“In winter it might change people’s lives. They look at this painting and they remember that summers in Finland are always very nice.”
A piece of art with the power to change lives. A comment every artist longs to hear.
It came from a man looking admiringly at the outside wall of his tower block at Ruiskukkatie 3 in the suburb of Rajakylä in Oulu, where a giant painting was gradually emerging in September 2022.
The mural, part of the cultural programme of Oulu2026, attracted a lot of attention from residents.
It depicts a forest of birch trees at the height of the summer. It’s flooded with bright sunlight. In the centre there’s a barefooted woman, repeated five times as she’s turning around to choose between two paths in the woods.
It’s a striking image. It stopped people in their tracks as they went about their everyday lives in Rajakylä. Many of them came to take a closer look and have a word with the artist painting the mural.
“People in Rajakylä have been very supportive. I first came here in August to get to know them and find out what’s important to them about living here” says Eloise Gillow, the artist behind the mural.
“I met people at the school, the library and the community centre. They had lots of ideas for the mural,” reveals Eloise. “I made a sketch after narrowing them down to one big theme: change.”
Rajakylä won the vote
The location of the mural was chosen by public vote. Residents across Oulu were invited to cast their votes to bring the mural to their neighbourhood – and the largest number of votes came in from Rajakylä.
“This shows that there’s a lot of support for bringing in culture to improve the area. People told me that Rajakylä was changing. It used to have a bad reputation but they were leaving that behind. I hope the mural captures that theme,” explains Eloise.
In addition to addressing large societal issues such as poverty and crime, Eloise’s murals also open up to interpretations regarding the connection between individuals and the natural world.
“This whole neighbourhood is integrated into the woods. My first impression was how beautiful it is, that all the buildings are between all this nature.”
Eloise says a key part of living in Oulu is having very prominent seasons and the mural definitely speaks to that.
“The mural is based on the summer when the birch trees have all their leaves. But the trees will now soon lose their leaves. The contrast between the painting and its surroundings will be a constant reminder of the changing seasons: it will remind people in the winter that summer is coming back.”
Eloise finished working in Oulu on October 3, 2022 and the next day she jumped on a flight to start painting her next mural in Sweden. How easy is it for an artist to move from one big project to the next so quickly?
“Painting a mural is a very intense experience. I get kind of obsessed with it. In the evenings I look at photos of what I’ve done that day and compare them to my sketch. Then I wake up and look at the photos again at breakfast. It’s strange to do something so intensely and then go. But that’s what I do. I really hope that people in Rajakylä will like it and I leave behind a good piece of art for those who live here.”
Oulu2026 has open call for international program partners until 9th of December, read more from this link.