Vesa Väänänen

Heinola (1949)

The charming Rautatienpuisto railway park in Heinola is located in the station quarters, where it is quiet now that the line is closed. Vesa Väänänen, who worked as a gardener, moved to the area; a skilled man with training in working wood and metal. Väänänen had started making art at the age of 40, first by embossing copper plates. He explains that he just needed something to do. A vibrant creative community was emerging in the park, and suddenly he could make his art on a completely different scale.

Väänänen found an artist in himself and his identity as an ITE artist. This launched a period of intense productivity, which has lasted for decades. He also found something else: the Joutsa-based artists’ community Haihatus, which consisted of both professional and self-taught artists. His sculptures began to form the Dorkin puisto park, an art park in the old station milieu. Väänänen used a welding torch and an angle grinder to create his works in his garden and workshop, listening to birds, squirrels and hares and chatting to them while making his art. A pauper statue greeted visitors to the park, and a café set up in a campervan served people interested in ITE art during a few summers – long before food carts and pop-up restaurants became a thing.

The colourful works by Väänänen draw on surrealism, cubism and pop art. His expression is stylised with a cartoon-like sparkling character. His sculptures are mainly made of recycled metal, and the artist’s album contains wonderful before-and-after documents that show the amazing transformation of rakes, petrol tanks and dental equipment. His works are humorous and also feature fierce social criticism. The titles of his works are incredibly funny: the list of works consists of belly-laugh-inducing, sentence-long jokes.

Vesa Väänänen no longer lives in his beloved sculpture park, but the sculptures are still there to bring joy to the people of Heinola.

Text: Paula Susitaival, images: Juho Haavisto