An Artist’s Dwelling (13) – Riika Sormunen

Riika Sormunen is an artist, born in Helsinki, Finland in 1987 who is represented in Finland by Napa Illustrations.

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Riikka Sormunen via The Walkup

After the Show, 2011

Now, after a move from Germany to Canada, her macabre yet comedic artwork has been featured by The New York Times and Image.  The colors in much of her work are lively, even saccharine, yet the meaning is always a bit darker – maybe, a bit sarcastic.

Evoking the sensibilities of Egon Shiele – in her twisted and strangely posed, slightly sexual bodies –  her work also borders on the brink of fashion sketches and textile clippings.

Riikka Sormunen via The Walkup

Dark Waters, 2010

Sormunen started her career as an illustrator at the age of 19, when she was commissioned for her first magazine illustration job. Her work elicits the memory of chinoiserie and Japanese wood-blocking (especially her use of lines) – the details are flat yet multifaceted – the shapes are whimsical and contrasts in scale – the flourishes are oriental in style.


Riikka Sormunen via The Walkup


paisley rug // peacock square wood tray // normandy white tall tray table // aleah koury framed wall art // pop pink coffee cup // saddle strap lamp // anna chair // alvin glass ink well // princeton ottoman // virring rug 

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East Meets West

Let’s talk chinoiserie. It is a French term, meaning “Chinese-esque”, and refers to a recurring aesthetic and design theme created by European artisans since the seventeenth century, which reflect Chinese influences. Chinese decorateive arts are heavily based in lacquer, asymmetry, ceramics, and fanciful vignettes. The earliest beginnings of Europe’s obsession with the “orient” began in the arts of the nations with active East India Companies (stock and trade in in cotton, silk, indigo dye, salt, saltpetre, tea and opium) – Holland, England, and Portugal. Western designers were inspired to imitate the technical precision of Chinese ceramics  – particularly in Holland, in the Dutch town of Delft wherein in artisans heavily copied the white-and-blue tea services of the Ming dynasty. Hence the term – Delftware. It is said by Daniel Franklin Wright, in his thesis Chinoiserie in the novels of Robert Hans van Gulik, that this design aesthetic (a creation of “Chinese” goods by European artisans) was less interested in closely emulating Chinese styles than in creating fashionable exotica for the domestic market.

Images from Top Left Clockwise: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8 / 9

Edward Said, the famed sociologist, in his seminal book Orientalism, actually gives Chinoiserie a negative connotation wherein the fashion became a usurping of false Eastern ideals. European artisans were merely copying the visual style without understanding its spiritual or religious meaning and importance. In this way, the West was colonizing and patronizing the East.  Indeed, he postulates that the design first became popular in the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe because the West was viewed as a “fantasy”, “fiction” and place for the “other”. European artists often cosmetically stole forms from China and skewed the perspective using Western and Classical painting techniques – Chinese painting did not adhere to the laws of exact representation and perspective. Western artists used imaginary scenes to essentially create interior design that offered mental escapism. Indeed, I do not see Chinoiserie as either “negative” or “positive”, I believe it represents an homage to the beauty of certain eastern aesthetics. Modern day decor using these Eastern influences combines straight lines, bright neons, and nontraditional minimalist decor with the ornate details of Chinoiserie. I see this style as a beautiful combination of two worlds, coexisting together.

A bamboo chair painted a glossy cornflower blue, and a whimsically patterned wallpaper – in Delftware blue! Image found HERE.

Chinoiserie bedding meets ultra modern, neon, diagonal rugs. The gilded frame brings several eras and styles together! Image found HERE.

Dragons, Pagoda Lamp, Red Glossy Mirror! Image found HERE.

From the Domino Magazine Files, circa May, 2007. Cheery wallpaper (France meets China, look closely), 1st edition iPod, white wall clock decal.  Image found HERE.

Seaside Cottage meets China. Image found HERE.

Anthropologie’s Whisting Thorn Wallpaper.

Delftware Stencils found via The Royal Design Studio.

Baroque pastels meet Chinoiserie details. Image found HERE.

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