by Grace Sarabia
Keijo Tapanainen is one of Propeller’s treasured member artists. His story is just one example of the diverse individuals that join Propeller and the wealth of mediums that the gallery represents. Zooming in on Tapanainen’s career trajectory reveals the processes and methodology behind his iconic carbon paper prints.
Originally from Finland, Tapanainen came to Canada and began his training by taking courses in graphic design at the Ontario College of Art and Design (now OCAD University). He then pursued further studies in this area at the School of Visual Arts in New York. Tapanainen describes this experience as transformative in his design practices, as he was able to interact with many well-known artists that were a part of the School’s faculty. It was in New York where Tapanainen was first taught the concept of “putting yourself into your work,” which greatly impacted his future career as a fine artist.
The beginning of Tapanainen’s career as a fine artist coincides with the start of his relationship with Propeller. In 1999, the artist first exhibited his art publicly in a show at Propeller. He now describes this opportunity as “the birth of my experience as a fine artist”. Before deciding to pursue the fine arts, Tapanainen had been a member of a drawing group for many years. This group helped the artist “find freedom” in his artistic career.
Tapanainen describes having experimented with various mediums, including drawing, before settling on carbon paper prints as his medium of choice. He describes fondly how his father used carbon paper during his work as an Army Clerk. Some of Tapanainen’s early works even use paper with his father’s handwriting. To create the iconic works that are recognizable to many in the Propeller community, Tapanainen goes through a process of cutting and scanning hundreds or even thousands of elements to make a digital piece. He admits that although he does have a narrative in mind for every piece, he believes it’s best not to overinterpret any work of art. His figurative creations have been exhibited many times at Propeller and across North America and Europe.
Graphic design, however, has remained a vital part of Tapanainen’s career. In addition to having taught at George Brown College for several years, Tapanainen has taken on many graphic design projects. Most notably, he has designed many of the invitations for Propeller’s exhibitions. He has also worked with individual artists to design their graphics and websites and was once in charge of the graphics for the Toronto Outdoor Show. Tapanainen reflects on the difference between his graphic work and his fine art pieces by describing how although graphic design forces him to relinquish control to whomever he is designing for, there is often a “quicker solution” for the scheme.
In addition to his first exhibition as a fine artist, Tapanainen has many fond memories of his time thus far as a member of Propeller. He especially appreciated the several years when art critics donated their time to reviewing member artists’ portfolios and giving useful feedback. Although he has exhibited with other galleries, Tapanainen has always remained true to his roots at Propeller. He describes his gratitude to the gallery for giving him his start as a fine artist. Tapanainen also notes that “a lot of people got their start at Propeller,” providing proof of the Gallery successfully following through on its mission. More specifically, he describes Propeller’s ability to thrive and even gain new members during the COVID-19 pandemic as “telling” of its strong community base.
Tapanainen notes that Propeller’s survival and success has “so much to do with the members” and that this community will continue to prosper in the future. As for his own career, Tapanainen plans to stick with both graphics and fine arts, and maybe even give landscapes a try!