My Corners: Jukka Metsäaho

Age: 35
Graffiti name: jugix2
Graffiti and Street Artist
Directs music videos, commercials, and documents
www.pablo.fi/directors

Graffiti, Skateboarding, and Youth
“Graffiti entered my life when I was around ten years old. My friend had a book titled Subway Art and we read it and were like, what the hell is this! Graffiti bloomed all over Helsinki in the early 1990s. I started to see walls and different elements in a whole new light because of that book. Me and my friend started shooting the tracksides of railway and subway tracks on a film camera. Those places had that something, they were different with their colors, styles, attitude and I was really interested in all that. We started painting some letters by copying them from the photos, and then we started making our own. I made my first pieces somewhere around 1994. Skateboarding entered the picture when I was a teenager. It was a kind of an adventure and freedom, painting and making skateboard videos. After Torkkeli Upper Secondary School of Visual Arts I wanted to study graphic design, but I couldn’t get in the school, so I started studying video in Heltech vocational school in Arabia.”

Two Passions
“I have two passions in my life, painting and making videos. I started by making skateboard videos, and that turned pretty naturally into making music videos. I’ve done about fifty music videos, mainly for Finnish rappers, such as Notkea Rotta, DJ Kridlokk, Jätkäjätkät, Ameeba, Paleface, Teflon Brothers and JVG. My best known video work is probably SMC Lähiörotat (SMC Hoodrats), which really caught on. These days me and my friends have a production company called Pablo Films, and I’m a shareholder in it. I also make commercials and documents, but working on music videos is more free and creative. I direct and edit my own work. I guess I’m a bit neurotic about keeping control to myself, so that the result will be exactly like I want it. When my music videos started becoming more popular, I dedicated myself completely to them, and painting started to fade a bit as a part of my life. I would have wanted to make progress and improve my skills in painting as well, but there wasn’t enough time. I painted graffiti, but I started to feel that just making letters was becoming repetitive. I didn’t know where to go with that stuff. There were a couple of times when the video stuff felt constricting, so I took a pause to breathe and find my creativity. I went to search the direction where I should take my painting, so I made some picture paintings and all kinds of different stuff. I got interested in making characters and refining every last detail.”

On Emotional States
“To me, editing is the most important part of making videos. That’s where I create the style and mood of the film, and I feel like I get into a same kind of zone in my mind that I do when I’m painting. Calm, alone, concentrated, creating emotional states and simply feeling good. You just let go of everything around you and concentrate on the stuff that matters. Painting is a kind of relaxation, even though I’m very critical about myself. But I guess the biggest joy and relief come from finishing a painting that I’ve planned. It’s the same with films, that it’s only after when they’re done that I can really breathe. Or if not done, then when I have to turn them over. It’s a good thing that there are deadlines, otherwise I could just keep on grinding on them. I clearly have perfectionist tendencies.”

On Photorealism
“I saw this book in Geezers that’s about the German Ma’Claim collective that does photorealistic paintings. It blew my mind that you could do that stuff! Just seeing one picture made me feel all kinds of things. Mostly I was amazed that you could do something that looked so real. I got interested in that, it felt more than what I could get from making only letters. I had so much video work that I couldn’t do anything about it for a couple of years, but it was on the back of my mind. Finally a year ago I took a week to paint an underpass. I wanted to test my limits. I had been stuck on that book for years and analyzed the process on the internet, tried to find out what it would take to make something like that. The finished work was good enough that I felt great about it. I got a whole new inspiration for painting. Not to say that it was easy. I cursed a lot while doing it. Now I’ve done some works in the last year that have received pretty good publicity. Things have worked out. If something comes out of this, I might soon face the positive challenge of how to combine all of the stuff I do. I often hope that there would be more hours in a day.”

