Was ‘pop art’ a term used by yourself or colleagues or was there a different terminology that referred to a new figurative art movement in the 1960s and early 1970s?

I used the term ‘pop art’ in the years 1965–1966.

Did you ever consider yourself (now or in the past) a pop artist?

Yes, especially in the years 1965–1966. During the following years, 1967–1968, my art started to change. In 1969, I had moved on to look for different paths.

Did your work engage with current events in the 1960s and early 1970s?

The sketches for the US flag of course arose from the war the US was waging in Vietnam. I was appalled at how the richest country on the planet was trying to ravage one of the world’s poorest countries. I was conflicted because I, like other Finnish pop artists, admired American pop art. At the same time, I was angered by the war the bigwigs in the US were waging against Vietnam, so I wanted to express my opposition to it.

These four paintings were my protest against the war, but they were interpreted politically. Then again, war is very much a political event.

How did you choose the subject matter for your work included in The World Goes Pop?

I’m still writing about my sketches for the US flag.

In 1965–1966, I was in the middle of an almost abstract phase, during which I painted mostly circles and lines. I painted these four works in oil using lines. When the paintings were finished, I glued pictures of the Vietnam War from newspapers onto them. This changed the character of the paintings entirely.

Where did you get your imagery from (what, if any, sources did you use)?

From newspapers for these four paintings.

Were you aware of pop art in other parts of the world?

Yes. To me, the forerunners of pop art, like Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, were more important than the artists considered as ‘proper’ pop artists. Last autumn, I visited Helsinki. One of the galleries I went to had Allen Jones’ paintings and sculptures on display.

Was commercial art an influence on your work or the way in which it was made?

Some of my small paper collages might have featured commercial-type materials.

Was there a feeling at the time that you doing something important and new, making a change…?

The type of pop art I was working with especially in 1965–1966 was naturally important to me. The change, I guess, was after all a phenomenon taking place in art and the art community.

Was there an audience for the work at the time – and if so what was their reaction to it?

The sketches for the US flag were displayed in Helsinki in 1966, at the first exhibition of my own. The displayed works were mostly circle and line paintings. Some works featured collage materials. As a generalisation, you could say that the critique failed to understand the art and it was dismissive. It is rare for an artist to know how the audiences reacted.

Looking back at these works, what you do think about them now?

Next year marks the 50th anniversary of my first exhibition. I am originally from Helsinki, but I now live in a sparsely populated forest region in Central Finland, which I moved to from a small town in Southern Finland. I live in the middle of nowhere and have to travel long distances to get anywhere. What could I say about the art I made when I was young?

Last summer, the new pavilion of the Serlachius museum in Mänttä hosted the SuperPop exhibition curated by Timo Valjakka. They had my works from the 1960s on display, and this time they intrigued people because of the brisk manner in which they address the themes and because of their colours, their strength. That is something that I could strive for now as an old artist, maybe.

January 2015