Juha Heikki Tihinen: Drawn gestures - On Vappu Rossi's art (2022)

The visual artist Vappu Rossi is also drawing when she does it in the form of videos or paintings. For her, drawing is the basis of her working process. When faced with Rossi’s works, it is easy to understand the fundamental nature of drawing and its criticality. Here, criticality is fundamental philosophical reflection that happens in the form of drawing as a physical act and as a taking of control in principle. Rossi’s works make it possible to understand new viewpoints on the themes of presence and absence, and on leaving a mark. 

Rossi initially studied for a BFA on the Art Education programme at the University of Art and Design Helsinki, but graduated with a Master’s degree from the printmaking subject area of

the Academy of Fine Arts in 2008. Since her time as a student, she has hardly worked at all with traditional printmaking, having gone over to its more extended form by the time she did her thesis work. She found her interest in different forms of drawing early on in her career. She summed up her ideas about drawing in 2011: “Drawing comes up very widely in my working process: in the form of a process, as a spatial or temporal event, as a conduit for expression, as an encounter with a human being on a profound level or as a means of observation, preserving in memory, and recording. I switch from drawing, which is often thought of as small-scale and sketch-like, to a large format and to new media: to light boxes and the projection screen, to gigantic anamorphous wall drawings. In live croquis sessions and cross-art happenings drawing is transformed into performance: drawing a dancing model and musicians in front of a live audience – subjecting my own working process to the public’s gaze – is a challenging and rewarding concept.” 

Rossi says she is interested in occupying the middle ground between the non-figurative and the figurative and, more precisely, where the figurative begins. Her animations that first become visible and then disappear or her drawing performances captivate a broad public. In recent years, Rossi has made both permanent and temporary drawings in public spaces using various techniques. Her subject matter includes themes from nature, but her other main topic is the human being, and especially faces. In the face portraits the viewer encounters another human, but they act like mirror images through which the viewer is confronted with eternal questions about existence and our experience of it. Rossi is herself specifically interested in the moment when it is possible to recognize a face as a face. 

Time is one of the key dimensions of Rossi’s production, since it is typical of her videoworks that the subject emerges into view. The drawings and paintings, too, have a powerful sense of time, which is linked to her seemingly timeless and always topical way of working. The faces or themes arising out of nature in her works again deal with the passage of time and bring the vanitas tradition into the present day. Previously her working process could also be based on old photographs, but nowadays her interest has shifted to more observation-based drawing. Nevertheless, Rossi’s works are not founded solely on a single visual source, but rather the starting point for a work can be several pictures on the basis of which she creates the work.

Like many other contemporary artists, a communal and group-working process plays a major role in Rossi’s artistic activities, and she has both made community art and worked with other artists. For example, in the joint work Face-to-Face, which she worked on with the choreographer Anni Rissanen, the performers use dance to trace out a face designed by Rossi. Dancers are frequently also her models. This interest in dance reveals the physical side of her art, which is rooted in the way she works like a medium, filtering the world through her body into drawings.  

Rossi also has a traditional job, since 2018, she has been Drawing Master of the University of Helsinki Art Room and the first woman to occupy the post. Being Drawing Master has also offered her new opportunities for collaborations with researchers from different disciplines. Rossi’s praxis brings out the nature of drawing as a basic skill and as practical-philosophy thinking. Drawing says something about thinking as a sensory expression, via which we can take control of the world, and on that basis make our own interpretations. The drawn lines and what the artist calls “dumplings” formed from pigment tell us something with the aid of representations, but they also speak of what remains unseen. In Vappu Rossi’s drawing art tradition and the present keep each other company in the guise of multimedia drawing.  

Juha-Heikki Tihinen

English translation by Mike Garner