Julius is an artist who lives in Helsinki, Finland.  His mixed-media images http://www.julius.fi/index.html combine symbols and brands with photographic images that he gets from a variety of sources.  What he ends up with is very strong personal and social commentary.  What inspires him?  Read our cool chat and find out more …

MICHAEL: Hello Julius, While I was looking at your website, your work gave me a strong sense of connection with pop culture. Yet somehow, I can also see hedonism combined with a sense of doom. LOL. Am I wrong?

JULIUS: Hey Michael, Yes, everything is Pop, everything from Islamists, nations, nature, consumer goods and brands to Nicki Minaj.  Everything is brands and symbols. And these brands/symbols/Pop smash into each other and are more or less tension with each other. Humans are essentially images, objectives and meaning making animals. And individuals get bombarded by media and internet like no other era before. That creates a very vibrant and fast world, fashion. And as an artist, it’s very fertile soil.

MICHAEL: What about the hedonism part? 

JULIUS: People want to enjoy and experience their lives and that’s why hedonism. But there is always violence, conflicts and death in life. Just hedonism would be boring to look at and it would show the world in a dishonest light.

There is drama and tragedy; it’s a jungle out there. Satan with horns is borrowed from ancient Greece, Germanic and probably global pre-historical mythological systems where it’s fertility symbols and fetishes - the exact opposite of Christian demigod of destruction and evil. In old classical European art history, Vanitas is where hedonism/life and doom/death are set alongside.  Before that, I look at African fetishes and cut flowers/Ikebana and games and movies.

In a way, hedonism and doom are best friends - and it’s the dual message we get through this, enjoy this and global warming and destruction of biodiversity and same old humans killing other humans because of different nationalism, ethnicity, religion and/or profit.

MICHAEL: Your work looks like a combination of photography, collage and maybe also mixed media. What's your process for creating art?

JULIUS: In principle, I can use sketching by drawing, painting, digital image editing (photoshop) and photography in any order as work order and idea developing. But I really only make lots of lists of ideas and words and very rough sketches with pencil or ballpoint pen on pieces of paper or notebooks in a very unorganized way. I also collect images from the internet (mostly Google image search and Tumblr) on specific themes or interesting images. They focus on three very broad and raw folders nude (which are humans or body parts), objects (which are objects with some symbolic interest and maisemat (in English landscapes) which are backgrounds or trees etc. My maisemat and objects get blurred and mixed because some have more active symbolic action. I photoshop with mainly collage technique some of the images I have collected.

In the future, I plan to photograph more and more staged photographs and to lean on photoshop less and less. I may re-paint the images. I’m also interested in building installations/sculptures on a grand scale à la Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami when/if I have more money.

I’m also interested in t-shirts with image prints as medium and other more uncommon mediums and venues of art like art as paid advertisements or art in nightclubs. Relationships between art, business and branding is very interesting to me, one of the cornerstones of my philosophy of my art, alongside symbolism and the synthesis of pop art, political art and erotic art.

I’d like to think that I’m imaging post-pop art or even ”post-art” and I’m trying to define art in a more hip, up-to-date way. I’d also like to think of myself as a present “avant-gardist,” at least that’s my goal. I have my road maps, but there is a lot of undiscovered black spots on the map. Most of my work routine is thinking ideas, their connections and how they would work as art. I read and buy more books than I read and watch documentaries, images and the news. I think that it’s good for ideas and my artistic metaphysics and philosophy. One idea that keeps haunting me is art as ritual and ritual objects and art as religion and religion as art, what art can learn from religion. I think some of the best artworks are the two versions of The Virgin/Madonna of the Rocks by Leonardo Da Vinci. I wish that I could transcend it to modern symbols and values.

MICHAEL: Very cool. Tell me about your country Finland. Do people in Finland appreciate and buy contemporary art?  What is it like in Finland?  For some reason, I think of Finland as a very cool and hip place like Sweden where people love art and design. No?

JULIUS: Finland is big country with a small population. There are some big collectors, but generally Finns buy a lot of books and music and not contemporary art. I think Finnish art and design is a victim of its own stereotypical image/genre - minimalism, clinical, grayish colors and stylistic repetition. The most famous Finnish artist is Tom of Finland. Jani Leinonen and Riiko Sakkinen are interesting too.  They do political, leftist pop art. 

We like forests, lakes, going to the sauna naked and beating (vihtoa) yourself with bath whisks (vihtas) made of punch of birch branches and skinny dipping in lakes and long, dark winters is Finland. It’s like performance art, so that’s why we don’t buy art. LOL.

I want to photograph amid Finnish nature mostly nude women with brands, and set for examples in swamps - swamps in the north are some of the most beautiful places in Finland. Finlands Finnish name is Suomi and suo means swamp. I want to do other countries and places in my art as much as possible too. Be global and local. 

Finland is a nice holiday destination if you want different experiences than exotic, warm beaches and city holidays, but when you live in Finland, it can be depressing and tiring because of lack of sunlight and warmth during the long winters (winter is almost six months and spring and late autumn are cold too). Finland is cool in a very literal sense. In Finland, we talk a lot about weather and nature. Finns generally like quite old-fashioned art of Finnish landscape oil paintings and in ruska (colors of fall). You can hear when grandmas say that art loses every time to nature, like it’s some competition. Finnish nature and saunas are the killers of Finnish arts. LOL.

MICHAEL: I love the fact that you obviously love your country yet you can also parody it and you consider art global and local. I think you're the first artist who has ever said that to me. Your work really is global and works anywhere in the world. If you had to leave Finland forever, where would you like to live?

