Alpo Koivumäki

Kauhajoki (1939–2023)

Alpo Koivumäki was a farmer until the mid-1990s. After receiving farm closure compensation, he needed to find something to do and started creating sculptures in his garden. Koivumäki’s first work was The Crane, a bird ready to take flight, which was made of scrap metal. It was his phoenix and marked the beginning of a life filled with art. At first Koivumäki would sculpt Finnish birds, but soon his garden was taken over by various imposing and exotic African animals.

Koivumäki uses recycled junk as his material. He refuses to buy anything but the absolutely necessary materials from a hardware store. Scrap metal, plastic from animal feed packaging, wood and rubber turn into anarchic combinations in his hands and have become an entire sculpture park, Alpo’s Savannah.

Koivumäki starts with printed pictures and nature documentaries, then develops his figures into vivid three-dimensional statues. Working on pictures of animals enables Koivumäki to study proportions, movement and dynamics as well as to apply imaginative and humorous elements in his work. He says that although the form of the material often dictates the work’s profile, likeness is important in his expression. Sometimes a machine part, as it is, seems to belong to a particular animal; sometimes he has to wait or look for a suitable gizmo for quite a long time.

Like many contemporary folk artists, Koivumäki only took to art making later in his life. When he was still working, he would often need to repair and weld his tools and he used to gather material for repairs from waste tips. He cannot understand how he missed the possible uses of recycled materials then, how it never occurred to him to make animal sculptures. Now he thinks that piles of rubbish are full of life, but this was not always the case.

Koivumäki welds, fuses, beats, grinds and moulds materials together and gives them new life in his art. The angular whiteness of roofing sheet invites him to sculpt a polar bear; the inner surface of a tractor tyre does, indeed, look like walrus or seal skin. Koivumäki is like a magician who conjures up an animal figure from material which to the rest of us seems to be mere junk, discarded waste. He does not want to hide the origins of his art materials but rather always leaves something visible as a clue. A hippo’s head is made of a sump, a moose’s ears of the soles of rubber shoes, an eagle’s feet of a pressure hose, a dead stick of wood of a silencer, and the feathers on an eagle’s wings of car tyres.

For Koivumäki, material is a challenge and he will not take the easy option when executing his ideas. Anything becomes art when encouraged hard enough. He shows respect for his own work as well as for the materials he uses. Nothing is unusable. That is the beauty of the idea and its execution.

Text and photos: Minna Haveri. Translation: Kirsti Nurmela-Knox.

RIP Alpo Koivumäki (22.7.1939–13.5.2023). The brilliant artist’s lifeline was cut by a serious illness. We remember him with gratitude.