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Hanna Kanto’s life has included several stages as an art student, teacher and full-time artist. However, all these cycles are connected by two things: love towards Lapland and painting. 

Artist Hanna Kanto’s (born in Tornio, 1981) spark towards art and painting ignited after high school at the Liminka School of Arts. After graduation, Kanto studied for master’s degree in art at the University of Lapland, worked as a teacher for a short term, then finally decided to move to Kätkäsuvanto’s old village school and try life as a full-time artist.

Hard work was paid off and Kanto got great opportunities to display her works. She received an invitation e.g. for Mänttä Art Festivals in the summer of 2010. Although there was plenty of work to do, Kanto longed for more challenges in life, which is why she started teaching part-time at the Finnish-Swedish Folk High School in Haparanda. In 2021, Kanto is graduating from two years of studies at the Academy of Fine Arts. She is thinking about moving back to Helsinki soon, but will keep making trips to Lapland – especially to ski and to look for new subjects for her paintings.

– That’s exactly what my painting Spillings (2017) is all about: my relationship to cross-country skiing. Peaceful, low-paced and silent movement in the nature is important to me and that’s why I want to bring it to my paintings too. In addition to nostalgia, I always like to put something extra and weird details into my work. That’s why, for example, the skier in the picture has an eternal summer and butterflies on his jacket.

Artist Hanna Kanto at her workroom in Tornio. Photo: Nina Susi.

Emotional bond to Lapland

Northern culture, people, lifestyle and nature are the main themes in Kanto’s paintings.

– As early as 21st century, I went on cross-county ski tours to Lapland. That’s when my own relationship with Lapland awoke. When I moved to Kätkäsuvanto in 2008, I spent all my free time with local people. I was involved in reindeer round-up, tried fishing with nets under the ice and cross-country skied around the fell. During those days my combination of painting and the north started to form itself.

– My previous technique included a lot of emptiness, heaven and earth. Big night skies, small trees and a little man in the middle of it all. The subjects, of course, came from the north and its nature and animals. In Design Hotel Levi, there is a painting called Mosquito (2016), which is an enlargement of a mosquito. We have more than enough of those little creatures in Lapland. With a large, 1.5-meter mosquito I wanted to picture, how a small mosquito in large quantity can completely change the experience of the situation.

– In 2018, I started working on a new theme which is, more precisely, just a different side from the north. I accompanied scientists, who were doing field research in Kilpisjärvi. Their studies measured a lot of invisible things about northern nature, such as carbon emissions and methane. This new material I got from the field changed my painting techniques, the angle of view and partly also the subjects of my paintings.

– Nowadays, my work is more abstract and has both figurative and interpretive pictorial elements. I still want my work to have enough information and signs for the viewer to be able to connect it with certain phenomena through details. However, I am not outlining everything directly, as I want to leave room for the viewer to make multi-directional interpretations.

Spillings (2017)
Mosquito (2016)

Two-dimensional surface – million opportunities

Kanto prefers to work by painting.

– Visuality is important to me, which is why I couldn’t even imagine doing just sound art, for example. I enjoy painting and the process itself: how painting starts to move to its own direction and how selection is done in a moment. After all, I always have an idea for which I gather material before starting to work on a painting itself. But the artwork still evolves and changes along the way, which is interesting to follow as the artist.

– Painting usually always has a two-dimensional surface on which illusions are created. Thanks to it, the possibilities are almost limitless, as it is possible to use one’s own imagination, mixed with signs of the visible world or things that are experienced and felt. Changing all of this to the language of painting, behind brush strokes, creates a lot of new levels to it. I think creating liveliness and interest on a flat image surface is very challenging and therefore always so interesting in this art form.

– Personally, I use a wide range of materials for painting, such as a brush, airbrush and thick oil paint. Sometimes I also combine other elements with paintings, such as in my most recent exhibition where I made ceramics in connection with the works. The ceramic parts seemed to wander out of the paintings, creating an interesting dialogue between a cold and stone-like ceramics and a lively and soft painting.

Painting and art have a big impact to Kanto’s life.

– Art is a way of life for me. Visuality and imagery are part of my expression and thinking. In this work, it is impossible to get on vacation, because I perceive life through my art: I often construct my experience directly into a pictorial form, meaning I perceive life through visual signs that end up to my works. Also, the visuality of life, meaning every view I see, may hold the key to take an unfinished work forward or has a possible start to a new work of art.