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Sculptures inside glass: the Graal technique in the hands of artist Tommi Ketonen

Artist presentation: Tommi Ketonen

Tattoo artist, watchmaker and glass artist Tommi Ketonen is a Helsinki-based artist who has focused on creating unique glass sculptures. His recognisable style is based on large sculptures in the Graal technique, often featuring female figures. Ketonen designs and carries out all stages of the glass sculpture manufacturing process himself.

Works from left to right: Finiteness of Life, Last Breath and Wishful Thought

Ketonen says she discovered glassblowing through her daughter, who had expressed her desire to try it. Ketonen booked a glassblowing experience for them the next day, the spark for glass having been activated by a trip to the Iittala glass factory to watch a work demonstration. Glass seemed to be challenging and somehow mysterious when compared to other materials. Ketonen found glass to be a fascinating material that could be combined with visual and artistic expression. The collaboration of eye and hand and artistry have always been a big part of his life, and glass was a new material for him to use these skills.

Ketonen started working with glass at Nuutajärvi Glass School in 2019, from where he moved to Mafka&Alakoski in Riihimäki. It was there that he learned the Graal technique, which he is currently focusing on. He joined Lasikomppania in early 2022.

The Graal technique used by Ketonen is a combination of glassblowing and cold working, where a colourful blank is first created in the hot shop and then a pattern is engraved in layers. The engraved blank is then brought back to the hot shop, where it is cased in a clear layer of glass, adding depth and complexity to the sculpture. This precise and time-consuming process requires skill and patience and the end result is always unique and beautiful. No two works are the same.

First solo exhibition, Moments of Humanity, Loviisa 2022.

Ketonen's work combines the visual elements of tattoo art and a watchmaker's expertise with spatial perception and goldsmith's skills. This background manifests itself in the rigour and precision of his glasswork. The background as a tattoo artist, on the other hand, brings a kind of open-mindedness to the use of colour and the handling of molten glass, as well as to the visuality of the subjects. The works combine the working of small details with the optics created by the large glass sculptures and the glass mass in a unique way. The works may evoke associations with pop art and different periods of art.

Ketonen's glass sculptures make extensive use of colour, with layers intertwining in a unique way to create a backdrop and inspiration for the cold-carved patterns within the glass. It takes at least a week to make a single sculpture, due to several cooling, heat raising and cold working stages. Ketonen creates the final shape of the artwork in the hot shop: the desired amount of molten glass is collected onto the engraved blank and the glass is then guided into the desired shape by gravity and rotational movement. This creates a beautiful organic shape to the glass, with no tool marks.

Ketonen is familiar with handling large glass masses.

Ketonen is attracted to the multi-stage technique in his Graal works, the considerable size of the finished objects and the physicality required to make them. On the other hand, he is also fascinated by the subtle meticulousness of creating an image by engraving and sandblasting, and the combination of the two extremes in the finished sculptures. Ketonen also likes the optics of glass in thick objects and organic shapes, as it brings the images inside the objects to life, depending on the lighting and the angle of view. The overall enjoyment of glassmaking, with all the steps involved, is an important part of the whole for him.

Various cold working techniques are used on the Graal blanks. In the picture, Ketonen is carving a blank with a diamond drill.

When Ketonen finds something new and interesting, he wants to try it almost immediately. He believes that life and work should be enjoyed, and, for him, challenging and overcoming oneself and learning new things are an important part of this process.

Besides glass art, Ketonen also works as a tattoo artist and piercer. He employs several people at his tattoo studio in Tapiola, Espoo and has trained several people in the tattoo industry.

When making a tattoo, the client's needs must be taken into account and the end result must be pleasing to the client's eyes. With glass, Ketonen can realise his work from his own point of view, without having to take into account the opinions of others. This gives him the freedom to create something unique and impressive, which is one of the reasons why he can drive at 5 am to Nuutajärvi to make art. With a glass sculpture, he can be around the object and look at it from all angles, just as a tattoo artist looks at a work of art the size of a sleeve or a back. When making tattoos, Ketonen listens to the client and fulfils their wishes, but when carving glass, he is allowed to realise his own artistic vision.

Ketonen does not invest in mass production, but focuses on creating his own unique glass sculptures. His art has also gained international exposure and is currently represented and distributed by the Austrian Parcus Gallery. His goal is to create more compelling works that convey his passion for sculpture.

Gallery Tommi Ketonen is located in the Nuutajärvi Glass Village on the gallery corridor, and his sculptures can also be seen in various exhibitions.

Solo exhibition 25 July – 3 September 2023 at Teijon Masuuni’s Obscura in Teijo.



The Arts Promotion Center Finland (Taike) supports Lasikomppania with its communication activities. Stay tuned for future blog posts from Lasikomppania, where we will be able to get to know all the individual artists, their news and their working methods. Subscribe to the newsletter at the bottom of the page to receive new blog posts and other news from Lasikomppania!

You can also follow Lasikomppania on Instagram and Facebook, where you can see more visual content about the everyday activities of the hot shop.

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