By Raúl Zamudio
Riiko Sakkinen's art, whether painting, works-on-paper, or installation, is a deft amalgam of text/image interlocution culled from varied cultural sources including Finnish, Spanish, English, French German, Polish, Japanese, and Arabic. These disparate citations result not only from globalization and its rampant permeation, but experientially via Sakkinen's trans-cultural condition as a Finnish artist living in Spain.
Spain, however, is just one artistic point of departure since Sakkinen's art is infused from a myriad of cultural loci. He aesthetically forges the poly-cultural condition of globalization into a visual Tower of Babel. Sakkinen's compositions are spawned by schizoid semiotic configurations and a delirious visual vocabulary that give way to multivalent subject matter of a satirical, philosophical, political and critical orientation. Sometimes his work targets the immediate world-at-large: war, poverty, social disparity, and so forth. Yet Sakkinen never succumbs to didacticism or to what can been called political art. There are politics in his work, but he chooses not to be affiliated with any ideological camp since no one is innocent. Take, for example, his assisted readymade sculpture based on a box of detergent that one finds in any Spanish supermarket.
The box itself is named after Colon, the Spanish "discoverer" of the New World. Below the brand name is an announcement in Spanish that claims that one can achieve "impeccable whiteness" through its use. Though the whiteness refers to the degree that it can clean clothes and nothing more, its re-contextualization in the white cube of the gallery as well as Colon's invasion of the native Americas and subsequently by white Europeans adds other narrative layer to the work. Also folded into this conceptually astute "political" sculpture is a critique of Pop via the detergent box and its referencing of Andy Warhol's Brillo Soap Box. But Sakkinen's themes encompass much more than history, art history, and institutional critique. Often, Sakkinen makes his own work problematic to the degree that it may border on the politically incorrect. But any criticism of his work on these grounds is nothing but a case of the dog barking up the wrong tree; for this variant of his work serves more as mirror that engages the culture of complacency and the complacency of culture.
Regardless of the issues Sakkinen addresses in his work they are executed with an eclectic formal arsenal that includes ball point pen, felt pen, colored pencil, watercolor, hotel stationery, stickers and other commercial flotsam and jetsam, though in general Sakkinen owes a heavy aesthetic debt to animation. But his formal and conceptual methodology is distinguished from other artists or collectives such as Paper Rad, Dearraindrop, and Royal Art Lodge who have explored the medium of work-on-paper and have drawn attention to its importance as an independent art form.
Sakkinen's mainstay of work-on-paper is instantly recognizable but has an affinity with the sensibilities of Raymond Pettibon, Chris Johanson, Martin Kippenberger and even further a field to the psychodramas of Paul McCarthy. Sakkinen recasts Pettibon's graphic novel meets pathetic social quandary into a three-ring circus; and catapults Johanson's comic-book existentialism and slacker ethos to mythological and archetypal proportions. And Sakkinen riffs on and updates Kippenberger's playful though equally acerbic sense of the absurd.
Sakkinen's iconographic grab-bag plundered from the murky depths of the unconscious is akin to a phantasmagoric image bank that he tweaks with aplomb into rich, frenetic tableaus that explode with color, line, texture, word, image, and quotidian detritus. In short, Riiko Sakkinen is a visual artist whose aesthetic practice exudes elegance, refinement and sophistication well beyond his youthful demeanor; and because he often filters these through the abject, scatology and violence, we can analogously refer to his art in the way that André Breton had characterized Frida Kahlo's painting: "as bomb with ribbon tied around it." Careful: don't let it explode in your face.
Raúl Zamudio is a NYC-based curator and critic.
Originally published on the Frame web site in the Artist of the Month series, December 2006.