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I've made collective paintings with my fellow artists, with my students and with groups of teenagers and children.
Started this practice in 2003.

Click the images to take a closer look:

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Collective painters at work in Dakar, 2012:

The results shown first in Dakar, 2012, then in Helsinki, 2013:


I've made collective paintings with my fellow artists, with my students and with groups of teenagers and children. Started this practice in 2003. I call these group works collective paintings, because of the democratic and collaborative nature of the artistic process that produces them. The group creates the themes, visual ideas and chooses the styles for each painting collectively. I'm conducting the group, but like a leader of a free jazz band might conduct his/her group so that the other members of the 'band' retain a high degree of artistic autonomy and the process of art making is based on collective, reciprocal exhange.

In addition to guiding the proceedings I also choose the participants and have the final word on whether a painting is finished or not. Sometimes this means that I'm just conducting, not touching the canvas with my brush at all, some other times it means that I participate in 'composing' and painting the vision also as a band member or even as an occasional soloist. Still the end result is something that thematically and visually I could never have done on my own.

Some people would say that strictly speaking this is not a collective practice, but just group work similar to what is common in film, theater and dance, where many people may make an artistic contribution, but the final product is usually seen to have just one author – the director. To some extent I agree, as a method collective painting resembles a lot some of the methods used in contemporary dance and theater, especially the so-called devising method, where the starting point of a theater/dance play is not a pre-written script, but the material is instead created and developed from scratch by the group during the rehearsals.

However, as in painting the norm is to assume that paintings are naturally made by single individuals (much like literature is normally written solo), I want to stress the fact that the group work paintings I direct are NOT solo works, where the participants would be just helpers executing my orders. Instead, these works, though directed by me, are real collaborations.

Nowadays I usually call my collective painting 'band' Perkele Collective. It hasn't got steady personnel, but I do think its output does have a clear continuity. Maybe even a direction.

Teemu Mäki, Helsinki, 14.9.2013

Antidote 7: Collective Painting

(A text that accompanied an exhibition of collective paintings in 2013:)

"ANTIDOTE is a series of exhibitions and events of critical art. From Aalto University and elsewhere. Curated by Teemu Mäki and others."

The seventh ANTIDOTE exhibition is shown at Gallery Jangva 16.9.–6.10.2013 and it focuses on collective painting. Collective painting is something that I have been conducting in workshops since 2003, usually in museums or universities. During the last four years mostly in Aalto University Department of Art, in a course called Contemporary Art Workshop: Collective Painting. The exhibition in Jangva showcases a few of those works and also a work I made 2012 in Dakar as a part of Dakar Biennale, with Senegalese artists and art students.

The aim of this exhibition is to show that painting can be a valid form of critical art. This fact needs to be emphasized again and again, because even though painting is generally accepted as a significant part of contemporary art – no one is talking about the end or death of painting – it is not usually perceived to be a significant form of critical art. Instead, the focus is on painting's purely aesthetic potential and on its role as the basic, harmless currency of the commercial art market. We try to prove that there's more to painting than that.

The works in the show attempt to be on one hand directly political – and yet on the other hand poetic too. "Directly political" here means that the works tend to have an obvious political message or position that the viewer can hardly misunderstand. And "Poetic" here means that we think the works can simultaneously have other, equally significant aspects as that blatantly political, aspects that are ambiguous, open to many interpretations and escaping literal, thoroughly verbalized translation/interpretation. If and hopefully when the works succeed in this duality, they are a rich form of critical art: art that on one hand has a direct and forceful political effect and on the other hand comes with many layers and is rich with complex and partly non-verbalizable meaning.

The most often asked question about the collective painting method is: "Teemu, what's your role in this? Who is the real author of these works?"

The answer is:

"These are collective works. The ideas, themes, content and visual decisions come from the whole group not just from me. I work in this like a conductor of a jazz band might work; I'm guiding the process, but the compositions come from the group and the members of the group have a lot of freedom, are fairly autonomous in what and how they actually play, how they interpret the compositions, the plans the collective has created. Of course my role is still special, I'm in charge, I'm the director, responsible for the whole, as I choose the members to the collective and in the end I have a final word about whether a painting is finished or should still be continued. Yet this doesn't change the fact that these are real collaborations and collective efforts. Some of these paintings I've too touched with my brushes and thus worked side by side with other painters in addition to conducting. However, usually I've tried and managed to stay out of the way and been happy just to conduct and let others paint."

