NOBA Nordic Baltic contemporary art platform

Gonzaga Yellow is Aki Turunen’s debut appearance at Helsinki Contemporary. This body of works made using various techniques on canvas and paper fills the gallery’s front room with pure colours, and with several different series of works. The background to the exhibition is autumn 2019, which Turunen spent at the Circolo Scandinavo residence in Italy. He is interested in materials and art history, and his working process involves alchemy combined with play and adventure.

The title Gonzaga Yellow refers both to the shade of yellow that runs through the entire exhibition and to the princely Gonzaga dynasty that was influential in Italy in the 14th to 18th centuries.

When painting in the Italian light, Turunen was surprized to notice that he was not using earthy colours, but bright yellow: “Up until then, I had had a deep loathing for yellow, and had not used it in my paintings. Now, the common factor of the exhibition paintings is specifically yellow. That is surprising, wonderful, and terrible!”

At the same time, Gonzaga is a nod to art history, with research on it being central to Turunen’s working process. Although history is present in both his subjects and materials, he makes no attempt to draw a straight line to any particular imagery, rather, the core of his works involves combining – experiencing and openly confronting – different traditions. The paintings’ internal contradictions, the push and pull and the friction between the materials, colours and motifs, give the works movement and allow honest wonder: “The best thing when faced with a painting is to be absolutely quiet, to allow all the tiredness to be washed away, and to try to surrender to a possible connection that, despite everything, still remains a secret.”

Turunen has been working on the Queen Paintings or Regina series ever since his student days. Their pictorial starting point has been Maria Theresa, the only female ruler in the Habsburg family, which reigned in Europe in the 13th to 18th centuries. Turunen executes his queen pictures with considerable piety, only so as then to break up their structure. Image and painting pull in different directions, giving rise to a tension like that of a cracking mirror.

Another important series in the exhibition consists of paintings that draw on Victorian queer-porn imagery. These erotic pictures, which Turunen found, are printed in home-spun fashion and have the feeling of carefully guarded secrets. He had been looking for a photographic starting point for his working process, and found a personal point of contact in these pictures. Their eroticism is gentle and playful, the colours glow with an inner light.

The large-format castle paintings tie all of the exhibition works together, and as it were act as a gateway between the different series of works.


Aki Turunen (b. 1983), who lives and works in Helsinki, gained an MFA from the Academy of Fine Arts, Helsinki, in 2011. He has also studied painting at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen. Turunen’s works have been shown in solo and group exhibitions in Finland, including at Forum Box and Kluuvi Gallery, and in Denmark, for instance, at the Martin Asbæk Gallery. Turunen also took part in the Charlottenborg Spring Exhibition in 2011. His works are in collections including Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma and the State Art Commission.

Gallery name: Helsinki Contemporary

Address: Bulevardi 10, Helsinki

Opening hours: Tue-Fri 12:00 - 18:00, Sat-Sun 12:00 - 16:00

Open: 30.10.2020 - 22.11.2020