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Heikki Rahikainen: form and intuition.

THROWING, TRIMMING AND TRIPOD ARE THE KEY methods when creating ceramic vessels either teapots or espresso cups in Heikki Rahikainen's way. Rahikainen is an old school Finnish ceramics artist who still has a tone of honour in his voice when he speaks about Kvllikki Salmenhaara (1915-1981), his teacher and the grand old dame in Finnish ceramics.

From the beginning of his career and the first exhibition at 1983 Rahikainen has been showing unique teapots--even his first invitation card was a flattened ceramic one. He is known for his teapots and he is fascinated by the idea of everyday objects and their function as carrying memories. From his childhood he remembers a Tapio Wirkkala (1915-1985) glass object that was kept in a bookshelf and how it reflected the light when sun was passing by. That was an object not relevant to him for its use nor by any emotions from the past related to it, but because of the memory of that moment showing its beauty. Rahikainen is fascinated by the stories of those people who are buying his teapots. How some who are collecting them to display them as art and how others are buying them for use, telling how the teapot has become an important part of their every day rituals.

Rahikainen wonders why the teapot has such an important meaning within the Finnish ceramics culture where tea is not often drunk. His conclusion is that it is because of a tradition in teaching ceramics and honouring its Eastern origin even though the English tea pottery tradition is behind the corner. Finland is one of the leading countries in drinking coffee. (Swedish King Carl XII brought Turkish coffee to his Swedish-Finnish Kingdom in 1709.) At 2001 Rahikainen had an exhibition in the Helsinki Design Museum where he exhibited more that 300 unique espresso cups in the form of a boat. The exhibition was called Herakles after SS/Herakles; the ship that imported the first coffee load to Finland in 1946 after the Second World War. It was important news in Finland as the nation had a hunger for coffee after drinking a variety of substitutes during the wartime.

Rahikainen made those espresso cups with throwing and trimming techniques. The uniqueness in forms comes from a broad variety of shapes but especially from tripods. In 1985 Rahikainen had an exhibition in the Fahti Art Museum based on large vessels standing on tripods using a wood kiln firing process and thick layers of glaze. He explains that the tripod of Chinese origin fascinates him because it raises the vessel from the underlay and gives an easy way to raise the object. But also because the tripod shows the object in rotation and the vessel becomes cubistic.

In 1996 Rahikainen made his first tiles. When asked how and why he selected to make tiles he answered that during the study years there was an assignment to design a tile within a module. But his size and form for tiles was born 'in situ' and in that first case the space was a square red brick ice cellar in Pyhaniemi Manor. He installed almost 100 square tiles hanging on a steel circle. The tiles were hand-pressed and painted with a thick relief-like surface of glazes. In Rahikainen's case the square is first of all the form and the glaze is a symbol of decoration.

The exhibition was a success and in the following years he continued by using tiles, always in square shapes but with different sizes. In his next tile based exhibition he used red clay from Finnish soil. The tiles were composed of small re-united structural pieces of clay. These collages with horizontal and vertical structures were reminiscent of old roof trusses from Finnish medieval churches.

Since then Rahikainen has made tiles also with porcelain in classical blue and white tones but with relief surfaces. The last exhibition in March 2014 was held in Lahti with abstract structures inspired for example by the facade openings of Lahti Church of Cross, (1969, 1975-78) designed by Alvar Aalto. The exhibition revealed a serious need to understand the man and his existence in a spiritual but subconscious way. The classic Vitruvian Man, a figure study by Leonardo da Vinci (c 1509) illustrating the proportional canon laid down by the Classical Roman architect Vitruvius, seems to be hidden in Rahikainen's self portraits which, with one glance does not differ that much of the other collages. The size of the tile is the same, the collage techniques are similar but the content seems to breathe from the man to the globe. The circle--sometimes white on red clay, sometimes black on black--is certainly a universal image but, in comparison with a symbol of a man and a spirit, it creates a pulse.

Rahikainen has developed a unique technique to express his way of understanding life. His art (even he has said he has no idea what art is about) is based on the tradition of international modernism (in Finland it appears in a form of constructivism) in context of contemporary art. In the 1960s during Rahikainen's early adulthood, international ARS exhibitions came to Finland and he remembers them shaking his view of the world. Artists such as Eduardo Chillida (1924-2002) has had a strong effect on Rahikainen. He sees that artists from old clay cultures can express themselves more playfully in clay.

Rahikainen sees himself as a slow learner who wanders through life by Route 66, a song he remembers performed by The Rolling Stones and later also its Finnish version. As a young boy he was good in drawing but shy at expressing himself with words. Later on he found his way of writing by using a stream of consciousness. "Form, intuition and the marvels of the human mind", the notation of a well-known psychologist Daniel Kahneman is a favourite one for him.

Heikki Rahikainen is following his intuition and goes after the new ideas popping out during his working processes.

That is why he has not concentrated only on vessels or on tiles. He waits until the form clicks in--not only in his works but also in his way of living.

Teija Isohauta, FM/MA, is an art historian. She was curator at the Alvar Alto Museum for 25 years and is now a free lance writer on arhitecture, art and design.
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Author:Isohauta, Teija
Publication:Ceramics Art & Perception
Date:Jun 1, 2015
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