He has been active as an artist for more than 40 years, but Finnish painter and sculpture artist, Ilja West, is as creative as ever. At age 58 he is about to open up a sculpture park in his hometown of Kuusankoski, Finland, all of the sculptures being made in Thailand.
By Line Lagoni Leonhard
On the wall of his Bangkok home, hangs a draft of one of his latest sculptures. A big relief portraying reindeer in a snow covered landscape. Ilja West is right now in the process of creating this four square meter two piece relief at his workshop in southern Bangkok.
Growing up in the small town of Kuusankoski, Finland, a130 kilometers from the capital of Helsinki, Ilja West has always been creative. This self taught artist sold his first piece at the age of twelve, and since then, he has created and sold more than 7000 individual pieces.
”Originally I painted a lot, but for the last seven or eight years, I have been focusing mainly on my sculptures,” says Ilja West.
Creating art in Thailand
For the past twelve years, Ilja West has been living on and off in Bangkok, Thailand. He first fell in love with the country, when he was invited there by a family friend and former ambassador to Thailand in 1996. The following year Ilja was invited to have an exhibition in Bangkok in celebration of the 80th anniversary of the Finnish independence. This was the beginning of Ilja’s long relationship with the land of smiles.
In 1999 he participated in a Thai-European art event at Silpakorn University in Bangkok. The project was called “Alter Ego” and featured 14 European artists, each paired up with a Thai artist. The project was made possible partly from the support of the European Union.
Since his first exhibition in Thailand in 1997, Ilja West has had six more exhibitions here. Apart from the one in 1999, he has had three in 2001, one in 2004 and one in 2006.
Last year he also participated in the Candle Festival held to celebrate the Thai King’s 80th birthday. An event which featured eight foreign artists and one Thai artist. From this event Ilja learned that candle wax, which was the main material used in the event, is not something, he wishes to spend more time working with.
Bronze and bone
Ilja West has always been painting and still is, but for the bigger part of the last decade, most of his time has been devoted to creating sculptures of bronze combined with tiny figures of ivory or bone.
Ilja created his first series of bronze sculptures in 1990, all featuring small pieces of mammoth ivory. How he got the 5000 year old fossils is a secret, but:
”I have always been very good at finding things,” he reveals with a smurk.
Other bronze sculptures features ivory and also dinosaur bone has been used in some of Ilja´s works. Though very unique, it is something not easy to work with, as the ancient fossils resemble stone more than the bone that they actually are.
“I don´t know why, but I love working with bone,” says Ilja and looks around in his home, walls covered with his latest series of paintings all featuring elephant tusks.
Displaying sculptures in Finland
Though Ilja makes most of his sculptures in Thailand, he still has a workshop in his hometown of Kuusankoski, Finland. He explains that the costs of the materials and the laborers that are helping him make the considerable sculptures are too expensive in Europe, and that this is the main reason for him to make the sculptures in Thailand instead and fly them back home.
Having a home in both Finland and Thailand, Ilja shifts between living in the two countries. For now he is in Thailand until the 24th of August, when he will return to Kuusankoski to open the sculpture park in September.
The 14 pieces that are to be displayed in the sculpture park are all partly being made in Thailand. The iron constructions and the stone constructions however are made in Finland. Partly by Ilja himself and partly by two artists he has employed for the task.
The ever creative Finn is confident that he could employ at least ten artists at a time with all the ideas that go through his mind, but though he thrives on being efficient, he says that he will only make pieces if he himself can be part of the process,:
”This is art, I do not wish to make a factory,” he concludes.