For the love of clay

FINAL photo Jussi VehkasaloFor the love of clay

By Carina Chela

Tommi Toija sculpts quaint human figures that are charged with emotions and depict the simple things of daily life, often in the sphere of tragicomedy. Toija’s 8.5 metre tall Bad bad boy sculpture – an embarrassed fellow that peed into the Baltic Sea by Helsinki’s Market Square – aroused both delight and disapproval, and certainly got noticed by the international media. Whilst studying at the Academy of Fine Arts, Toija became assistant to the renowned Finnish sculptor Kain Tapper, a period which he describes as important in forming his own artistic identity. Currently Toija is one of Finland’s most successful sculptors.

Why clay?

I enjoy how clay feels in my hands. I like it when the surface of the texture lives and I get that with clay. It’s easy to model with clay; I don’t have to work with molds or casting. That kind of work is too slow for me. I like to start working immediately. I sculpt directly in clay and then fire it in the kiln and that’s it! If it breaks during firing or afterwards, it’s no big deal! It’s part of the process. Then I just continue working with it. When I work in bronze it’s different. Casting in bronze has to be perfect.

How do you plan your sculptures?BOY balloons FINAL 2

I don’t plan my work so much. For instance when I come to my studio I know I will make a standing figure but I don’t know what kind of standing figure. I often find the shape while I work on it.

Your figures are characterized as humoristic. At the same time they are embarrassed or lonely. Are they sad or happy?

They are both. I think it depends also on the viewer’s own state of mind. If you are sad you will find something sad in them. But I suppose they are more tragic. If you have all the balloons that you’ve always wanted in your hand but suddenly they lift you up and take you away, well, that’s pretty scary! I think art should have several angles to it. Life is like that; it’s not black and white. People come from different backgrounds and they relate to what they see in different ways.

Tommi sculp 3 pee boyAre you ever short of ideas?

Oh yes, many times. But then I start to work on an old sculpture and try a new version. In my studio I also have lots of figures that are not ready or are broken and I often continue working with them. Sometimes I start to clean up my studio and the process might trigger something. I mean it can help me find an idea. But if I sit down and start thinking what to do, well, I would be sitting down for the rest of my life! I’ll end up thinking if there is any point at all in sculpting! My ceramic figures won’t save the world so it’s better not to think why I make them. Just keep on going.

When do you feel that your sculptures are ready to be shown?

When I realize that there’s no more time to continue working and the exhibition will open soon! Then I have to give them up. Deadlines are good things because they make you move on. But for me nothing is ever completely ready; if it is then I think that it’s boring or lacking life. Often I continue working with the sculptures even after the exhibition. Sometimes I have had to tell people interested in buying my work that the sculpture has changed from what they saw at the gallery.Tommi sculpture RED

 When do you take a break from your work?

For me it’s difficult to take long breaks because I like to work and I enjoy being in my studio. If I’m taking a long break I come to my studio anyway just to have a cup of coffee, or smoke a cigar and look around. My work is very manual; I need the space, my tools, materials, and the oven. I can’t work anywhere else.

I read an interview in which you said that you are not a creative person. What do you mean by this?

Many people have asked me when will I stop making these figures and go forward. And for me that’s a strange question because I just like to do them. That’s why I say that I’m not so creative. Of course, I work with the same figures but I make different versions. I don’t believe I have to do something new all the time. A new version has a different meaning, it’s a new angle, and it’s something totally new.

Are you a tragic or a humorous person?

Well I’m not sure… I think I am more of a tragic person. But I guess you better ask my wife! I somehow think she will say the same thing!

What about humour?

Life is much easier with humour. It’s always better to have a laugh and just move on!