For this week’s Spotlight, we sat down with Finnish painter and digital artist Mikko Lyytinen.
Mikko’s works range from large abstract and expressive oil paintings to surreal, finely detailed digital drawings and are inspired by nature and spirituality as much as technology and progress. Influence can come from any direction, from ancient myths to everyday experiences. Chaos, change, and growth have been some of the main underlying subjects throughout his work, which range from large abstract, expressive oil paintings to fantastic and surreal digital drawings.
In this interview, we got to go a little deeper into his influences, how he came to NFTs, and how his career is evolving.
MP: Can you tell me about your background as an artist?
ML: I guess it was quite early on that I thought I was going to be an artist. It wasn’t quite clear what exactly it was going to be, but I did draw a lot in school — on the sides of notebooks and the backs of tests, that kind of thing. But it was still quite the journey to becoming an artist.
I dropped out of high school and did my military service for a while. Then I got into a vocational school for communications and fine arts, though the fine arts side was pretty light. It was mostly graphic design, photography, and video production.
After that, I spent quite a few years trying to get to a real art school, but I was still kind of clueless about how things worked. I got into this six-month workshop for unemployed youth. It was intended to keep us waking up early and busy, but we had access to education, materials, and activities around painting, printmaking, drama, drumming — all kinds of things. I was encouraged there to pursue art, and I went to a private college for a year.
It was amazing, like finally, real artmaking. Every day, you’re there in the studio and getting instruction. At that point, it was the best year of my life. After that, I got into a four-year art school and got a B.A. in Fine Arts in 2011. I’ve been making art ever since.
I specialized in painting, which I’ve been doing for the bulk of my career. I learned about blockchain in 2016 and started leaning more toward digital art. In 2018, I minted my first NFT. I joined MakersPlace in 2020 and have been able to make a lot of work, so it’s been great.
MP: Have you digitized any of your paintings, or are your NFTs wholly digital?
ML: Mostly digital. I wanted to [digitize my paintings] when I first got into it, but I thought staying exclusively digital was the way to go. But I’ve since relaxed, and I got some paintings now on OpenSea. And there’s actually an entire exhibition of my paintings on Rarible.
MP: Are your non-subjective, color pieces you sell on OpenSea a new direction for you? They seem a departure from your main body of work.
ML: I’ve been a painter for most of my professional career, but those paintings are quite recent. I think they’re mostly from 2020 and on. All of the artmaking I do starts with the material. Switching to digital, it felt like drawing was primal to digital art. Painting feels much more three-dimensional and harder to show in a digital form. That’s why I hadn’t really considered them for NFTs.
MP: Do you sell the physical with the digital?
ML: Yeah, that’s my thought with the paintings.
MP: Who are the creatures that inhabit your work? “Stay” and “A Measure of Depth” come to mind.
ML: Well, I’d say there’s certainly some influence from different myths and things, but I’m not trying to illustrate something specific. Mainly they are something inside of me, inside of my mind. Things I’m working on are good representations of what’s happening in my life and hopefully something general enough for somebody to relate to. I don’t want to point to something direct. It’s kind of a mood thing, and people come up with their own interpretations.
“Measure of Depth” was partly inspired by a Finnish spell that translates as “Words of the Worm” from a witchcraft book called “The Black Book” found in 1862. Besides that one, there are other versions of spells or poems in the folklore, telling the origin of the “worm” — which is used interchangeably with a snake — in order to gain power over it. Commonly it was recited to get rid of snakes or heal a snakebite. I’m not describing that in the art exactly, but that background is there.
MP: How does Scandinavian folklore play into your work?
ML: I certainly draw inspiration from them. I went out something that referencing tearing my work. I don’t know, I guess I’m trying to keep some kind of link to the myths and folk artists. There’s a lot of wisdom in them that’s still relevant, even if it doesn’t seem so and our circumstances are very different from those times. But it’s good to think about them more. And I try to capture that timelessness.
MP: “Camping Spirit” is an exciting collaboration you did on AsyncArt. Can you tell me how it came about and a little bit about the scene you created?
ML: Yeah, the other art is PXLPET, otherwise known as schauermann. We just clicked. We started talking. We had a similar vibe in our art, though he was doing this voxel work, and I was doing my pixel drawing. The day and night motif seemed like a good way to do our own work and blend it. It ended up being quite a long process — 6–8 months. We passed the work back and forth and took our good time, and I think it ended up being really great.
MP: If you could teach the world about one tiny corner of the totality of your artistic influences, what would you turn them on to?
ML: That might be the toughest question. This might be a little surprising coming from me, but I would have to say Duchamp. It might not be an obvious choice, but I think there’s a lot to learn if you look at the works a little deeper. I certainly overlooked a lot when I was younger. I just had this attitude of, “I saw The Fountain, and that’s certainly not art,” and I let that define the whole character of Duchamp. But there’s more there.
He plays little games with titles and inside the art. I think I’ve done something similar with my 2/2 artwork, “Knights of the Abyss,” which is a drawing of a seahorse, and since there are two editions, there are two Knights. They will both be in a third piece.
But Duchamp took art away from the purely visual and created conceptual art. It’s not going to be for everyone. It is good to explore deeper than your first perceptions, though.