Joakim Ojanen

Familiar feelings expressed as endearing, tragicomic figures.

artist wearing a cap sat in the middle of a studio covered in art-making tools, paints and preliminary sketches
artist with his back turned to the camera looking towards four large drawings on paper which are pinned to the wall of his studio
Artist painting blue details onto a small, red clay sculpture in his studio
4 images

Joakim Ojanen was born in 1985 in Sweden, where he continues to live and work.

Career

Ojanen left behind the beginnings of a career in animation and video production when he began to feel that commercial projects were dampening his creativity. In the years since, an uninhibited and eccentric, internationally-acclaimed practice has blossomed.

Did you know?

While centred on the artist's own memories and emotions, his works also draw inspiration from an enduring passion for rap music by artists such as Drake, Wu-Tang Clan and Young Thug.

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Practice overview

Ojanen’s creatures are surreal and deeply human at the same time. Each has a life of its own made up of droopy, worm-like expressions, bugged eyes, and odd flappy growths. Depicted across sculpture, painting and drawing, Ojanen uses a palette of pastel hues occasionally punctured by bursts of bright colour. The works contribute to the eclectic international resurgence of ceramics in contemporary art, from Grayson Perry to Yun Hee Lee. The works are inspired by DIY zine culture, as well as popular iconic cartoons like Garfield and Futurama. This sense of play runs throughout Ojanen’s practice, exploring the peculiar nature of the human condition.

Ojanen complicates binary notions of adult and child. Rough Day (Boy with Bag) (2017) is a 2.2 metre-tall, bronze cast sculpture of a young boy wearing shorts and an oversized cap, stooped over, holding a satchel. The all-too-familiar posture of a tired, defeated child is unavoidably endearing and envelopes the viewer - just like an animation or cartoon - in the same reality as the boy. This underscores Ojanen’s practice with a dour humour that nods to the complexities of growing up, the responsibilities of being an adult and, most importantly, the capacity to suffer that all humans have - regardless of age. As such, Ojanen brings out the inner child within us, challenging the viewer not only to recall our own experiences, but also to recall the experiences of others. A playful, odd and emotionally generous artist, Ojanen’s work is a reminder of the most powerful human trait: empathy.

“The characters I’m making are all my previous selves. They are both eight years old and thirty years old at the same time.”Joakim Ojanen