Art in the City: the Oulu2026 mural 

“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.

Eloise Gillow painting a mural on the wall of a 9 storey high block of flats

Eloise Gillow is from the United Kingdom. Over the last few years she’s been creating murals in public spaces in Spain, France, Italy and Ireland – artwork that’s bonded with local communities.

“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.

“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.”

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.”

drone image of the rajakylä mural

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.”

Text: Erika Benke


More about the mural

Open Call for Artist Portfolios to create a mural in Oulu, Finland – Oulu2026

Oulu2026-muraali – Oulu2026 (in Finnish)


Visual artist Eloise Gillow to create the Oulu2026 mural in Rajakylä, Oulu

Visual artist Eloise Gillow has been selected through a global application portfolio process from among 530 applicants as the artist to create the Oulu2026 mural. The mural will be unveiled in Rajakylä in September.

“We hope that culture and art will become an even more prominent part of our cityscape. A unique mural is an intriguing way of bringing art closer to the public,” says Heli Metsäpelto, Head of Community for Oulu2026, the European Capital of Culture.

Realised as a joint project by Upeart and Oulu Cultural Foundation, the mural is part of the cultural programme of Oulu2026, the European Capital of Culture. The mural will be created on the end wall of a 9-storey block of flats at Ruiskukkatie 3.

The creator for the mural in Rajakylä was sought through a global application portfolio process for professional artists, which by the closing date had attracted a total of 530 applications from 64 different countries. The organisers were delighted by the high number as well as the artistic standard of the applications. After deliberation, the jury selected the UK-based artist Eloise Gillow as the creator of the Rajakylä mural. The jury emphasised Gillow’s insightful social commentary and ability to build a connection between art and communities.


European collaboration

The works of Eloise Gillow, who studied classical realist painting, are on display in galleries and public spaces. Gillow’s realistic imagery focuses on people and moments of everyday life, while also commenting on larger socially important issues. In the past few years, Gillow has created several murals in France, Spain, Italy and Ireland.

Gillow arrived in Oulu in early August, when the planning for the work in Rajakylä began. The artist is meeting local residents, and the fruits of these meetings as well as stories about Rajakylä collected earlier from Oulu residents will inform Gillow’s creative process.

“The European Capital Culture project is all about European collaboration, and this mural is a prime example of this: a British artist arrives in Oulu to work and create art together with local residents,” says Metsäpelto.

Gillow was delighted that her application stood out and was selected among so many applicants as the creator of the Oulu2026 mural.  She finds the approach to the Rajakylä mural fascinating.

“This is a communal project with a very interesting concept, and an incredible opportunity for me as an artist. I am particularly grateful for having the advantage of learning about the location and its people while designing the work on site. I hope that at the end of this visit I will have created something that the residents enjoy and find meaningful,” says Gillow.

The members of the selection jury for the Oulu206 mural: Inka Hyvönen, Oulu Cultural Foundation; Katariina Kemppainen, Oulu Art Museum; Anni Kinnunen, visual artist; and Jorgos Fanaris, Upeart.