The first Akseli Gallen-Kallela Award was granted by the Kalevala Society to graphical artist Antti Tanttu on 28 February 2006.
Antti Tanttu (b. 1963), professor of graphical art, is a versatile artist, skilled in painting, video, film, woodcuts and graphics. A woodcut is one of the most fascinating forms of graphical art, with an almost two thousand year long history. Finnish art graphics were born with the woodcuts of Akseli Gallen-Kallela in the 1890s. Just like Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Antti Tanttu is a master of woodcuts and wood graphics, with master craftsmanship that becomes evident in his way of working on and doing prints of plates.
Tanttu’s wood graphics as well as those of his works that combine drawings and wood graphics contain the logic of sub-conscious memories. This same world of impressions, striving to escape everyday reality, can be found in mythology, in verse folklore and in cave paintings. Tanttu’s graphics have been aptly compared to cryptography or traceries that elegantly and without going into excessive detail reflect things that one has experienced, sensed or felt before. His large works reflect the mysterious boundary between private and shared experiences as well as the past and the future. The mysterious subjects of his art as well as his drawing style create ambiguous experiences in the watcher.
Tanttu’s works contain elements of pre-historical themes and symbolism connected with the collective unconscious, such as boats, animal motifs and masks. They also contain human-animal hybrids, with their gender and identity effaced; modern allegories of ever-elusive, familiar symbols. The names of his works often refer to private experiences or feelings, to fear, expectation, depression or loneliness, emotions that emphasise the insecurity of people. This feeling, infused into the works from the artist’s own experiences, is also the hallmark of modern man. The archaic and sensitive lines, colours and network-like forms of Tanttu’s works reflect this shared experience in the same way that it may be felt in dreams or memories.
With this, the first Akseli Gallen-Kallela Award given by the Kalevala Society, the Society wishes to draw attention to graphic art, particularly woodcuts and wood graphics. Gallen-Kallela created the foundation for Finnish national woodcut art, which has been popular in Finland throughout the 20th century and which is still of interest particularly for young graphical artists. The works of Antti Tanttu combine those qualities that are essential for a graphical artist: craftsmanship, high quality technique, a unique visual language, patience and perseverance. It was typical for Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s graphics to merge styles and influences adopted from different sources. Antti Tanttu continues in his footsteps as a strong and powerful artist who has expanded the borders of graphic art and renewed the imagery of the woodcut.