Viljami Heinonen

Born 1986 | Lives and works in Tampere, Finland



Viljami Heinonen is a painter of dystopias. His strikingly dramatic works are filled with explicit violence or the threat of it, with edginess, and with conflict situations. That is true of his early paintings, many of which are set in urban landscapes, in the barren wastelands surrounding big cities adorned with graffiti, or in anonymous, dimly lit interiors, whisky bars or billiard dens. It is also true of his latest works, regardless of the fact that the stages for these unsettling events are holiday paradises, with their palms and swimming pools that have seen better days. 

Dystopias cannot exist without their opposite – utopia. Implicit in the concept of utopia is the idea that it will never become a reality, even though we might want it to, since a lived utopia is no longer a utopia. In Heinonen’s latest paintings nature is presented as being so profuse, abundant and colourful that we might even imagine a utopia raising its head. This effect may, however, be a consequence of the speedy execution of the paintings and of Heinonen’s characteristically luscious treatment of paint. Might it, nevertheless, be the case that the real subject of these works is the loneliness of Robinson Crusoe roaming his desert island, and even more specifically humanity’s relationship with nature? What we were previously accustomed to thinking of as a paradise and as a source of endless riches has, as a consequence of human actions, turned against us.

Heinonen’s treatment of paint is restless, intense and precise, and is directly linked to the content of his art. He overlays thick masses of pigment with translucent surfaces, interspersing drawn lines with spray-painted smudges. He paints quickly and spontaneously, working on the whole area of the canvas all at once. Sometimes the painting changes and gains clarity as the working process advances, so much so that its subject turns into something else. We do not need to look at the paintings twice to observe that Heinonen knows the recent history of art and makes skilled use of what it has to offer. His visual language is expressive, but that does not mean he projects his inner feelings onto canvas. Rather, he can be said to be holding up a broken mirror that shows us reflections of the world around us. Stylistically we can detect in his works connections with the aesthetic of punk and street art, and also echoes of post-Second-World-War Neo-Realism, which often also sought to investigate the dystopias of its own time.