
For the same reason as Apple continues past Steve Jobs. I’m looking for other artists to join Artevo and make it their own. The process and its potential to continue after me takes center stage.
What are you most passionate about right now?
The awareness that just by walking in nature consciously for five minutes, you are likely to get more astonishment than anything that I can ever do in art.
Born in 1978
Graduated from Northumbria University in Media Production in 2003. Also holds a Master Practitioner Certificate of Neurolinguistic Programming, or NLP.
Visual artist, filmmaker and entrepreneur.
An inventor of a new art style Artevo (Art Evolving) which is a fusion of bodypainting, photography and printing.
His debut exhibition “Artevo” was held in Gallery Luova in Helsinki in 2009.
Currently working on a LUX project that is focused on depicting renewable energy as a future resource.
More info from his website, click here.
Edited by Merle Must and Alicia Jensen
Image: Vesa Kivinen