Words by Jóhann Páll Ástvaldsson
Photography by Golli
Loji Höskuldsson’s playing field is the brown canvas of embroidery. Entering a traditional, almost archaic artform, he has wasted no time in breaking down its boundaries. Many of Loji’s works feature a nostalgic and often humorous approach, depicting a refreshing take on everyday life. Historically, embroidery has been all about following a set pattern, and tradition runs deep. Loji’s refreshing take on the classic craft has struck a chord, and his works have quickly become a prized commodity in the Icelandic art world.
“Interest in embroidery is far from given,” Loji tells me. “There’s a rich tradition, where folks follow patterns most of the time. You’ll see it at your grandparents’ house – embroidered chairs which are not to be sat on. There’s a certain distance between our generation and the embroidery of the past.” Loji wants to take the art form in a new direction. “I thrive in that: entering a staid world, and completely blowing the frame. Letting myself commit mistakes, and not following the same trail as all the others.” One example of this approach is a row of tulips embroidered by Loji, where his work steadily got better with each flower. The improvement can be witnessed, tulip to tulip. Rather than unravelling the work, he let them be, challenging the status quo of crafts, where the demand for perfection can stifle creativity. “Embroidery has to be ‘done right.’ But does it really? It can also include mistakes and be playful.”
Loji’s works are often minimalistic, and the burlap he uses as a base is as much a part of the finished work as the coloured thread. “I think it’s incredibly appealing, the coarse base material versus the fine floss. With embroidery, people often want to cover the whole canvas. To me, the natural brown colour shining through is so pretty. But I believe it’s interesting to let the surface breathe.”
In 2010, newly graduated from the Iceland University of the Arts, Loji was introduced to embroidery by his mother. “In that moment all the art I had imagined in my head turned into embroidery. It was so exciting to find a medium where I could experiment with new things. Painting is a well-trodden path, but embroidery was a completely uncharted medium for me personally.” An amateur seamstress, Loji’s mother is always ready to help when needed. “If I need more weapons in my arsenal, I head to our Pinterest conversation where she’s constantly sending me new stitching techniques. It’s my personal sketchbook.”
I ask Loji if he considers the medium to be a statement in itself. “That’s inevitable, even though I don’t place emphasis on it,” Loji ponders. Undeniably, embroidery is often viewed as a woman’s craft. “There’s always this question that pops up – how come you’re a guy and you’re embroidering? I do think it matters in the minds of loads of people. But it’s all a matter of perspective. If you look back to Iceland’s history, men sewed and mended nets in the harbours. That’s essentially needlework. It’s all a matter of how you look at the feminine and masculine. It all just depends on what’s going on in the head of the people viewing the art.”
There’s a nostalgic quality to Loji’s work and a quick look at the canvas will often transport the viewer back to childhood. “The medium is nostalgic in itself, evoking this feeling of the past. But I often take graphics from years gone by, something that can trigger a scene in people’s heads. I might embroider a pack of Blár Ópal [discontinued Icelandic candy] and it gives the picture the power to shock you back to a different time. It takes you from the here and now to the moment you last had Blár Ópal. It might not be the prettiest embroidery in the world, or the most technical, but it moves people.”
Loji often draws inspiration from everyday life, whilst entwining his works with a humorous touch. “I’m not afraid of showing humour. I enjoy it. I feel I should have fun creating the work. I’ve done political pieces, which have mainly revolved around humorous takes on plastic usage, sewing garbage and plastic. I believe a little humour in my work strengthens the piece and improves it.”
It’s not just his art that has endeared Loji to his audience. He’s been making music since he was a teenager and has performed solo and in countless group acts, such as Sudden Weather Change and party band Bjartar Sveiflur, famous for their New Year’s Eve shows. He’s also garnered some attention for his Instagram account in recent years, where he’s on a mission to photograph every single house designed by architect Sigvaldi Thordarson. His beautiful mid-century modernist buildings can be found all over Iceland, their residents often oblivious to the man behind their homes. The main features of a Sigvaldi building are his preferred colour scheme of marigold, white, and blue; a clear-cut base; diagonal roofs; and unconventional window placement.
It seems Loji has a penchant for finding the beauty in the mundane. But where does his fascination with Sigvaldi stem from? “Let’s just call it what it is – a Sigvaldi fetish,” he laughs. “I first encountered Sigvaldi as a kid in the Álftamýri neighbourhood. I saw two of his apartment blocks painted in Sigvaldi colours and started to wonder about the forms and colours. Then when I was 20 years old, I worked as a postman, driving all over the city, and I encountered houses in these colours and forms all over Reykjavík.” Sigvaldi’s designs fell out of fashion for a while and records of the buildings he designed are incomplete. Nowadays, Loji has taken on the task of an investigative chronicler, painstakingly uncovering and recording each forgotten building. “There’s a certain rhythm to the houses, how the forms intertwine with each other. They’re such beautiful designs, and it’s this mystique about Sigvaldi which keeps me going.”
Loji revels in bringing forth the forgotten things of everyday life. Whether it’s the mysterious art of Sigvaldi houses or the staid art of embroidery, he finds beauty in mundanity.
Loji’s work can be found at the art show Varðað, featuring artwork inspired by Skólavörðuholt hill from four up-and-coming artists, in Ásmundarsalur until August 11. For further inquiries, contact Hverfisgallerí art gallery. For his documentation of Sigvaldi Thordarson’s works, head to www.instagram.com/lojiho.
This article is an excerpt. Read the full article in the latest issue of Iceland Review Magazine. Subscribe here to get the magazine delivered to your door.
Iceland Review is the longest-running English-language magazine presenting Iceland’s community, culture, and nature – since 1963.