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Amsterdam Illustrator Kustaa Saksi Debuts Mural With A Digital Twist in Toronto
A mural representing an international collaboration between Kustaa Saksi, Molson M, The Canadian Art Foundation and 10,000 Twitter followers will be on display at King and Church for the next three weeks.

Illustrator Kustaa Saksi sits in front of the mural he designed from his Amsterdam apartment. The mural and Twitter handles were painted by Canadian artists.

At King and Church there’s a place where colours pour into each other like liquid, psychedelic acid rain. Teal waves give birth to pink and purple drops that fall down on 10, 000 hand-painted Twitter handles. It’s an eclectic collaboration of artistry and advertising, and the latest way companies are directly leveraging digital consumers through popular social media. The mural was designed by internationally renowned illustrator Kustaa Saksi and painted by Canadian street artist Patrick Thompson, who often works under the pseudonym Evoke. Molson M commissioned the piece under its new campaign “Paint With A Tweet.”

It’s a smart equation. Combine one part digital ad superstar, one part clever campaign and thousands of parts consumer narcissism and you’ve got yourself an advertisement that pretty much runs itself. One dollar was donated to the Canadian Art Foundation for every tweet with the #MolsonM_Art and each Tweeter earned their handle on the mural. Recent Ryerson graduate Belinda Lovelee handwrote each of the 10, 000 Twitter handles on the mural using an oil ink Sharpie that won’t wash off in the rain. It took her more than a week.

Kustaa Saksi poses with his “inspiring” maple syrup in front of a portion of the 10, 000 Twitter handles featured in the mural he designed.

“What’s exceptional about this piece of art, aside from the size, is the fact that it’s a unique way to collaborate with the consumer and bring art to life,” said a Molson M rep. “By using something social like Twitter, even though we’re located downtown Toronto, it was the perfect way to bring the mural across the country.”

Twitter has become an important tool in connecting directly with an audience, but according to Mashable social media is still last on the hierarchy of ways businesses engage consumers. Companies are now beginning to realize that Twitter is a pool of data and if a campaign is rolled out correctly it will snowball itself.

But simply using Twitter or social media isn’t enough, especially when engaging youth and socially driven markets that already use it in their day-to-day. This is where marketing agencies must get creative, such as in this case collaborating with the arts. When asked why a Canadian illustrator wasn’t chosen for the campaign, the Molson M rep said the Finnish-born, Amsterdam-based illustrator Kustaa Saksi was chosen to design the mural to help promote collaboration between artists from around the world. Canadians Patrick Thompson and Felix Wittholz will reproduce the work on bus shelters and walls in Montreal, Quebec City and Calgary.

Designer Saksi has worked with brands such as Diesel, The New York Times, Swarovski and Nike, to name a few. He’s been commissioned for pieces all over the world from the UK to New York, sometimes spending up to six months of a year traveling. The mural represents his largest physical commissioned piece to date. He splits his time between original gallery exhibitions and creating large commercial campaigns, something he says all masters have done in their time.

“There is definitely a movement and what is great about it is illustration as an art form gets more respect nowadays,” Saksi says. Influenced by psychedelic pop and Japanese artists from the 60’s, Saksi noted how imagery in mainstream advertising was largely photographed until illustration’s resurgence in the 2000s.

The design of the art and the whole idea of incorporating graphic art into marketing campaigns is reminiscent of the iPod advertisements first introduced in 2003. Known as the “iPod People” campaign, these graphics also incorporated bright colours with contrasting silhouettes. Apple was one of the first companies to promote its product through social media, recognizing the role it played in youth culture. At the time, they partnered with Myspace and later Facebook. Molson M adopted a similar mindset, choosing to engage digitally savvy Canadians (of legal drinking age) with a chance to have their name featured on a mural that represented a national campaign, subsequently making them a part of the art.

An iPod mural advertisement that appeared on Queen West in Toronto in 2007. Photo taken from Flickr with permission. By user new-york-city.

The full Molson M mural. Notice how the billboard bleeds seamlessly into the design. Kustaa Saksi did paint on his own signature.

Of course, the other tie in is the arts itself. Molson M matched the 10, 000 tweets for a total donation of $20, 000 to the Canadian Art Foundation. The CAF delivers educational programs and publishes Canadian Art magazine. The donation will help the foundation in its mission to create a portal that exposes visual artists in Canada.

Saksi is regarded as a master of graphic illustrations and was contacted about the mural just over two months ago. He created numerous drafts of the image digitally on his computer, which he compares to a stamp’s size in relation to the actual mural.

“I was really excited to have the chance to make something of such a big scale. It’s imaginative artwork. Normally I use characters, but this was a completely abstract piece. This is something I really like to create, this kind of colour burst and liquid movement, so it was kind of a dream come true to do it. I didn’t know it was going to be as big as this,” he said. He made his Canadian debut when the mural was unveiled this week, but he flies back on Thursday. He tries to find nontraditional pieces of art that inspire him on his travels. In Toronto, he picked up a tin of maple syrup after falling for its Canadian folk art design.

The mural will be on display at a small parking lot on King Street, just west of Church for the next three weeks. Its radiant and bright hues make it impossible to miss.


Sheena Lyonnais writes about tech for Toronto Standard. You can follow her on Twitter at @SheenaLyonnais.

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