Niko Vartiainen is a long time collage artist and curator and editor of editorial projects such as Toombes and Cults of Life. Based in Turku, Finland, Niko is an important part of the global collage scene.
– You have been doing art for quite a long time, what led you to create Toombes and start curating this project?
There are actually a few things that led me to start the Toombes. I’ve been doing collages something like over a decade now and when I started I didn’t actually know anyone else in Finland so the internet became my art squad – I spent so much time digging to find collages and get know the artists, and when I finally found the Jakob ”Plastic Kid” Printzlau’s collage focused Rodeo 27 pdf-zine, it blew my mind. And then because of the nature of my daily work as a graphic designer, I’ve been hanging around the internet like forever and I’ve folders after folders full of bookmarks of all kinds of visual treats. So with Toombes.com I wanted to create a platform where I can showcase all the art stuff I love and find and then wish to offer the same experiences to someone that I had back in the days… The moment I went, ”WOW That’s so amazing”, it’s hunted me until I tried it out by myself.
Then the deeper, I think the more meaningful reason is the fact that I’m an artist and designer myself – I constantly analyze the creative process, works and how the offered imagery reflects the given vision. This comes from my basic nature and then working with clients has refined it even more. Is that a good thing, I’m not sure, but it has always driven me forward. But now Toombes gives me an opportunity and a channel to interact with the other artists and see & hear how they do and manage their things and you know, maybe to have a sneak peek behind the curtain while they’re creating their pieces.
– Can you talk us about Toombes’ curatorial approach?
I see Toombes as a rabbit hole and I try to push it more to that direction – More you dig, more there is to discover and then more there are things to understand.
I have always loved arts in general and been very interested in the variations of the visual culture. Although my artist background makes me a ”softy” for collage and mixed media when I started Toombes in 2016 I decided that I didn’t want to limit Toombes for any single one art genre/form. Everything I have showcased through Toombes has spoken to me in some positive way, it’s not my job to criticize or judge anyone.
If I look Toombes I’m very pleased with the roster of different posts – there are artist features, interviews, publication reviews, etc but same time I constantly find myself thinking that it’s not enough. I want to go further and showcase more… and in the future, my plan is to focus more on the interviews and make them more personal.
– After reviewing so many artists working with collage, what is your feeling about the medium nowadays?
I think generally the collage is very much alive and doing really well, social media, especially Instagram and Facebook have made the art form in a way very accessible. I like that there are so many different ways to approach the medium, technically and style-wise there is something for everyone – There are the old schoolers who have been collaging for years and years and then there are the new upcoming talents who have started to do collages just only months ago.
And it’s really nice that during the past years, there is so much interesting going on… Different publishing houses and collectives are putting together interesting art books and zines, there are art festivals dedicated to the form and it’s really awesome that collages have found (again) its way to art galleries. It’s always a pleasure to see the art form getting public attention and the talented hard working talents getting recognition.
There’s also a downside when the art form is getting public attention and more and more people start their excursions with the medium and the digitalization brings you all the editing possibilities and endless source materials – A certain lack of originality has started to raise its head. You can see too close similarities in too many works. It’s important that everyone pushes the art form forward by their own terms, breaks its boundaries and come up with new ways to do it. In my opinion, it has no matter how you are doing it as long as you’re doing it, but copycats and the lack of vision/originality – they shine from a mile away.
– How editing / curating Toombes has affected your work as an artist? What have you been up to with your own art lately?
For some reason, editing and curating Toombes has calmed me down as an artist. I’m now definitely more certain about my own style and works. I don’t need to try everything cool I see like I used to, now I just focus on my own creative process and development as an artist. And one of the biggest things is that I don’t feel pressure to force finish anything and I’ll let the artworks have time and grow by themselves. What bums me out is that during the past two years I haven’t been able to do art as much I’d like but when I do it’s definitely quality over quantity.
Currently I’m focusing to create bigger mixed-media collages, I want to push myself further to large scale works. I have made a few pieces, which size range satisfies me and I love how the larger-scale changes the impact on the viewer.
And then I’ve made a promise to myself that I’m going to focus more on the printed/editorial/curational projects – My collage zine project Cults Of Life has been on hiatus since 2017 (issue 6, ”Cult Leaders”) and now after two years, the issue #7 is finally coming out in January 2020. And then there is a bunch of different art zines and one bit wilder idea for a collage related book I wish could see daylight someday… but let’s see.
– You publish both online and printed. Is there a different approach for each media? What does printed matter has that still cannot be replaced with the online experience?
I think the basic, root-level approach is the same but then all the printed media’s physical limitations and possibilities make the whole design and curational process much more diverse and at the same time interesting. Personally I love everything printed because it’s being a physical thing you touch, smell, twist and look from different angles. And all the small printing errors, scratches, and smudges just make everything much better. In a digital world, things can get old, but nothing can wear off… it can be made to look older but it’s just artificial.
And then, of course, the physical limitations, there is only a certain amount of space and you have to use it the best way possible to create a beautiful entity that justifies the artworks.
On the internet you can curate and showcase the arts more freely, it’s quicker and easier put a gallery together or whatever but same time the online user habits force you to offer things much more direct. The fact that people don’t spend that much time on one page, they know what they want and they want it immediately, makes the game much harsher online.
Some might say that the print is dead and long live the digitalization but they can shove it. Printed media is much more long-lasting, and at the same time that makes it more powerful and effective media. Online you have such many options just a click away and the change that the viewer members the artwork is much more narrow.
– Which are you latest discoveries in the art world that you are most enjoying?
For the past year, I’ve been falling in love more and more with minimal/abstract art. I’m still not sure how to analyze the art form any deeper but there are so many interesting artists like Struan Teague, Sam Lock, Ed Bats, and Noel Árd just to name a few. Their works seem minimal and effortless but same time they have managed to create such a complexity that keeps me mesmerized piece after piece.
And of course, on a regular basis, I came across collage artists and projects which caught me off guard, like Dr.Me’s The Simpson zine is one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a long time. And then the British collage artist Wolves Of Suburbia is one of those talents that I’ve been founding myself marveling at since I came across his works.
– Who would you like to interview for Toombes and still haven’t? And if you got a time machine… where you’d like to go and who would you interview?
One of the cool things is that I’ve been able to interview such incredible artists including a bunch of personal favorites and heroes. And I have to admit that there have been a couple of true fanboy moments, like when Thomas ”THS” Schostok and Eduardo ”Misprinted Type” Recife agreed to do their interviews, I did a whole a lot of high fives.
On my todo -list, there cames continuously new names but I think that there’s two that really stand out, Jacob Bannon (Artist, illustrator, and singer of Converge) and Boogie (Street photographer). Both of these figures has made a really big impact back in the days when I was still discovering the visual world. I must admit that Bannon (and Converge’s You fail me -album back in 2004) is the reason and the last push I needed to begin to pursue a career in graphic designing.
I have to admit that both of those are figures that I’m a bit saving until I know what I’d like to ask. The same thing was with the THS and Recife, I made it so big deal for myself that I couldn’t finish them as quickly as normally I’d do 😀
And then time machine -wise, for me it’d be definitely New York in the ’80s and Basquiat. Like previously said, I’m really fond of abstract art at this moment and Basquiat is my Morpheus. And because I live in Finland which is a bit far away from everywhere and the scenes are not that big so it would be so interesting to witness the whole metropolitan art scenery with all the iconic talents mixed together with the craziness of the era.
Find more about Toombes and Niko here: