July’s artist interview: Matti Toivonen

Posted on 1.7.2014


Self-taught painter Matti Toivonen (b. 1936) does’nt remember for sure, what awakened the interest in art in him. “Suddenly a naïve artist was born in me, and I found a way to express myself”, Toivonen says.

Lucrezia Borgia

Lucrezia Borgia

Toivonen hasn’t participated in any art courses, but has learned his technique by himself. That he started painting was connected to a strong interest in culture, which manifested itself already in Toivonen’s childhood.

“I went to Kerttuli School where I joined a brass band. I still like classical music, although as I grew up I stopped playing brass and decided to study business administration. All kinds of things happen in life: work, wife, children, the most important things of my life. It wasn’t until later that I found time for culture and art”, Toivonen remembers.

Toivonen’s artistic career started in 1970s, when he held his first solo exhibition. Since then he has participated in several joint exhibitions and had solo shows until the 2000s.

” The most significant exhibition with respect to my artistic career was a solo exhibition that I held in Wäinö Aaltonen Museum in year 1981”, Toivonen says.

The greatest part of Toivonen’s oeuvre is in a naïve style, but later in his career he has also made surrealistic works. Toivonen’s works are lightened up by his positive view on life and warmth, and many of his paintings carry one’s thoughts into childhood memories and imagery that reminds of children’s books by its colours and subjects.

”I haven’t been following other naïve artists, but I have held on my own views. I think originality is the most important thing. Being naïve is for me making transformations into reality”, Toivonen says.

From the book Pelle-Oskari

Fron the book Pelle-Oskari

According to Toivonen getting ideas for his works doesn’t require effort. It’s important for Toivonen that people can relate to his works and that stories behind them are easy to understand.

”I have a great desire to bring joy to my surroundings. I haven’t thought about the message of my works in general, but many visitors in my exhibitions have told that looking at my paintings brightened up their moods. Perhaps that’s their ultimate purpose.” Toivonen wonders.

When he was younger, Toivonen painted whenever there was time. Occasionally there was also time for music.

“Sometimes music took over, and I played drums in small bands. I have even accompanied some famous Finnish singers like Tapio Rautavaara”, Toivonen says.

Toivonen had a working space by the riverside in the Blue House, where strange things happened.

“There have been a great deal of supernatural incidents in my life, and they’ve often had to do with art. I think that the Blue House was haunted. I was in my working room at nights, and sometimes I heard steps from upstairs. At last I got upset and told the ghosts to stop disturbing. There were no more noises after that”, Toivonen says with a smile.

In the beginning of 2000s Toivonen had an exhibition in Naantali art salon that the president Tarja Halonen came to see.

”Halonen is an admirer of naïve art, and she was interested in one of my paintings. So I got invited for a coffee to Kultaranta. By the end of the meeting the president wanted to show me the garden. I later returned to paint there for a few days”, Toivonen remembers.

Matti Toivonen

Matti Toivonen

Nowadays Toivonen doesn’t paint so much anymore and he spends his retirement days in other ways. A few years ago he fulfilled his long-lasting dream and published a story-book for children.

”20 years ago already I decided that I would make a book for children illustrated with my paintings that would include both wisdoms for life and silly things. I couldn’t get a publisher for the book, so I finally decided to publish it myself”, Toivonen says.

For the portrait of the name figure Oskari of the book Pelle-Oskari. Stories about the life of a small boy Toivonen asked his son to sit as a model. Toivonen’s wife Sirkka has also modeled some of his portrait paintings.

”My wife is my critic. I ask her opinions about my works, and we have visited exhibitions together. We both share an interest in making art, and I’ve realized that making art brings wonder to life”, Toivonen says.  

Text: Enni Niemelä

Pictures: Enni Niemelä and Matti Toivonen

Translated by Pirkko Holmberg

In honour of Turku Artists Association’s 90-years-jubilee the association presents one of its members per month throughout the whole year. Artists Association’s apprentice Enni Niemelä interviewed the members in year 2013. The interviews are published the first Tuesday of every month on Turku Artists Association’s webpages and on Facebook.