Textile artist Kustaa Saksi delivers a world of psychedelic visions and dreamscapes

Animals and plants from mythology and history loom large in Finnish artist’s works

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 April, 2016, 1:19pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 April, 2016, 9:56am

The works of Finnish textile artist Kustaa Saksi burst with vivid colour and shapes depicting diverse subjects from history and mythology to flora and fauna. While the subject matter might change, one thing remains the same – they are all visually stunning.

For his latest show, “Woolgathering”, Saksi was inspired by his dreams. It’s the third time he has shown tapestries from his collection, and the first time Hong Kong has hosted a show of his works (his show at Usagi gallery in Central runs until April 17).

“This third collection is really an evolution from my previous two,” says Saksi, who works with mills in Tilburg, the Netherlands. “I really went wild with the kind of materials I used, which include natural, synthetic, tech, mohair, alpaca and even fluorescent. This is in contrast to my earlier works, which use more traditional fibres.”

This illustrates the growing maturity of his work and his evolving mastery of textile art. It also shows the confidence he has gained from challenging the status quo of tapestry design in the course of working with selected textile mills. “I’ve worked with the same mills for four years – we’re always very excited to work together. Obviously they have a lot of other textile designers there. But because of my training, what we manage to do is a bit crazier and new,” he says.

One of the things that makes Saksi different is his background. He is not classically trained in textiles or the craft of weaving, but focuses instead on graphic design and illustration, which he studied at Finland’s Institute of Design at Lahti University and in which he worked for 10 years before making the switch to tapestries.

His first used textiles 10 years ago when he was asked to help make a collection for Italian knitwear label Portofino. While the experience was positive, it would be several years before Saksi had a chance to try his hand at textile design again. The watershed moment came when Saksi discovered a textile museum in Tilburg, and learnt of the area’s history of textile design. It was this appreciation for the art that motivated him to propose a collaboration. Both sides kept an open mind, and a partnership was formed.

“At the beginning, it was difficult to understand the weaving process and see how everything worked together. There are an endless number of possibilities that you can achieve. So to understand what is possible and what is not, that took one year. In a way I still feel that I don’t understand. It’s still a mystery to me somehow,” he laughs.

With so many possibilities, Saksi needed a clear creative vision. One example of this is a piece from Woolgathering called Battle of Harapouri. Inspired by tableaux of historical Japanese sea battles, he imagined a fictional battle between humans and sea creatures. Strong dramatic currents weave through treacherous rocks along with sea dragons, with the battle itself taking place in a coastal area where Saksi spent his childhood.

Another piece, Universal Egg, taps into mythology, with an egg symbolising the birth and origins of life on Earth. Imaginative zodiac signs cover the tapestry, remixing flora and fauna from different cultures, including a pair of Egyptian dogs that guard the egg.

I get pretty high just on colours ... It’s almost like action painting – I throw yarns into the machine and get excited when I see the result. You never know what comes out, and I want to keep it that way.”

It’s an approach that reflects the trajectory of Saksi’s life. He grew up in the small Finnish town of Kouvola before moving to Lahti for university. Then he moved to the Nordic country’s capital, Helsinki, for four years before relocating to Paris in 2003, where he worked with fashion and lifestyle brands Issey Miyake, Marimekko, Salvatore Ferragamo and Bergdorf Goodman.

“I lived in Paris for four years and that was great. But at some point I wanted to see other cities. Amsterdam had always felt nice to me – I like the mellow and easy-going atmosphere, the fact that you can cycle everywhere. I get a lot of things done, and people can be very effective there.” Creatively speaking, Amsterdam is a good city. It’s one of the hotspots in Europe. There are a lot of expats, mixing and sharing ideas from different parts of the world – that has always been the power of Amsterdam.”

Saksi admits that he is no longer excited by the pure discipline of illustration and graphic design. “I’m a little bit bored by paper materials. I think it’s more rewarding to see your piece on fabric, because they are three-dimensional compared to paper,” he says.

Instead, he seeks to push himself into new and exciting possibilities that would not otherwise be possible in his discipline. “My passion is making art. My dream, when I find the right place, is to make something on a massive scale: maybe a bit more spatial, combining textiles and graphic design, even adding animation or moving image with the textile ... now that would be very interesting.”

Usagi Gallery, shop B, Wah Shin House, 6-10 Shin Hing St, Central, tel 2448 9968