It’s about the history of portraits. Painting and drawing is very male-centric and, as we know, portraits have mainly been drawn and painted of people who have status, money or power. If you look at the history these are mainly white men, with the occasional royal or noblewoman. So I wanted to elevate women with this project and for them to be seen – and also, somehow, caressed.
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Lots of the women who sit in front of me have said that no one has ever looked at them like this before. When I draw you, I need to look at the details of your features so I really look at you. Some people are very awkward: it can be uncomfortable to have someone just looking at you for ten minutes. In Finland women more eagerly look me straight in the eyes, whereas in London people are a little bit more uncomfortable with looking in the eyes for so long.
I do two portraits of each sitter because this is not only for me, and that’s the whole idea. I do mainly socially aware art projects and with this project, too, I want to give something back to people because they give their time and their presence to me. At the end, the model chooses which drawing they want to take home. Of course, the installation that I’m going to do of these 1000 portraits is important, but the process is super important to me, too. That’s partly why I’m not interested in doing photographic portraits: the precious thing about this is looking at the person and having this experience with her.
When I started this a year ago I wasn’t expecting it to be so powerful and also very exhausting. The energy of the people really transmits and that was a surprise. Sometimes I feel like I want to cry; people carry so much sorrow. And sometimes I feel like I just want to laugh. Sometimes I feel like I see histories and sometimes like I see a future. It’s really weird.
This is the first time I’ve been doing this in a public space. I’ve been doing this in art museums in Finland but this is a very different experience and it’s interesting to me how people operate in this public space. At first when I come here nobody comes and then I have a chat with somebody and then when the first one comes in other people start to get interested and then you get a flow of people. People stare from a distance here first whereas in the art museums people queue up and want to know when it’s going to be their turn.
Find Katriina in Granary Square from Friday 10 until Sunday 12 August between 11am-1pm and 3-5pm hours. Find out more.