Joakim Ojanen: Island
Joakim Ojanen’s artistic practice consists of ceramics and oil paintings. He is essentially self-taught in both mediums, having worked in animation and character design before studying illustration. Ojanen is a character-maker: his sculptures and paintings always show cartoon-like figures with exaggerated features that at first seem funny and playful but possess layered, nuanced personalities and emotional depth. He builds his characters carefully so that they balance between the comical and the tragic, using the objects they carry, their clothes and their pets as elements that reveal their personality.
Each work by Ojanen is an expression of his own thoughts and memories, like self- portraits that exist outside a linear perception of time. He describes his characters as being children and adults at the same time, like a condensed expression of personal memory and experience. As such, his works are also about growing up; for some, they capture that strange feeling of being a child that grew up too fast, as they can reveal the accumulation of life’s experiences and our constant negotiation between our personal history and living in the present. This is also why he sometimes talks of his works as being like pages of a diary, where each page captures a specific mood and emotion, but all combined create a continuous red line that runs across his entire work.
Ojanen’s visual language is deeply rooted in his early love for comics and graffiti. It is also reminiscent of Philip Guston’s later work and influenced by the imaginative and unconforming work of zine artists and self-publishers. He consciously avoids clear outlines and solid color fields, taking extra time and effort to add texture in every shape he paints, resulting in a signature visual style that is at the same time cute and unsettling. His paintings are very tactile, always preferring oil instead of acrylics and using the paint’s thickness to accentuate shadows and forms on the canvas. In ceramics he has found the perfect medium to achieve this tactility: the surface of his sculptures is always uneven and full of traces from their handmade process, painted in a muted palette and given a lustrous glazed finish that brings the whole work to life.
During his residency in Mykonos Ojanen created four paintings that loosely reference his experience on the island. The centerpiece is an enormous canvas featuring an elaborate composition of a main character sitting down on what looks like a cobbled Mykonian alley, holding a smiling Greek amphora full of daisies. Three smaller canvases show a small green dog looking up to someone outside the frame, and two figures that seem to be in love, with hearts coming out of their faces and their knees shaking with excitement. A group of ceramic sculptures is also part of the exhibition, which have been created after the residency at the artist’s studio in Stockholm.
— Joakim Ojanen (b. 1985, Västerås, Sweden) studied arts at the Konstfack University College of Arts. He began his artistic career as a street artist and illustrator, which led him to pursue an independent artistic practice from a young age. He works with sculptures — mainly ceramics — paintings and drawings. He has exhibited his work in over 40 solo, duo and group exhibitions, including museum shows at the Ebelingmuseet (Sweden), the Spritmuseum (Sweden) and the Västerås Konstmuseum (Sweden). His work is included in several public collections in Sweden, Spain, Belgium and the USA, and has been commissioned to create new work by The City of Gothenburg (2015) and Tensta Konsthall in Stockholm (2010). His work has been featured in Juxtapoz, the Los Angeles Times, Artnet and the Art Blog. He lives and works in Stockholm.