February’s Artist Interview: Aaron Hiltunen

Posted on 4.2.2014

Turku Artists’ Association’s honorary member Aaron Hiltunen (s. 1926) tells almost at the very start of our meeting that he regrets having agreed to the interview. He says there could be found also more interesting artists to interview in Turku.

”Sometimes I’m a little ashamed that I still paint, although I’m this old”, Hiltunen says.

Aaron Hiltunen and some of his paintings.

Aaron Hiltunen and some of his paintings.

But you could hardly find a more interesting expressionist and argumentative oeuvre in Turku, or come across a richer and more eventful life story. Several hours are easily spent in Hiltunen’s workspace situated in a basement in Hepokulta, as he tells about his childhood in Salmi, Karelia.

”Karelia has been embellished a lot afterwards. Actually living there was quite ascetic. Our family was broke. I’ve never missed there”, says Hiltunen.

After Hiltunen’s parents died, the children were put into an orphanage. From there Hiltunen was adopted to Ostrobothnia. Later Hiltunen escaped from the dire foster family and started his 40-year-long working career on State Railways in year 1944.

”The railways took the whole of me, until, living in Lahti, I started to take drawing courses. I got rather encouraging letters”, Hiltunen says. Nevertheless, the job as a conductor was tough, and there wasn’t much time for making art.

Art has always been present in Hiltunen’s life. For some time in his childhood home in Karelia lived a good drawer, Pauli Palviainen, who was some years older than him. Hiltunen drew with him and admired his skills.

”After the wars, as I saw Chagall’s works, I thought they were made by Palviainen”, Hiltunen tells with a laugh.

After moving to Turku Hiltunen didn’t need to do heavy night shifts and he started participating on art courses. He studied in Turku Worker’s Institute and Aurala Institute during years 1969-1989.

”I should have applied to Turku Drawing School, but a number of things happened, and art stayed as a hobby”, Hiltunen states.

Hiltunen retired in year 1984 and was widowed two years later. After remarrying he spent several winters in Spain with his wife. There he met Alvarado, who taught painting in Malaga, and started studying with him.

Hiltunen painted in Spain for 11 winters. Little by little the small apartment was filled with Hiltunen’s paintings and drawings. But his wife wasn’t disturbed with his artistic occupation.

”Although she said that when canvases start invading the kitchen, she’s gone”, Hiltunen laughs.

The time spent in Spain can still be seen in some of Hiltunen’s works and their flower and plant motives.

Hiltunen’s oeuvre is often regarded as argumentative. Hiltunen follows Finnish society with an interest and makes accurate observations of his surroundings. For instance he is amazed about the huge difference in living standards between the children of the 1930s and today. Hiltunen is worried about many phenomenons of this age, and he deals with them in his works.

Hiltunen held his first solo exhibition in 1990 in Brinkkala Gallery, after which there have been solo exhibitions a couple times a year. The exhibition Kalevalaisia loitsuja vaiko rukouksia? (Kalevalan spells or prayers?), which Hiltunen regards as one of his most important exhibitions, was shown in Gallery Å in year 2011. The exhibited works were linked to his native region.

The workspace

The workspace.

”In my childhood in Salmi there was a culture in livvi-language. Because of the war the Kalevalan’s of Salmi were sent as immigrants to other parts of Finland, and the Finnish Kalevalan culture disappeared”, Hiltunen says.

Representatives of Turku Artist’s Association asked once for permission to visit Hiltunen’s workspace. It’s made up of several rooms that are filled with his large and numerous works. The representatives looked with a keen interest, and soon after this visit Hiltunen received a letter, which told that he was accepted as a member of Turku Artist’s Association, although he had never applied.
In the summer of 2013 Hiltunen’s Kalevala-related works were shown in an invited exhibition Pakko tehdä (Must do) arranged by Oriveden Opisto and curated by the artist, critic and outsider-art-specialist Erkki Pirtola. In an article in Oriveden Sanomat Pirtola states that Hiltunen is one of the top Finnish expressionists. In addition, Pirtola and Olli Marttila, who also participated in the exhibition, were amazed about how Hiltunen could paint his large works in his little basement space.

By the time of the interview in August 2013 Hiltunen was expecting the exhibition of Olli Marttila in Jyväskylä Art Museum in October 2013. Marttila worked for 20 years as an art teacher in Oriveden Opisto, where Hiltunen also studied. Marttila had decided to invite six of his artist friends to the exhibition and one of them was Hiltunen. In the exhibition were seen for example Hiltunen’s works War renouncer I and II.

”I made them after reading the book Courage by Erno Paasilinna, which is about Arndt Pekurinen and his renouncing from violence”, Hiltunen says.

According to Hiltunen, art is a good way of mediating different feelings to other people.

”You can make fine art if you can. But for me art is a way of expressing my mind. That’s why I make expressionist works. But I don’t know what happens with my works when I die. They’ll probably end up on a dumpster”, Hiltunen laughs.

Aaron Hiltunen’s works on Turku Artoteque’s webpages.

Text and pictures: Enni Niemelä
Translated by Pirkko Holmberg

In honour of Turku Artists Association’s 90-years-jubilee the association wants to present one of its members per month throughout the whole year. Artists Associations apprentice Enni Niemelä interviewed the members in year 2013.