Bed, 2018. Acrylic on canvas, 130 x 190cm. Gösta Serlachius Fine Arts Foundation’s collection. Photo: Sampo Linkoneva
Sleeping couple, 2018. Acrylic and oil on canvas, 220 x 150cm. Photo: Malla Hukkanen
Artist Riikka Lenkkeri. Photo: Sampsa Virkajärvi

The art of sleep

TEXT: HANNA HEISKANEN

Finnish artist Riikka Lenkkeri mixes traditional oil painting with the humane and banal. The result is a touching series titled Yötä vasten (Towards the Night) that shows humans stripped of all pretense.

In her latest works, artist Riikka Lenkkeri paints people at their most bare and vulnerable: slumbering on their beds. “As an artist, I’m fascinated by everyday life. I find that there is something very special about what we see as a commonplace activity and ordinary people,” she says. Behind the paintings is an idea of the night as a great equaliser. “We are all transformed by sleep. Unconscious, we won’t notice our hair is messy and mouth drooping open. Image-wise, I enjoy painting people from this unusual, bird’s-eye point of view,” the artist explains.

Lenkkeri’s art is rooted in the classic Italian tradition, which she has studied on location. She was particularly influenced by early Renaissance painter Piero della Francesca, whose depictions of people’s gestures Lenkkeri describes as precise and able to convey dignity, serenity and a deep-rooted sense of weight. “I’m after the same kind of humanity in my art. I want to examine physicality that grows from small gestures to larger meaning,” she says. Her topics, however, are often distinctively Nordic in their ordinariness and even banality. “If you know the area and its culture, you might be able to pick up on a familiar pattern here, a familiar situation there.”

Lenkkeri often paints with oil. The tool lends itself well to expressing a sense of weight and corporeality. It is also perfect for applying layers of rich colour, which suits Lenkkeri’s method of working. “I like the fact that you can grow and develop the painting layer after layer. This creates narrative tension and a sense of space. It also gives me the opportunity to experiment with different ideas before I have to commit myself, and provides a range of finishes,” she says.

Although she identifies as a realist, narrative is a key element in Lenkkeri’s works. She is currently in the process of continuing the Yötä vasten series of sleeping people by exploring the myriad of ways in which couples encounter and disregard each other in the bed. “I think of the bed, wrinkled sheets and all, as a condensed space of humanity and undeniable intimacy.”

See a video of Riikka Lenkkeri’s works, filmed at the Art Museum Gösta in 2018:

serlachius-tv.net/project/riikka-lenkkeri-yota-vasten/