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”The Teacher Helps the Student to See More”

Interviewing Merja Salonen

Merja Salonen pictured at her other home, Palermo, Italy.
Who are you?

I am Merja Salonen, a visual artist and a teacher, born in Tampere. I have a studio in the Roihupelto artists’ quarter, where I paint. For several years I have been a part of City of Helsinki Public Works Department’s Statues Live! tour, where the statues of Esplanadi come to life on Helsinki Day and tell about their lives. At the tour I play in epoch costume Marcelle Delquini, a Parisian lady from a 100 years ago, who posed for the Havis Amanda statue. Working with professional actors has been rewarding. I don’t want to limit myself, but I do many things that I enjoy. Usually, once a year, I arrange a painting course in Italy. I also work as a tour guide in Italian and English, whenever I have the time.

What is your education and what kind of art do you make?

I graduated as a Master of Arts from the then University of Art and Design (now Aalto University) 17 years ago. Before that I had graduated from the Imatra Art School. I have studied art full time for over 7 years. I always knew I wanted to be in this profession, so one could say it’s my calling.

Mainly I am a painter and also make environmental art. In Helsinki some of these permanent works of art are in Arabianranta and in Helsinki city centre. I often depict the atmosphere of places in my work. I am especially interested in the traces humans leave in our cultural environment, I have worked with this theme for over 20 years. My main techniques are oil on canvas and mixed techniques on paper. In recent years I competed a picture book in four languages, about my paintings from the past over 10 years. It came out in 2014. You can find pictures of my works on my website, via the attched link.

For how long have you taught at the Institute of Adult Education in Helsinki, and what do you teach?

I have taught at the Institute of Adult Education in Helsinki for about 8 years. I have taught basics in visual arts (2- year course) and Painting School. I have also taught various visual arts workshops and outdoors painting courses. I have also organized some art gallery tours. My specialities are painting, drawing and art history. I have also worked as a substitute teacher for Italian language courses.

What made you become a teacher?

My identity is a visual artist, who teaches. I feel I have more to give at courses, because I am a visual artist myself. Because I like many kinds of painting materials/techniques, it is natural for me to teach them to others. I ended up teaching at the Institute when my friend Mika Törönen was giving up a course in watercolour painting. After we talked Mika felt that I was the person he could give his course to. This was a pleasant surprise to me, because I had wanted to teach painting, but didn’t yet know, where. The opportunity presented itself at exactly the right time. After the watercolour course other courses followed. What to you want to give to the student?

A lot depends on what the student is interested in and what s/he has done before. The groups are so small that I am able to provide individual guidance. In addition to teaching painting techniques I can as a teacher help the student to see more. A person cannot paint of draw more than s/he can see. My aim as a teacher is to broaden people’s perspective, help them to pay attention to new things. When you immerse yourself in what you are doing, you get a break from everyday life. When painting you can be a 100 % present in the moment. Time vanishes. Painting or drawing can, at the same time, be an exercise in being present. Many students tell me that the courses energize them. In fact, they energize me, too. We ofteh have quite a fun time, and we laugh a lot.

Why is studying at an institute of Adult Education a good thing?

The same reason studying anywhere is a good thing. I myself am constantly interested in new things. At courses you can make friends, have experiences, broaden the way you look at things. You meet likeminded people and you get to focus on what you are interested in. Since studying at the Institute is voluntary, the courses can be fun and useful without performance pressure.

What would you like to say to the students?

If you have never taken an arts course, you are more than welcome to join! One student had dreamed about joining a course for a long time, but had not dared to sign up. In the end s/he got the course as a present and has been taking courses for many years since. Once you cross the threshold at the beginning, you meet a pleasant atmosphere and nice people in addition to the subject matter you study. It pays to be daring! Art is a slow and wonderful domain.

What is your motto in life?

I have, in fact, written a book with different mottos over 10 years ago. The book is called Kitchen Philosophy. It showcases covers for towel racks, with different mottos embroidered in white yarn.

Merja Salonen, Kitchen Philosophy, 2003

Mottos from the book: ”Things have a way of working themselves out”, ”It is good to suprise oneself from time to time”, ”Everything you do, produces growth”, ”Value less the things you cannot take with you when you die”. To these I would add an updated motto: ”There is a meaning to everything in life”. I have loads of these. My students could probably continue the list, because they hear these during classes.

Marcelle Delquini, who modelled for Havis Amanda, came to celebrate Helsinki’s 200th birthday. Picture from the Helsinki Day parade.
Painting from the series Fortezza, 2010, mixed technique on paper.
Further info:

merjasalonen.net

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