Teemu Mäki, Helsinki, 14.6.2013


The first of these collective paintings was made in 2003, when Virve Sutinen and Riitta Aarniokoski from Kiasma Theater of the Contemporary Art Museum in Helsinki asked me to direct a couple of workshops for children and teenagers. I thank Virve and Riitta, as without their initiative none of these works would exist. Having never really worked with children I thought their idea was both ridiculous and interesting. I led two workshops: the collective painting workshop and Be Your Enemy -photo workshop. In both cases I was so pleased with the results that I wanted to continue.

Since then I've made numerous collective paintings with children, teenagers, amateu and also a couple of collective works with my fellow professionals – and one with my daughter, who was 8 at the time.

The Collective Painting as a Combination of Paedagogy and Making Art

(The following bits are extracts from The Collective Painting as a Combination of Paedagogy and Making Art, which is a chapter in the essay Toolbox, included in the written part of my doctoral thesis: Darkness Visible – Essays on Art, Philosophy and Politics (2005, English version 2007).)

In the recent years I have made large collective paintings with children and young people. These works have been created in painting workshops I have taught. The paintings are made by the collective – not a hierarchically led team. I feel that those works partially belong to my oeuvre in the same way as those theatre productions I have acted in belong to it. My roles as a teacher and an artists intermingle in collective painting – and the outcome is not only painting, but social art as well. I have used collective painting as a method of teaching also when I have taught adults in art schools. It is still exceptional in painting to work together with one or more people, but it seems to be growing more common.

It is hard, but within the limits of possibility, to combine the roles of an artist, a teacher and an authority, who “stoops down” to be on the same level as his/her students. I have tried to succeed in it in collective painting by creating a set of clear rules for the event of painting, which are meant to maintain the collective nature of painting and to curb my influence especially. The method has been that first everyone draws a few motifs in their sketchbooks, anything that is important to them. The subject can be how difficult it is to decide which pair of jeans to buy. Or it can be a concern over the war in Chechnya, the will to help the people of Chechnya in their struggle for independence, or the frustration over the scarcity of the means to help. The subject can also be the drawer’s joy over mom finding a new boyfriend. 

The next step is to put the sketches on show for a while. Everyone chooses one or two favourites among the subjects. Thus we find the motifs to put into the joint painting – those that interest most of the members of the group. We divide the motifs to be carried out so that each member has to create a subject someone else has sketched out. This is the most important insight of the tactic: when you have to carry out an idea by someone else, and give your idea into another person’s hands, reciprocity and trust will become a reality. We agree on the rough composition of the chosen motif and get down to painting.

A painter is free in the collective as well. Painting does not mean merely carrying out and interpreting motifs that have been previously sketched in a sketchbook size. If a completely novel idea emerges during the painting, the painter can put that into the work. The division of labour is not strict, either. In the beginning, while realising the assigned motif, anyone can add to or modify the others’ motifs, even without their permission. The painting is ready when we all agree it is ready. Naturally the painting is our joint property also from the point of view of copyright.

Thus my primary paedagogical role has been to dictate the above mentioned rules. I have commented on the students’ decisions during the painting and tried to help them to achieve the goals they have explained to me. Sometimes I have also plunged into painting as one painter among the others, given a few suggestions of motifs of my own in the sketchbook phase and realised someone else’s idea.


Collective painting, in which the teacher participates in the painting, is by its paedagogical nature the opposite of the teaching I got in art schools. My teachers attempted to keep their identities as artists apart from their role as teachers. A teacher would almost always use the passive tense, thereby implicitly representing an objective authority. We never discussed the teachers’ works with them or in their presence. Even if a teacher had an exhibition near the school, no joint excursion was organised there so that the teacher could have discussed his/her works. The teachers never used their works, or the problems that arose in the process of making them, as examples while teaching. The unspoken assumption was that if the teacher would mix the roles of teacher and artist, s/he would be pressing his/her own concept of art on the students – and that would have been immoral brainwashing. Being a teacher myself now, I disagree with that notion. I think keeping one’s own identity as an artist in open view is what makes teaching art understandable and holistic, as well as gives the students a chance to consider their teacher’s ideas as just another possibility.

