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In Conversation With Mikko Sison

The artist and architect on wearing two hats and how he balances both

As we grow up, there is still a certain sense of innocence when it comes to creating. It’s pure, untainted by the jaded eyes of adulthood, and comes directly from the heart. For many artists growing up—whether they’re a writer, a painter, a sculptor, or what have you—this innocence is not always fostered or nourished as much as they should be. Often, this important idea takes a backseat—instead of this pure innocence in creating, something else could take its place, whether perfectionism, anxiety, or an unyielding devotion to technicalities.


Fortunately for artist and architect Mikko Sison, his time in art school didn’t just mean technique and skill; it was ingrained in his mind to go back to basics, to go back to creating the way a child would. 


“The goal in fine arts, of course, they will teach you technique, right?” Mikko says. “Method, how to use oil paint, watercolor. But then, on the other hand, they would try to tell you, ‘You have to go back to your inner child.’ So in essence, what that all means is how the innocence of the child’s mind, the freedom you create, you’re supposed to be spontaneous.”


“As a child,” he adds, “you create.”

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As an architect, Mikko also has been on the opposite end of the spectrum. Whereas fine arts taught him to be spontaneous and express himself, to create for creation’s sake, architecture at its core has always been about problem-solving and finding solutions. “As a creative person, I would say I am fortunate to wear two hats,” he grins.


While the two professions are often thought of as opposite, Sison finds himself creating and tackling projects wearing both hats, each always complementing and informing the other. He takes a multi-pronged approach to his creative process, and this only benefits and influences his works—be it on canvas or in a home—to bring out the absolute best version something can turn out to be.


“My friend asked me, ‘What is your style?’ Well, I have my sense of taste but as an architect and a designer, you are in a service-based profession. I have a client, and I still have to cater to someone, to what they like. And where my style comes in would be in terms of how I organize spaces and my sense of proportion. My painterly mind then comes in, because I think of what one would see—the composition [inside and outside of the room.] It’s my challenge, to put my own sensibilities into it but also create something wherein you are happy,” Sison explains. He remarks how so many architects these days have a style, but there is a lack of personality. “It’s all the same,” he admits.





As a free-thinking creative, Sison has never been one to conform. He looks back on his thirty-three years of working in art and design and thinks of how he finds himself being even more of a traditionalist now. “I’m very conservative, my views are so conservative. I may not look like it,” he nods to his arms, “but I am so old fashioned. I mean, that, now, is radical. To be old fashioned is radical. I never thought that could happen.”


It comes to no surprise then that the artist and architect is pulled to design that is thoughtful and honest, no frills and frou frou. When asked what his design philosophy is, he thinks for a beat and then answers: “I like honest design. It is what it is, inside and out. Part of my training, as an architect, was thought purpose. You design with purpose and intent. The arbitrary and the decorative—there’s nothing wrong with that. But for me, things have to make sense.”


Whether it’s building something very minimal and pairing it with a landscaping so wild, or the opposite, Sison finds himself gravitating to design that is purposeful while still having a touch of being out-of-the-ordinary. “Coming from fine arts and sculpture at Parsons, [then] going into architecture, [those are] two different things. Two different ways of thinking. Sculpture is about an object in space. Architecture, you are the object inside the space. But then, what I just mentioned [building with contrasts and purpose in mind] is both. You can make your creation the object and you can be the object in it,” he says.







His work as an architect, with Masszero Project Management Inc., has brought him several exciting projects which include retail and restaurant projects on top of homes. “The one I’m really happy with is this fountain, garden project. I really transformed the backyard of the client. Originally, it was just [supposed to be] that fountain area. Then, it was also going to an aviary. And I remarked, ‘no, why don’t we do a living wall, with rocks? Then I put in a pond, too. It bled out and went around everything," he shares.


"I like greener [projects], not necessarily ‘environmental’ but more ‘life’ instead," Sison adds.