Own Style
“El Mac in the US has a whole style of his own. He’s found this technique of using a spray can to create his characters. Looking from a distance, it looks like a sharp and detailed photograph, but when you get close you can see that the lines are actually thick and actually pretty wavy. He keeps his spray cans in the cold, so that the paint shoots out in a certain pressure. He’s taken it to a pretty crazy level, but I think it’s really cool. You can recognize the style right away. I hope that I can find a my own distinctive style. For now, I’ll keep making the photorealistic stuff and see if I can keep it up, if it is going to go in some new direction and what’s going to happen. But I do believe that my own style develops by doing stuff, just like with music videos. You have to find and test your limits, so you can find out where the whole thing is going. You just have to do it one painting at a time. I dream  about making big murals and an exhibition of my own.”

On Adventure
“When I was a kid, taking trackside photos, going painting or skateboarding, it all felt like a great adventure. Me and my friends took a train, a bus, or the subway and we always knew the place where we were headed. Once we heard that there was an abandoned water treatment plant in Vuosaari, and that people were painting all over it during the days. We had seen some pictures of it, maybe in a library or something, since there wasn’t any internet back then. But the thing is, we didn’t know where it was. We spent a whole day adventuring, going to Vuosaari where we had never been to and trying to look for the place. We felt like the world opened up when we found it. It was the same with all the other cool places like the Gallery in Pasila, Pulu in Huopalahti and the Hyenas in Tapanila. Then when you went to paint yourself, it felt all the more like an adventure. We got to know the city as well. It was the same thing with skateboarding, scouting for good locations to do spots. It’s really important in skateboard videos to choose the right place where to do a trick. I also scout the locations for my music videos, because it’s really important to choose the right location for the shoot. I still get that strong feeling of adventure, and I think it’s great.”

Similarities between Graffiti and Skateboarding
“Skating and graffiti are similar in the that way that they both are about adventures and taking possession of the city. A curiosity towards the city, and the interest to see what’s behind the corner. It’s about leaving a mark. They also have their own languages. If you set up a meeting with another graffiti artist, it’s easier to say that you’re going to meet in a location where you can find a graffiti piece or where you’ve shot a video than to look up a street address. It’s the same thing with skaters: ‘see you where we shot that spot’. Graffiti and skating have the same kind of freedom. When I was a kid I was pretty shy about expressing myself, but graffiti felt like a good way to do that. You can say something that you can’t or don’t want to in other ways. You can do it in secret or at nighttime or with a different name. You can create something of your own or pour out a whole another side of yourself. And nobody else has a say in your expression. Like with skateboarding. I played soccer in a team until I was a teenager, but then I started skating. You can express yourself freely. There’s no coach to tell you what to do and no schedules. You can do what you want with your friends when you want to do it, and nobody is ticked off if you don’t show up at seven o’clock sharp.”

Graffiti versus Street Art – the Eternal Debate
“The concepts are not too clear-cut. I feel that finally it’s getting more open-minded about these things and people around here. But it’s hard to put these things in clear categories. Maybe you can draw a line between a piece that is meant for a few people in an underpass and one that’s for a larger public in a museum, a restaurant or a house facade. I’m pretty sure everyone who makes these things is passionate about their work! I don’t want to lock people in a single category, I like to develop and do both.”

Tools and Instruments, Past and Present
“Malmi had a mall called Ostoparatiisi (Buyer’s Paradise), and there was a home improvement shop called Teesi where you could buy paint cans. But the nozzles were shit. We couldn’t understand how people could create amazing stuff and we couldn’t do anything like it. Finally we found out that there was a shop called Deco in Kallio, and you could get nozzles there that were called nykifätti (NYC fat). It was an amazing feeling to get those kinds of cans and realize that this was the thing you were looking for. A dream come true. As a little boy, you saved up a hundred marks over and over again to get stuff from Decoväri. These days all the tools and instruments are available here. The German company Molotow has even developed water-based spray paints and inks that blend together, which is good for making something like a canvas painting. It’s cool that the tools and the whole culture is still going forwards, I would never have thought of it.”

The map shows you Jukka’s Corners. Click on a place to read what Jukka has to say about it.

TEXT: KAROLIINA SAARNIKKO
PHOTOS: MIIKKA PIRINEN