Leevi Haapala, PhD, Museum Director, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
First published in Markus Heikkerö. Elämä on turhaa baby… / Life’s a bitch, baby… Edited by Saara Hacklin, this article transl. by Silja Kudel. A Museum of Contemporary Art Publication 149/2015. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, 2015
The unbelievable is happening as soon as we open our mouths.
Nicholas Royle, The Uncanny, 2003
Listening to Markus Heikkerö, the above statement could not be truer. Memories, anecdotes and incidents from his life become interwoven in an endless saga – much in the same way as copulating cartoon creatures, extra-terrestrials and disfigured human bodies are entwined in the jumbled character gallery of his paintings. The bewildering, sexually fanciful imagery of his 1960s and ’70s paintings finds its match in a colourful array of titles: The Fateful Vermin of Ursus, Necrophiliac Childbirth, The Pegasus Conspiracy and Ali Receives a Commandment by the Red Sea (Self-Portrait). Sexual encounters of sundry descriptions morph into acts of theatrical performativity in his panoramic fantasies.
My personal interest in Heikkerö’s work was piqued by the psychedelically trippy, sexually risqué imagery of his early canvases and their complex allusions both to classical paintings and to Disney iconography: think Mickey Mouse high-fiving protagonists out of a Hieronymus Bosch painting. With the passing decades, the boldly explicit content of his canvases has moved in a more metaphorical direction, the exuberant exaggeration of his early work being replaced by larger-scale canvases of exponentially amplified expressivity.
‘Abandoned Orphans’ (1967–68) is an early series of paintings showing the influence of Max Ernst and other surrealists whom Heikkerö has cited as influential to his work. His fascination with surrealism was also inspired by the painter Alpo Jaakola, who was a friend of the family. The weird protagonists and introverted mysticism of Jaakola’s Äänittäjät (The Recorders, 1962) and Uni Erämaassa (Dream in the Wilderness, 1966) offer reference points for reading the sketchily rendered, floundering figures and warped reality of the ‘Abandoned Orphans’ series. Heikkerö was intrigued by Ernst’s 1920s experimental combinations of visual elements in paintings such as Murdering Airplane (1920), Celebes (1921) and Ubu Imperator (1923), which all depict people, animals and machines merging in unsettling states of metamorphosis. Similarly, Ernst created collages by cutting up and re-organising clippings from advertisements and brochures, creating strange anthropomorphic creatures paired with classical sculpted torsos as were common in the work of the surrealists and Italian Metaphysical painters, such as De Chirico.
 Royle, Nicholas, 2003. The Uncanny. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 291.
Featured image: Markus Heikkerö, Summer Day in Kangasala, 1969, oil painting, 84,5cm x 100cm, Markus Heikkerö Collection, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Finnish National Gallery. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen
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Artist Markus Heikkerö has donated a large collection of his artworks and his archive to the Finnish National Gallery. To see the artworks, visit
For more information on the archival material, you can access the web publication Markus Heikkerö – Ideasta teokseksi / From Idea to Work of Art at