As for his art, Sison has been pulled towards portraits in his work, loving the process of finding the work—the faces and the details—within the dabs and swirls. “[In tune with the inner child,] the innocence, you get lost in the action, you get lost in the vehicle. When I make portraits, I typically start with my left hand. The first session I do with a canvas is with my left hand and I never do outlines. I paint right away with a brush and paint. I also take off my glasses, because I want to be able to just paint; and paint what I see. Not like when I use my right hand. My right hand is so decisive, I’d just be fixating,” he explains. With his portraits, the process is always gradual, a work slowly revealing itself to the artist. It begins fuzzy and you can decipher an image, but it’s not until it fully develops and gets more defined that the artwork reveals itself. “I paint straight on top… other artists outline, some even use a grid. I’m old fashioned, and my paintings develop over time,” he smiles.

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Below, we talk to the artist and architect further about his body of work through a period of three decades, his creative influences and inspirations, and where he wants to take his art and his practice in the coming years.





How much of your work borders on the personal and autobiographical, in terms of your art?

I don’t think you can actually take it out. I guess, If you were my client, I would engage with you, and somehow, I guess that’s how I put my style in it because I’m going to put a little of myself in there. Whether it be, for example, certain combinations, textures, finishes, even furnishing… maybe I’ll put something in there that maybe, I would only think that to be is interesting.


When people go into my house, people look around and can really feel that it’s me. I’m attracted to objects, colors, textures… I’m sensory. Autobiographical is my friend because that means you are telling your story. I guess now, my autobiographical work comes in terms of my own state of mind. It is reflected in my series, in my paintings, in terms of where my mind is at. If I paint [something] autobiographical] it is about my interests, what appeals to me, where I want to be… as opposed to who I am. It’s not about my status, or lack thereof. It’s more about expression than statement.


One thing that’s stuck out to me, throughout my art education, is one pointed quote by Michelangelo. (The quote is: “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”) So when I paint and when I draw, I like doing that. 


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In 2021, you had an exhibition called “Imaginarium” and you said it carries themes of remembering, restoration, rebirth, rejuvenation. Could you tell us more about that show and how it came to be?

It was all about perspective and about life in general. I guess it’s introspective, for me. The Imaginarium was about a collective feeling… of coming out or resurrecting. And there’s also, I guess, a lot of acceptance there. First, you have to realize where you are to be able to transcend it. You have to accept it. That’s the Imaginarium.


What does your Instagram handle mean? (@momorojomaro)

Momo was my dog. The history of Momo goes something like this. When I was still in New York, I wanted a French Bulldog. This was 1989. But back then, you had to reserve so you check the listings, and see which kennels are expecting litters, and then you put in a reservation. So I did. And I was waiting, waiting, and waiting. And then I got that email, that the litter was born. And they were born on my birthday, June 20. So, for me, he was my alter ego, he was my twin. And I called him Momo because there’s this movie Get Shorty where they go, “who is Momo?” and he’s that guy, with the mustache, chasing John Travolta. That’s Momo. And Momo sounded nice. And I realized, Momo pala, in Japanese, means dumpling. So that’s why Momo.


Then Rojo is my son. And then Maro is my other son. So it’s me, but not me, it’s somebody, and my two sons.






What are your other hobbies?

Listening to music [is one of them] but I guess I’m drawn to more independent, indie music—more obscure and edgy. I don’t like mainstream [music]. Then, I cook and I play sports. I guess I don’t actively garden, but I do like plants. [I also enjoy] hanging out with the kids and even just mindlessly walking around.


Who are your favorite artists or architects? Who do you look up to?

For artists, I don’t really have any of note. For architects, I admire Frank Lloyd Wright, of course. Only because of what he was trying to say and to incorporate nature. He actually wasn’t. He was manipulating it, and trying to pass himself off as nature. So, it’s bizarre, how people see it as the opposite, that he was the first to design these kinds of things—like water going through. That’s actually manipulating. Another one is Carlos Scarpa. I like him because of the details. His mind, it’s very current.


What’s next for you and where do you want to take your practice moving forward?

When it comes to architecture, it will depend on the client. The client will dictate, and the floor might change, but my [design] essence won’t. So that’s what I would probably retain. That’s the part of me that is in there. It’s like immanence. Different colors but it’s the same inner core. My outlook would remain the same: honest, purposeful, intentional… with regards to architecture.




For more information and for commissions, you may get in touch with Mikko Sison via SMS (number available on his social media pages) or in a direct message on his Instagram @momorojomaro.