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Art Scene – Kati Toivanen

Artist and athlete – not usually two descriptions seen in tandem. Kati Toivanen is unique in many ways, not the least of which are her two compelling passions. Born and raised in Finland, Kati earned her bachelor of fine arts degree from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, and her master of fine arts degree from the School of The Art Institute of Chicago. She held faculty positions in Baltimore and Chicago, but since the late 1990s, Kati has been ensconced in Kansas City, primarily at The University of Missouri–Kansas City. She currently holds the position of interim dean, College of Arts and Sciences.

Mizuno, Asics and Chicago 2018
Asics GT2000 and a hat

The latest collection in Kati’s portfolio is Chasing Dreams, her digitally composed photographs exposing her soul and her soles. According to the artist, “The sole of a marathon runner’s shoe offers evidence of the endless hours and sacred miles committed to chasing dreams, often as tenuous as the first steps into the freezing morning rain. The shoe expresses the contradictions it embodies: determination and apprehension, victory and defeat, strength and fear, dreams and disappointment.” The colorful and ethereal images don’t convey the pain and anguish involved with being a multi-marathon runner, but they do impart the feeling of what most runners describe as a “runner’s high.” (We’ll take their collective word for it.)

These pleasing snatches of Kati’s life belie her commitment to both her artistry and her athleticism. Realizing that the tricks of the trade on the road could feed the tricks of the trade in the studio, her typical microscopic inspection of items became a labor of her two loves. Those of us who are not road warriors might not know that accoutrements such as Yaktrax, Foot Pods, and gels (or goo) are must-haves for the intrepid runner. After doing the requisite research, we discovered that Yaktrax might keep even the clumsiest of us safe on the ice; and Foot Pods conveniently track not only steps, but pace and stride. The gels provide quick sustenance when one “hits the wall” at mile 18 or 20, and the body is crying out for a big slab of lasagna. Add in the odd raincoat and hat and sunscreen, and Kati’s images of her life come to life. The worn shoe soles, the fraying of the materials, the obvious signs of usage, all point to her complete devotion to the sport. 

On Cloudflyer and Boston 2019
Nike Zoom Fly 3 and Boston 2018

And, then we noticed that her lighting and her colors are trying to convey something besides the grueling training and the utter exhaustion known to running. Kati composes an endearing portrait of each shoe, each unraveled string, each mile. It all feels lighter than air, and it’s almost as if we are running with her, through the wind. She is, in her own words, “… exploring personal history and narrative through imagery, objects, and installations, often incorporating elements of play and games.” While her images are playful, the process was anything but. When she started the journey of Chasing Dreams in 2019, she waffled between being too minimal and too documentary-like in the photos. Striking a balance with composition, color, and light proved to be harder than expected. 

Some of Kati’s other works are very playful, indeed. The Faux Life is a series of close-up compositional photographs using fake flowers, toy animals, and gummy bears. Domestic Debris – series, categorizes Kati’s domestic life with images of what must have been lying around on the floor, thanks to her son – marbles, Mardi Gras beads, balloons, and some unidentifiable objects that surely came from our own kitchen. Yet, in the more serious vein, the artist produced the Battle Wounds – series. This series “… attempts to intertwine the horrors of war with domestic comforts. Informed by the conflict in Iraq and my personal life of parenting a young boy (born five weeks before we entered Iraq) this work seeks to reveal the insanity of warfare from the perspective of a mother.” Fabric and wallpaper patterns are combined with shadowy combat imagery  – worthy of goosebumps and second thoughts. 

Asics, New Balance 1080 and Boston 2019

The curriculum vitae of this accomplished professional is chock-full of the requisite recognitions and awards. Kati has grants, awards, and fellowships from Missouri, Illinois, California, and a multitude of universities. Her solo exhibits have been found in Oregon, Nevada, Kansas, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, to name but a few. She is represented in several important collections, and has been a part of more group exhibits than we can count, and has numerous published materials, reviews, and features. This soft-spoken, mother, artist, professor, and runner is a Renaissance woman in our time. She is a delightful combination of form and function. 

Also featured in the August 21, 2021 issue of The Independent
By Anne Potter Russ



Anne Potter Russ

Anne is thrilled to be working with The Independent again, and even happier to be with some great people. Having served as editor from 2005 to 2009, it is a pleasure to be able to connect with the readers of this timeless magazine. Anne and her husband, Norbert, live in south Leawood, and have two grown kids, Diana and Nick, as well as two rambunctious dogs.



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