Martti Rytkönen is known for his work with contemporary developments of classic, technically sophisticated Swedish glass techniques such as graal, ariel and ravenna. His graal works are particularly coveted by collectors all over the world.
Rytkönen says that as a glass artist, he has been shaped by both Finnish and Swedish traditions and culture. He was born and raised in Karelia in north-eastern Finland, right on the Russian border – in a landscape of beautiful forests and lakes, legendary and notorious as part of the war-torn history of the twentieth century.
“I didn’t understand how permeated the region was by the war, even if there were numerous remnants in the forest, grenade fragments, things like that,” says Martti. “My dad fought in the war, but never talked about it, apart from some mischief they got into. It was my mom who suddenly started telling me about everything that had happened one time when I took her fishing. Every trail in the woods awakened incredible memories. I’m very grateful for that. It felt so distant, and yet not. That has shaped me, whether I wanted it to or not.”
According to Martti Rytkönen, given these origins, it was unavoidable for nature to become a leading source of inspiration. “Nature has always been a natural part of what I’ve done. It sneaks in everywhere and it doesn’t just have to be the woods. I like to go out on adventures, fishing, and walking, with plenty of time to take in nature, to consider and plan.”
Martti has had an interest in art and a talent for working with his hands since childhood. Still, he did not dare to believe in the idea of committing to art and craftsmanship when, after high school, he moved to Sweden and worked in medical care. Through courses at Medborgarskolan and Kyrkeruds Folk High School, he gradually made his way to the glass and ceramics program at the University of Arts, Crafts and Design.
“Before attending the University of Arts, Crafts and Design, I experimented with every imaginable medium – painting, textiles, sculpture, photography. When I started the program, I was thinking about becoming a ceramicist, but then I received a scholarship to Orrefors and I got to try their various classic techniques. Then it was clear. Glass took over completely.”
Martti Rytkönen began working for Orrefors in 1994 – a collaboration that has continued ever since, with both art glass and utility glass. He emphasizes the privilege it is to have the opportunity here to experiment with all of the renowned techniques of the glassworks, such as graal and ariel, taught by the best glassblowers, engravers and painters in the world.
“They gave me so much. I soon learned the characteristic culture of Småland. When I first came in with my drawings, they always said, ‘Oh, that will never work.’ Then we got started. When we were finished and I thought it looked exactly like the drawing, they would say, ‘Oh yeah, that one.’ I learned that those first comments don’t mean anything.”
Orrefors’ most famous classic design masters, Simon Gate and Edvard Hald, have been among Martti Rytkönen’s most important references as a glass artist since he began. In the glass world, his cut glass work has become a signature. “I like a bold, fairly roughly cut style; nothing frilly. I think that raw look is kind of Finnish.”
Rytkönen’s Finnish role models include Kai Frank, Tapio Wirkkala and Oiva Toikka and his iconic birds – the latter in particular is an idol, whom Martti studied under at the University of Arts, Crafts and Design.
“The Finnish tradition is within me, in the wellspring I drink from, though it isn’t intentional. There are some differences between Finnish and Swedish styles that can be difficult to put your finger on. Finnish design may be rooted even more deeply in nature. And you can consider whether the war has had an impact, too. It’s maybe even more scaled back, with clean lines.”
Of his creative process, Martti Rytkönen says that he naturally collects a constantly growing collection of ideas that simply must have an outlet at regular intervals.
“Suddenly, I have entire collection ideas in my mind that have to come out. It’s almost like being pregnant. What it will ultimately become is something else entirely; you never know. Glass has a will of its own, both austere and generous. How the colors and light are reflected – you can never know those things in advance.”
Martti Rytkönen’s glass art is represented at leading institutions, such as Nationalmuseum, Röhsska Museum and Småland Museum, and in private collections worldwide.
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