My Corners: Samuli Turunen

Samuli Turunen
Age: 39
Graffiti artist, Graffiti Finnish champion 2016

Street name KISS

How it all Began
“Graffiti entered my life in the 1980s. I first saw a graffiti piece in a book called Spraycan Art that my big brother had. I thought it was so cool. I started to imitate those letters, and it wasn’t long before I wanted to try spray paint on a wall. The first time I painted was in the early 1990s, when I was 11 years old. I grew up in Tapulikaupunki, right next to the main railway, and I saw painted trains each day. There was a graffiti craze in Tapulikaupunki in the 1980s. Everybody had a street name. You didn’t need to be famous for it, but just enough that people knew when you wrote somewhere. It was a boom like that, everybody had inks and stickers.”

Graffiti Finnish Championship 2016
“I got a call from my friend who wanted me to send some pictures of my works since I had so many. I did, and suddenly I had passed the qualifications to compete in the main event in Joensuu. The winner was announced in Ilosaarirock. I have to admit that the win came as a surprise. I was like wow, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

A Proper Place for Graffiti
“Graffiti should be everywhere, reaching to the weirdest and unexpected places. Like a gateway or some secret place that’s not visible to everybody. Graffiti can control a space and make it functional. It can decorate or tell a story. A place with graffiti can’t be bland. It’s something that you makes you pause and take a good look at it.”

On Painting Electricity Distribution Cabinets
“The electricity company Helen asked me and my friends to paint some of their electricity distribution cabinets as a part of the Arabia Street Festival. In places where there there’s lots of people, tourists, young people… all distribution cabinets ought to be painted. They make the street look cool, and they look so much better when they’re painted than when they are gray and dirty. When you see a colourful painted box and you go wow, it spices up the street and the image of the whole block. It’s crazy how many electricity cabinets have already been painted, there’s some cool ones even in Eira.”

Transitory Graffiti
“A fresh painting can remain for a week or just a couple of hours. I’ve always wanted to take pictures of my works, ever since I got my first camera in the early 1990s. It was a shabby film camera, and it was the best gift ever.”

Street Art or Graffiti?
“How do you define street art? We graffiti people think that graffiti is graffiti and street art is street art. Lately I’ve heard many questions about why I haven’t wanted to paint big murals on big houses. It’s just not my thing. I’m more drawn to bridge underlays and underpasses, and places like the Kulosaari noise wall. Murals on house facades are for those who like making them.”

On Community
“I’m not the kind of guy who wants to do everything on my own. I have artist friends who help me with big works. If I get a job to paint a big mural, I take all my friends with me. We have a long history together and we know how to talk about colors and styles. Murals are a lot cooler when they’re made by a group. Everyone brings their own style.”

Changing Times
“One day I was painting in Suvilahti and there were a couple of kids who didn’t have enough black paint for their background. The other kid just said to the other one that “meh, it’s okay, we can always photoshop it afterwards”. When we were young, there was no photoshop around. When the paint ran out, that was it. Times have changed in other ways too. We used to get our paint cans from car shops and such. These days there are shops where you can get everything: drawing tools, spray paints, instructions and even maps of places where you can paint.”

A Long History
“We made our first pieces with my friends in the eighties. In a few years it’ll be thirty years ago. There’s so much history: different styles, evolving paints… There have been times when I’ve thought if there’s any point to all this, what with so many hardships. I never thought that this could be a profession for me. I’ve learned so much about so many things. Through graffiti I’ve learned how to paint with an airbrush, I’ve done bike helmets, car hoods, ice hockey masks, tattoos. I paint because I want to, probably for the rest of my life.”

Mothers
My mother collects all press clips about me. There’s been a lot of them through the years. She has a folder where she puts them. Every time she sees something in a magazine or the news, she calls me. Especially now, when I was in Oulu to paint a piece that the city ordered from me, and a local magazine wrote that KISS was here.

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

TEXT: KAROLIINA SAARNIKKO
PHOTOS: MIIKKA PIRINEN