November’s Artist Interview: Tonja Goldblatt

Posted on 4.11.2014


The Joensuu-born artist Tonja Goldblatt (b. 1977) got used to the thought of becoming an artist already as a child. Her mother Arja Valkonen-Goldblatt is an artist, and nowadays also her sister studies visual art in Tampere.

”Yet this wasn’t an easy or automatic choice of profession. Drawing and making art always accompanied me, but for years I did something else, before I ended up applying to Arts Academy in Turku when I was 25”, Goldblatt reveals.

After high school Goldblatt studied languages for a few years at Joensuu University, got an image processing degree from Joensuu polytechnic and studied graphics and art as an exchange student in Poland.

”Straight after high school, as a credulous undergraduate, I had applied to Helsinki Academy of Fine Arts, but of course I didn’t get in – which was good in retrospect, because I’m quite certain that I was able to get more out of arts education when I was a little older”, Goldblatt states.

At her second year in Arts Academy Goldblatt chose to specialize in art graphics. ”In my view it doesn’t make sense categorizing artists according to the techniques they use. Already in school I emphasized that I’m firstly an artist and only secondarily a graphic artist, and I still think similarly. Graphic is one of the techniques I use and I don’t want to understate it in any way. Graphic art is alive and well, and I think it has a commendable public interest, too”, Goldblatt says.

As a student, in 2004, Goldblatt got a six-week apprenticeship from Lower East Side Printshop in New York.

“It was a pleasant experience, and there were also other trainees I got to know”, Goldblatt recalls.

In year 2006 Goldblatt graduated from Arts Academy, and already the same year she was chosen Turku Artists’ Association’s Artist of the Year. The Association has since then become familiar for her in many ways.

”I ended up in the Artists’ Association’s Board in 2008, which was extremely useful for me as an artist. I’d encourage freshly graduated artists to join some artists’ association straight after graduation. Through their activity it’s easy to get to know new people and the art field, and by participating in the board’s work it is even easier”, Goldblatt advises.

Goldblatt was a member of the Board of Turku Artist’s Association in years 2008-2011, and after making the interview she has joined again. Goldblatt has also worked as a secretary for the Association’s environmental art project Flux Aura 2011.

”Galleria Å was opened in Kaskenmäki in 2010, and I was the first gallery secretary. At the time Riitta Liede functioned as chairwoman, and in her time the Artists’ Association and the Gallery started operating me professionally. Before that things had been run more by volunteer work”, Goldblatt recounts.

In Goldblatt’s opinion Turku has a lively art field.

”New people are graduating and coming to the field all the time from Arts Academy, which certainly affects the situation. It also creates harder competition here than there might be in many other places, but I don’t see why the education of the artists should be cut down. Turku is often mentioned as a culture- or art-hostile city, when art isn’t sufficiently funded, but then again nothing else gets enough money either. Luckily the situation with artists’ studios has somewhat improved from what it was a few years ago”, Goldblatt says.

Goldblatt has a studio at home, and besides that she works at the joint work space of Turku Printmakers Association at Barker.

”A joint work space suits me well. Community is important for me, and it’s nice to see people in the studio. You do get industrial peace if you need it, although there are about ten active users at the moment”, Goldblatt says.

“I work at the joint studio often before noon. Whereas in a joint work space I always have to clean up after myself after working, a chaos often resides at my home studio, since I can leave my stuff lying where they are and waiting for the next day when I continue my work. Both have their advantages”, Goldblatt says.

A couple days a week Goldblatt works at Galleria Joella kept by Turku Printmakers Association. Occasionally she also does translations, works as a model in painting- and drawing classes and teaches graphics.

”There isn’t a typical workweek or -day, my life is quite irregular”, Goldblatt states.

Goldblatt does graphic prints with classical methods. She has also made drawings and assemblages that deal with womanhood or girlhood. Techniques vary according to motives.

”At the moment my technique is drawing and graphics on paper”, Goldblatt says.

During the last ten years Goldblatt has also made engraving on glass. In 2010 she made a public series of works called Herbaario to the window glasses of Topelius elementary and upper comprehensive school.

”The school has an emphasis on biology, so I did works with plant motifs. The works I did for primary school also have friendship as one theme. I engraved one Finnish plant to each window next to the front door of the primary school, and at the same time they represent the four seasons. When lights are on inside, you can see a spring-related lily of the valley and a winter-related spruce from the outside. And when it is bright outside, you can see a summer-related dandelion and an autumn-related wood strawberry from the inside. The pictures are engraved on an opal glass plate and colour has been rubbed both in the engraving marks and on the plate. Then the plate has been attached to the window”, Goldblatt describes.

Many of the subjects of Goldblatt’s works are related to nature. For instance a Hej Hylje! -sculpture, on which Goldblatt had painted dragonflies, was displayed in Vähätori, Turku in the year 2011 when Turku was a European Capital of Culture.  

”I work slowly. I like to boil things in peace, and I work on one theme for a long time. In the last years fragility and perishableness have been important themes for me, as well as memories and especially forgetting and evanescence. I’ve for instance been thinking a lot about remembering; the fact that if you write something down, with time it becomes an official truth, but if it isn’t documented, it’s forgotten. In the end everything is forgotten, of course, even the documented things, and left are only notes that no one can decode any more. But forgetting things or people isn’t that terrible, I think. It’s unavoidable and a part of life – that’s how it goes”, Goldblatt says.

In 2007 Goldblatt gradually lost sight from her right eye for half a year, before the doctors discovered that Goldblatt has multiple sclerosis. Her eyesight was recovered by the end of the year with medication, but the experience of losing sight left its mark on Goldblatt’s artistic work.

”I didn’t think about it that way then, but of course it has affected. Fragility and perishability has become more visible in the themes of my work after the MS diagnosis and temporary loss of eyesight. Besides, my grandmother died a few years after this, which brought me into thinking about remembering and all that is lost when a person dies”, Goldblatt says.

In year 2012 Goldblatt had an exhibition We will all be forgotten in Gallery Å. While working on the works on display she thought about what stays in memory and why. The process was heavy after the exhibition Goldblatt decided that the theme of oblivion had been exhausted for a while and it was time to move on to something new. Since then she has made abstract monotypes in which she has among other things studied how colours behave.

”I feel I often think about my work too much. Nevertheless, in my recent work there isn’t a similar conceptual manyfacetedness that I earlier dealt with as lot”, Goldblatt says.

By the time of the interview Goldblatt prepared for solo- and group exhibitions for autumn and spring.

”At the moment I mainly do small scale abstract works. I’m interested in how a tiny work can withhold a whole infinity. I make subtle and immaterial forms that can be thought to depict northern lights, smoke or other creatures”, Goldblatt reveals.

Goldblatt’s works were exhibited from the end of 2013 to the beginning of this year in the 80th jubilee exhibition of Turku Printmakers’ Association in Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova Museum. For the exhibition Goldblatt made works that combine monotype and dry point.

”These works play with size: in a work sized 5 x 5 cm the depth comes out more clearly and even the smallest dot has significance. My works are small, because it’s enough. Art doesn’t always have to be large scale in order to have meaning”, Goldblatt states.

Tonja Goldblatt’s exhibition Fragile in Galleria Joella 4.12.2014–4.1.2015. Opening on Wednesday 3.12. starting at 6 pm.

Artist’s homepages

Text: Enni Niemelä
Pictures: Enni Niemelä and Anne Vatén
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.