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Nature Meets Psychedelia in Textile Design

"Ideas can come from anywhere at any time." We spoke to graphic artist and textile designer Kustaa Saksi about being inspired and inspiring others.

14 Dec. 2016
DOMOTEX: Kustaa Saksi Portrait
Graphic and textile designer Kustaa Saksi is a member of the Carpet Design Awards jury

Kustaa Saksi, you are known for using a variety of media, colors, shapes, and textures to build fantastical, psychedelic worlds. Much of the inspiration for your recent work comes from your family member's hypnopompic hallucinations. For the reader, these are unusual sensory phenomena experienced at the transition from wakefulness to sleep or vice versa. What has she seen in these moments?

As you say, one of my family members experiences hypnopompic dreams. I have recorded what she has told me about her hallucinations and used it as inspiration, interpreting it in my own way. And I myself have suffered from migraines since I was a child. These distort my vision; I start to see unusual patterns, which I try to represent in my weaving.

Another major influence of mine is nature and how it forms. I like to get down to the very essence of plants, for example, and translate that into my own visual language. This also ties in with my family member’s hallucinations. Her dreams often occur in jungles or fields, where she sees insects and spiders. I then use these images in my hypnopompic collection.

DOMOTEX: Arachne's-Web, Kustaa Saksi
Arachne's Web, an example of Saksi's recent hypnopompic artwork

You started out as an illustrator but tapestries have recently been your main focus. What inspired you to start working with textiles?

In short, it was their three dimensionality. Textiles are something you can touch and view from all around, whereas paper is flat and somewhat limiting. Designing in 3D means you can play with light, surfaces, and materials. I do still illustrate, but my passion at the moment definitely lies in textiles.

Your designs are about more than just eye-catching patterns; you use strong imagery to tell a story in every piece you create. What stories do your tapestries tell?

Well, my designs are based on various dreams. But really, the story they tell is up to the viewer. I aim to inspire people to tell their own stories about my tapestries based on their personal experiences - to let them fill the gaps. It's really interesting to hear all the different interpretations of my work. There is no right or wrong.

DOMOTEX: Arachne's-detail, Kustaa Saksi
A close-up of Saksi's Arbor Vitae highlights the impressive intricacy of his designs

Where does the initial idea for a design come from?

That depends. Sometimes a design starts with a simple form from nature. I live in an urban setting - in Amsterdam - but I often find inspiration when I go for a walk in the woods. But ideas can come from anywhere at any time - even just walking around a supermarket. I also believe a lot of them come during sleep, when your subconscious does the work for you.

DOMOTEX: Battle of Harapouri, Kustaa Saksi
Battle of Harapouri, which clearly shows Saksi's Japanese influences

Aside from surreal experiences and nature, what else has helped shape your style?

I have read a lot about dreams. I'm a big fan of the neurologist Oliver Sacks, who wrote about dreams and hallucinations. In terms of artistic movements, I really like art deco and art nouveau, as well as the psychedelic movement of the '60s. I'm also inspired by my travels. I love folk art from around the world - and my work incorporates styles from a variety of cultures, including Japanese, Scandinavian, and Indian.

You worked with the Textiel Museum in Tilburg, Netherlands, to create your tapestries using state-of-the-art weaving techniques. Do you think technology will play an increasingly important role in textile design?

I have always used the classic Jacquard technique, but now there are computers that perform the weaving for you. The level of control over detail is amazing - they are even able to replicate an embroidered quality. What you can achieve with this technology is almost limitless and it's only just beginning. I believe it will play an increasingly important role in the future and I’m really looking forward to that.

You were part of the jury for the Carpet Design Awards , the winners of which will be announced and presented at DOMOTEX 2017. Without giving too much away, what caught your eye?

I judged a huge variety of carpets and rugs for DOMOTEX - some were subtle while others were very bold. Some were purely functional while others were designed to catch the eye. Of course, my background and expertise are in graphics, so I was most impressed by interesting patterns, quality designs, and a clever use of materials. I'm excited to meet the designers at DOMOTEX!

There are some obvious similarities between tapestries and rugs. It's even interesting to note that the German word for tapestry literally translates as 'wall rug'. But what is it that sets the two apart? For example, are there any fundamental differences in design or materials?

While the similarities between rugs and tapestries are clear, designing something for the wall and for the floor are very distinct practices. This is partly because lighting and angle affect how you perceive a piece of art - and these obviously differ between the two media. Also, rugs are a staple part of a home's interior. Although they can be viewed as artwork, they are functional, too, which has an impact on their design. And then there's the fact that rugs are made to be walked on, meaning they have to be woven from durable materials.

DOMOTEX: Octorallia, Kustaa Saksi
Saksi's Octocorallia rug, designed for Moooi Carpets

Have you any plans to experiment with rugs or carpets?

Actually, I have already designed rugs for Dutch company Moooi Carpets. They're high-quality printed rugs. But I haven’t designed any classical rugs yet; so far I have only used weaving to create tapestries. Maybe DOMOTEX will inspire me to try it!

You were born and raised in Kuovola, Finland, where the winter months are dark and bleak. Could it be that illustrating with bright, bold colors was your way of escaping that?

It is true that the winters can be depressing in Finland. When I was living there I used brighter colors. But in Amsterdam there is more color in everyday life - and my palette has become more sophisticated, not as loud. So yes, the two things may well be connected!

As well as your palette, do you think your childhood played a big part in shaping your overall style?

Despite the cold and the darkness, I have a lot of great memories of winter in Finland. I used to ski a lot in the forest, and the snow formed crazy shapes on the trees. These images are still present in my work today. So yes, using nature as a starting point for my designs definitely comes from that time in my life.

You are now based in Amsterdam. What made you decide to move there?

I had previously lived in Paris but wanted to try somewhere new. I had always liked Amsterdam for its laidback atmosphere, so I decided to move there and was fortunate enough to find an ideal studio. The city is far smaller than Paris but still really international. There's also a lot happening in the design world, too, and a lot of artists to collaborate with.

How do you decorate your own home? Does it have a similar style to your artwork?

My wife has a lot to say about our home [laughs]! But there are a lot of my designs on the walls as well. We live in quite a traditional Amsterdam house from the early 1900s. I like a classical style broken up with bright textiles, so our home is a fusion between traditional and modern.

Where do you plan to take your artwork in the future?

I'm currently preparing a piece for an exhibition in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London next February. I'm going to start weaving that quite soon. I'm continuing my tapestry project as well, of course. I'm also working with interior design brands, illustrating, and designing textiles for various manufacturers. So I'm creating my own work and collaborating, too. The balance between having total freedom over what I produce and following guidelines is something I find really interesting.

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