Collective painting is a method with its own ideological content. I am not naively claiming that painting alone would represent individualism and painting collectively would represent a more communal outlook on human existence. Individualism, extreme individualism even, exists in all art I have made alone or in a group. Individualism means making art for yourself, being systematically indifferent to what the audience hopes and expects. You can make art for yourself even in a group; painting collectively does not mean submitting to the public opinion, the dictatorship of the lowest common denominator. However, some people have suspected that the method of collective painting stifles the individuality of the participants. One exhibition goer stopped to watch our work shop efforts in Kiasma in 2004 and said: What’s this? We have a fucking Maoist workers’ brigade painting here with their hands tied together, and they claim it’s about important common issues?

In collective working the group only has to agree in the beginning and only about the method. Before painting, the group has to agree on the rules together and decide when the painting stops, when the work is ready. In all other stages everyone will decide themselves what they do, based on the stimuli offered by the others. During the process of painting everyone gets to paint in the way they want, but they cannot protect the parts they have painted from the touch of the others. Collective painting does not mean giving up the individual self-expression – just private ownership.

In collective painting workshops people usually paint better pictures than on their own. When they paint alone their will to make it “finished and controlled” blocks their skills of making it versatile and honest. When they paint alone they are distressingly aware of being held responsible of the outcome all by themselves. That is why self-censorship and prudishness take over. Collective painting is an antidote to this. It is vital that in collective painting no one controls the whole, no leading individual, but not the consensus of the collective either. This does not mean chaos or randomness, but that every participant must accept the conflictuality of the outcome or at least tolerate it. One has to give up the ideal of a “controlled whole” during the making of the painting and while looking at it.

What does it mean to give up the ideal of a controlled whole? It makes it easier to deal with painful, unclear topics, of which the maker or makers have profoundly contradictory views. With profound contradictions I mean an irreconcilable conflict that cannot be packed in the form of thesis and anti-thesis, from which we can then squeeze a synthesis. An irreconcilable conflict is also something that does not fit into the format of the sonata, which requires extreme consistency and a resolution that pacifies the themes. The collective painting I suggest – and its musical correspondents, like free improvisation and free jazz – are methods of creating, which already as such embody worldviews and outlooks on human existence that renounce simple “good versus evil” dichotomies and instead stress the permanent moral conflicts of existence. These ways of thinking allow one to experience the partially uncontrolled and imperfect structures as true and vivid.

Why is painting still almost exclusively a solo genre? It is not an adequate explanation to say that people who are solistic and introverted choose painting or writing, while the social babblers, who love to be in a crowd go into theatre or cinema. This division – albeit partially true – is a consequence of the existing practices, not of the innate characteristics of these ways of expression.

Several painters can easily bustle in front of a painting simultaneously. On the painting their expressions fluently overlap, interlock or dissolve together. Writing, another art which has stayed almost exclusively a solo act, is different in this sense. It is possible to write together – one day it may become an even bigger phenomena than writing alone – but putting the text together as a pile of sheets that has a locked chronological order requires reaching an absolute consensus of a sort. Hypertexts with multiple paths could be a route to a more flexible literary teamwork. However, the hypertexts do not change the fact that literary texts are usually narratives that operate with fixed characters and which are built on causality. Writing it as a joined effort requires great unanimity and careful maintenance of the story’s inner logic. Collective painting is free from this burden.

In many arts nowdays the structure of the artistic work process and team is becoming less hierarchical. In theatre, the positions of the text and director as the biggest authorities have been denied for a long time. Painting as a team effort and collectivising it have been long in coming.

The abominable PERKELE COLLECTIVE (AC/PC, Art Club Perkele Collective) vest patch, design by Sampsa Indrén.

Exhibition views of collective paintings:

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