June’s Artist Interview: Raili Leppänen

Posted on 3.6.2014


In Raili Leppänen’s (b. 1931) youth dancing was forbidden in Finland and there was a shortage of everything. Due to the war and the scarcity after it, Leppänen longed for beauty, and so she started to dream about a career as a clothing designer.

“During the Winter War there were no textiles and even the shoes were wooden. I remember how a winter jacket was made for me from my father’s greatcoat. Maybe that affected my desire to become a fashion designer”, Leppänen says.


Nevertheless, fashion design wasn’t taught in Turku, and so Leppänen decided to become an artist. Only 16 years old she started her studies in Turku Drawing School. ”Hannes Siivonen was the headmaster then. I remember he had very strong views about how you should paint”, Leppänen says.

Leppänen didn’t graduate until in 1952, because she wanted to include anatomy classes in her studies. ”Certain things were studied only in certain years. I had been waiting for studying anatomy, so I studied in the drawing school longer than usual”, Leppänen says.

Leppänen held her first exhibition in Turku in the beginning of the 1950s. Since then Leppänen has participated in several group exhibitions and held joint exhibitions with her now deceased husband, artist Tauno Leppänen. The artist couple was also a part of an artist group called Ryhmä 5 (Group 5), with Lasse Stenbom, Aulis Uotila and Reino Vihinen. ”Group 5 held an exhibition in Turku Art Museum in 1964. The exhibition became so interesting, that people queued to see it all the way from Helsinki”, Leppänen says.

Leppanen’s oeuvre consists mainly of oil paintings. She was most active in the beginning of her career in 1950-1970s, and that’s when she became acquainted with many figures of the Turku art world of those days. ”I’m so old that I have even had the chance to meet Wäinö Aaltonen. I once sat beside him in a party table, but discussion came to nothing. Luckily we had pens and paper”, Leppänen tells smiling.

Raili Leppänen's collage Dreams for dreamless, 1984-2014

Raili Leppänen’s collage Dreams for dreamless, 1984-2014

Leppänen remembers warmly how she spent several summers in the artists’ residence in Karjalohja with her artist husband and their children in the 1960s. ”We had guests everyday. We spent a lot of time with for instance Veikko Laukkanen, Antti Lampisuo and Olavi Vaarula. I’ve had the chance to get acquaintance to many Turku-based artists and I like peculiar people. I remember how painter Max Salmi used to do all kinds of tricks to get his works sold. As for the sculptor Mauno Hartman, he sometimes made his grant applications on toilet paper, and he got one”, Leppänen remembers.

In addition to artists, Leppanen got to know several writers, and at one point they used to gather to Pinella and discuss. From the beginning of 1950s Leppänen wrote art criticism in Turun Sanomat. She was soon forced to take up a pseudonym in order to keep good relations to her artist colleagues. ”I remember how one artist acquaintance disowned me for a certain choice of word, although the critique I wrote was positive. My pseudonym was Inkeri Taina. Now I guess it can be revealed, because almost all my artist friends have already died”, Leppänen says.

Leppänen’s works have been shown occasionally in the beginning of 2000s in Turku. At the moment works by Leppänen as well as by her husband can be seen at the artist’s home in Mäntymäki. Her home is also full of memories, like works given as present by artist friends and photos and clippings about the art life in the past. And of course a lot of clothes. Leppänen doesn’t paint at home anymore, because painting liquids cause her nausea. Instead she makes different kinds of collages. Writing has also become an important medium of expression. ”At school I was always good at Finnish and writing. I write poems and letters. I’m also part of a study group in creative writing where we study for instance figures of speech, haikus and surrealistic poems. I also read a lot”. Leppänen says.

By the time of the interview Leppänen was passionate about planning several projects: folding paper from women’s magazines, family research and making Christmas cards that don’t look like Christmas cards. “I’m even passionate about cooking”. Leppänen smiles.

An exhibition showing Leppänen’s works from the 1970s can now be seen in the senior home Kotikunnas upheld by Turun Lähimmäispalveluyhdistys ry. in the address Luolavuorentie 4. The exhibition will probably be open until the end of June from Monday to Friday at 11.30–13.30 and on Saturdays and Sundays at 11.30–13.00.

Text and pictures: Enni Niemelä
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.