JULIUS: I think you can make art in and about every country in interesting way. I would love to live in many places. I can name Los Angeles because art as career, Las Vegas and Ibiza because of party scene, Rio de Janeiro because of carnival tradition, any exotic and warm beach paradise and big cities around world. But because I have lived so long in more raw nature and cold weather, I may want to live slower and spend some time in places like Iceland, Norway or Canada with a sauna. I think as an artist, if you want to be truly creative, you need to have time when you don’t do anything and let the thinking and associations do their thing. I think many artists’ problem is that they are so focused on their art as craft that they don’t take time and distance to be critical and give the subconscious the credit.

MICHAEL: When did you first become an artist? Do you come from an artistic family?

JULIUS: I drew when I was child like most children. I wanted to be an explorer in rain forests and an architect. Later in senior high school, I wanted to be industrial designer, but I took every art class that I could. Later, in prep classes that were run by professional artists, I decided that art was what I wanted to do and not industrial design. I was in art school about a year and dropped out because I felt that I got what I could get from there.

Since 2009, I’ve been doing art more or less on a regular basis. At first, I was more interested in painting with watercolors, then I painted with oils and acrylic on wood panels in an aggressive, raw expressionist way (like other way is only for losers) and that’s when politics and pop came into the picture; erotics and symbolism were already there.

Art is philosophy and religion to me. I have always liked doing art at night while listening to music in the process - many times the same track over and over - Michael Jackson, classical music, anything that you like to hear over and over - sad songs work usually better and you can find sadness from surprising songs like ”Sun is Shining” by Bob Marley. When I paint, I like to smoke fat, Dominican cigars.  I don’t smoke otherwise. I get what Picasso and others got from it. You don’t get the same kind of flow, strong emotions and rush from photo-shopping. As an artist, you need to be proud of your roots and at the same time look to the future. When artists paint, it’s the same thing as when Muslims go to Mecca, if not more sacred, or like Finn to sauna.

One of the Golden Age artists of Finland is my relative, Juho Rissanen. He moved to the USA later, but flopped because he lost touch with ”being original Finnish” and was trying to be ”too French.” I come from an old blacksmith's family.  It was a valued profession at that time and pretty much close to being an artist at that time in Finland which was a poor country. One of my relatives during World War II was Mannerheim’s most trusted general. I don’t know my father’s side from 1300-1100’s which is when written history starts and I have never met my mother’s parents. She was adopted at a young age and nobody knows much about the other half of my relatives - just some black and white photographs.

MICHAEL: What do you think about the contemporary art world and how it functions?  Are there things that you would change if you could?

JULIUS: The art world is driven by money like trading stocks and blue-chip sales to big collectors. Like trading stocks, ordinary people don’t do it much. They could buy something more cheap from young artists and wait for the prices to go up. Big collectors are not interested; they want to play the big game. Capitalism is the better master of art than royals or the church.  At least we can choose what kind of art we do - and it sells or it doesn’t sell.

I would like to do what Andy Warhol failed and give art back to people as a consumer product.  I want to do it in a way that gives value to people in places that are good for them.  It can be art in t-shirt prints, art in advertisements, art in nightclubs, art in music videos, art in (free) porn movies, art in products from cars, perfumes to wine bottles - potentially art could (and should) be everywhere in price - from blue-chip, expensive to affordable to free. Other artists do this already on a really small scale.

Art’s purpose is to give people more pleasure, meaning, thoughts and help them do better in their lives. It can be as simple as making nice printed t-shirts. I think eventually art will at least mostly inherit the offices of religions and philosophy and artists should take the responsibility not as a restrictive thing but make a big opening to make world and art a lot better.

You could go as far as start a new religion, but this time it would be ethical from every corner (on most modern standards) and made in a way that everything would aesthetically, sensually and mentally interesting, giving fulfillment. Many atheists go wrong in that it would be enough for humans to be boring all science guys. Life is not just facts, reason and evidence - life is about needs, meaning, subconscious, sexuality, emotions, pleasure, symbolism, ego, thoughts, rituals, fears, beauty, truth in non-factual ways, etc. I think many artists don’t have a lot of ambition they are so focused on their craft. And failing in art is okay to do so. You can try anything - art is freedom and more.

MICHAEL: Finally Julius, What is the message of your work? And why should people even care about art?  What can art do? Shouldn't they care more about the homeless and the environment?

JULIUS: The message (of my work) is … “Fuck You!” Here is an image, you watch it and either you like it or not. Art is a mirror. If it’s a good mirror, you get some enjoyment, ideas amd emotions from it.  If not, it’s just nothing to you. Of course, there are values behind my art, but you can’t name all of them because they have no names or would be very difficult to say. That’s why we have art. We can’t communicate everything by words effectively. Pro-liberalism, pro-sexuality, pro-aesthetics, pro-imagination, pro-dreams, pro-pleasure, pro-life, pro-human, pro-humanity, pro-life, pro-sensuality, pro-freedom, pro-tension, pro-ritual, pro-fun, pro-truth, pro-taste, pro-reason and pro-virtues in general - but those are just names for them - art can be the real thing.

If you don’t care about art, you haven’t seen good enough art for your specific needs. Art can make you grow as a person and as a society. It can make you happy, sad, thoughtful or not interested. Art is searching and reaching and recording what it is to be human and what it can be. It’s humanity’s heritage. 

Should you care more about the homeless and the environment?  You need to give away money - for that means more taxes, you know. There will be art, homeless and environment no matter whether you like it or not as long as there is a need for that. Of course, you can make art out of helping the homeless and the environment, if you want.

If you want to help the homeless and young artists, you can. Jean-Michel Basquiat was homeless and buying art from him saved him from the streets but not from drugs. If you buy art from me, I will promise that I'm not going to die from drugs.

MICHAEL: I’m certainly glad to hear that.  Well Julius, You definitely say it like you mean it. Cool chat. Thanks.

Check out Julius Granström at http://www.julius.fi/index.html.