Interview: Johanna Kestilä

First the basic introduction – can you tell me who are you, where are you coming from, what are you doing?

I am Johanna Kestilä, an artist and I go by the same name in both parts of my life; private and art. I was born in Helsinki, Finland where I still live and create. I strive for the best life possible for myself, which is why I create.

I love how you with the layer and panel-like ensembling mixed with pretty lively usage of colors create a certain very organic atmosphere in your works – how would you describe your style? And how quickly you found your ”style”?

After trying out various more traditional techniques I ended up combining both pictures and textiles in my work. In the beginning, I used photographs, paint, and textile together, but playing with colors and the spontaneity it offered really attracted me – it felt like it opened a whole new world. I’m really material-based, I play with painted textile pieces and different ways to combine them. I don’t want to get “stuck” with only one way to see and do things, which is why I chose to do art in the first place – art enables constant change and growth. I don’t see myself having a certain style, maybe it’s more that my work tends to have such a strong character that it pushes through no matter what.

How do you work and approach your subject?

I’m constantly observing different things and events for their emotional effect both in myself and others. I use photographs and drawings to remember different experiences or places. Based on those visual notes I create drafts to start off a process in my head. My paintings tell and show how emotions and emotional experiences show itself for me in a visual form.  

When you start a new piece, do you have a clear vision of where to start or what you are going to do? How much your works ”live”/change from the original vision? How much you improvise?

I usually work with two or three pieces simultaneously. Sometimes I make really precise colored drafts, but when it’s time to start working, I don’t imitate or follow the draft at all. I believe in free and uncontrolled linework and memory-based working. I spread textile pieces throughout the whole floor and begin to empty my memory on them, which is my favorite step on the way. Finally, I tear the pieces into smaller ones and rearrange them into better order.

How much your artworks reflect your emotions?

Very much.

In your artworks, what are the most important things/elements to yourself? Do you have certain things that you pay more attention to, like structure, colors, shapes?

While working, I try to create a mindset where no thought is controlling me. I also try to keep as many options open as long as possible. I guess I seek balance in between all the color and structure – first the unbelievable mess and the structure through rearrangement. The world is such a crazy place, in a way I rearrange and organize my mind and the complexity of the world in each of my works.

What connection you have to your work? While creating if you make an ”error” on a piece, a stroke or line you don’t like, etc, how do you react? Do you make compromises what comes to those ”errors” or are you chasing the absolute perfection and always correct them?

Mistakes usually lead the way to something new. I explore my mistakes and try to find a fresh angle to see my work through them. I tend to work with one piece for the longest time, and because I want to make it into the best possible version, it usually happens through mistakes. Before I used to destroy ready pieces if they just didn’t please me right at that moment – even though I might have had a connection with them.

Have you always been involved in art? What’s your background? 

The home I grew up in was extremely aware of the world surrounding it, my parents were interested in art and politics. Our home was filled with books, and my sister would spend the weekends laying in bed and reading. The culture was a huge and visible part of our lives. 

As a student, I went back and forth for years between social and textile art studies. Fortunately, I have had the opportunity to combine these two fields at work. I have experienced such great joy while learning and creating, so it felt logical to share it with others too. I have always had the need to make art – after accepting this as a fact my life got a lot easier.

What and how things influence you as an artist? Can you see the influences in your works or has there been a moment that you’ve noticed afterward?

Everything affects, I’m sensitive and easily influenced by my surroundings. Things that are hard for me to understand, I tend to shape into a form that is easier for me to understand, which is visual. I’ve been extremely lucky since I’ve had such great artists as my teachers throughout the years. Looking back, my childhood events play a big role in the way I see and make create.

If you should describe your art with one word, what would it be?


Johanna Kestilä around the internet:

Instagram: @kestilajohanna