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. When faced with them we often feel like the safe, familiar world is going off the rails and plummeting at top speed towards its imprecisely defined destruction.
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. Mingled in with the overgrown vegetation we see tigers and other animals known to be dangerous, and which have perhaps run away from abandoned zoos.
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. He scrapes off paint and adds it again. Sometimes the painting changes and gains clarity as the working process advances, so much so that its subject turns into something else.
Nor do we 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.