“Always remember that the reason you initially started working was that there was something inside yourself you felt that if you could manifest it in some way, you could understand more about yourself and how you co-exist with the rest of society.”
~ David Bowie
Embarking on a New Year has often been considered the ideal time for self-reflection. A chance for the bravest among us to step back and look at ourselves with fresh eyes. What battles lost and hard-won triumphs did the past year bring, reflected perhaps in new laugh lines around the eyes, subtle crinkles around the mouth, even a deeper furrowing on the brow?
And what about the deeper changes within? Testament to the journeys traveled, acknowledgement of the inner resources that just twelve months ago perhaps we did not yet know we even possessed. How do we track and assess that?
In the past, that’s where the portrait artists came in. Self-portraits, especially, a way to look beyond the public masks to the far more complex and interesting stuff flickering beneath the surface.
But in the age of the selfie, who has time or need for self-reflection?
The paintbrush and canvas, the stick of charcoal, the pencil gripped and eye unflinching: How deeply do we truly want to be seen?
Recently, I visited for the first time in his native country, Finnish multi-media artist, Jaakko Savolainen, the first artist ever to be interviewed in Combustus magazine, and who has since become one of my dearest friends, as he has taught me much over the years since our initial 2011 interview, about art, authentic expression, and yes, courage.
INTERVIEW WITH FREE IMPROV JAZZ MUSICIAN, PAINTER, POET, JAAKKO SAVOLAINEN
Espoo, Finland ~
Jaakko Savolainen: “A photograph is never real, even that it captures real time. Drawings and paintings reach that goal better. With my self-portraits in charcoal, and in pencil, paint, I give you a much truer impression of the feeling of who I am than any photograph could ever convey.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Does the very act of creating a self-portrait expand who you are? Or is there a sense of feeling limited, trapped within the boundaries of your physical body?
Jaakko Savolainen: I think that making a self-portrait is one of the rare moments when anything is possible. There are no limits, and so you can express anything you feel inside. I never try to limit the work, even by planning it beforehand.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: How long does it take you to make each sketch?
Jaakko Savolainen: Usually, I work inside of thirty minutes to an hour, if not making a few-minute pen sketch.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: What is it about this method that you prefer over taking more time with a work? I know you have a great affection for playing rapid chess games. Is there a similar dynamic at work with your quick sketches?
Jaakko Savolainen: I have always been fascinated with thinking and working rapidly. The result is always freer and more true. Alive.
Jaakko Savolainen: I suppose I play rapid three-minute chess games for the same reasons. A place where anything can happen. Good or worse. A place for wonder. The whole work can change upside-down in a matter of seconds, if emotions lead you into that.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: When you look back at a self-portrait you’ve just completed, is there a sense of having discovered something new about yourself? Or that you’re looking at a stranger?
Jaakko Savolainen: Not a stranger, no, but I do discover something new, always, as the work is propelled by the unconsciousness, and so it reveals things unexpected.
Making a self-portrait is a very emotional and impulsive process.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: As you look closely at your features in the mirror, does the act of drawing and painting yourself remind you of your mortality?
Jaakko Savolainen: No. There is no such thing. Only the expression of that precise moment.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Which artists have had the strongest influence on you?
Jaakko Savolainen: My godfather Pentti Lumikangas, without a doubt. I was raised surrounded by his art. When I was a child, my father and I studied sketchings of the masters: Henri De Touloise-Lautrec, Salvador Dali, and Egon Schiele have all been very important to me.
Jaakko Savolainen: I drew a lot for the first 23 years of my life, and then the next 23 years I did other things and stopped drawing. Just like that. I am only now coming back to sketching and figurative painting.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Where do you see yourself exploring next?
Jaakko Savolainen: I must start working with written words again. I want to incorporate texts and letters. I have been thinking and pondering this for quite some time with all the stories and thoughts I have been holding inside.. It’s nothing easy for me, if not the hardest. But fascinating. I feel an urgency.
For those who may have missed our first interview, here are some of my favorite moments:
“I hear colors,” says free improviser guitarist and composer, Jaakko Savolainen. “White is a tense sound. Like waiting for something. Black is very slow and the lowest sound. Red has everything inside of it. Think of all possible feelings with their widest possible meanings! Passion!”
No surprise that this Finnish musician who records under the name, Alvari Lune, is also a painter. But Savolainen says that while he typically painted with vibrant colors when he was young, eventually the intense hues became too much for him. “I started to feel them too strongly. I began feeling sick when painting
So nowadays I mostly paint with black and white. I can use red sometimes too. But when I was young, I painted big yellow paintings.”
Can the rest of us learn to “see” music as Savolainen does? “I think it’s quite about jumping into the unknown with all emotions. Closing eyes and feeling with your heart more than ears can hear.”
Although classically trained in guitar and exposed while very young to composers like J.S.Bach and Krystoff Penderecki, Savolainen says he never liked to play “someone else’s music or to repeat music that is already done.”
For Jaakko it was all about the spontaneity of “wild free jazz recordings” such as the likes of John Coltrane and Cecil Taylor. “I think it’s more about giving a chance to the unexpected without resisting where music is going to take you. Allowing yourself to follow the notes into the journey of unknown. Feeling with your whole being without any limits.”
“Jaakko’s music is an emotional stream in constant evolution,” says Italian composer, Emiliano Pietrini, who records under the name, Globoscuro, “Jaakko’s radical improvisation is like an illumination. Images and sensations evolving according to the rhythm that explodes from the heart of the performer. A perpetual motion of inspiration. What you hear is a kind of struggle: The thoughts expressed by each instrument fighting among themselves. But it is a harmonic struggle harmonic. A quiet chaos…a shiny madness.”
A shout that is quiet… Soundless…
Is not silent.
It grows inwards
and is therefore