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Birger Kaipiainen

Finland (1915-1988)

Birger Kaipiainen is one of Finland's most successful and well-known ceramic artists: his work played its part in Finland's world conquest in the field of modern applied art. Kaipiainen settled into a three-dimensional language of form, producing reliefs made of ceramic fragments or beads.

Birger Kaipiainen was born in 1915, the youngest in a family of seven children, in Pori. Just a year later, however, the family moved to Helsinki's Fredrikinkatu Street.

The precocious and artistically-minded boy devoured literature and enjoyed drawing, but was not getting on well at school, especially in mathematics.

In 1937, Birger Kaipiainen was invited to join the art department at the Arabia factory, which was at that time making a name for itself as the flagship of free applied art. He immediately distinguished himself through his original range of themes from a group of artists that was in any case special. But making art was almost cut short right at the beginning: Kaipiainen became ill with polio, and his recovery was slowed down by a false diagnosis. The serious illness left a permanent mark on the young artist; from then on he needed a walking stick to support his right side. In addition, Kaipiainen's father died shortly after the illness. Illness and the loss of people dear to him perhaps partly explain the tinge of melancholy that one encounters in Kaipiainen's works.

Kaipiainen's individual interpretation of the romantic also evoked a response among the public, especially in the 1940s. His works from the first half of the decade have a mournful atmosphere about them but are solemnly timeless, far removed from the daily reality of the war. Onto large wall-plates and tiles, he used pastel shades to conjure dreamy serenades in romantic forest interiors, or harlequins, or a youth fishing for stars and surrounded by floating female fantasies. Many works repeat an elegiacal female figure with streaming hair; in her facial features, one seems to recognise Kaipiainen's own profile.

In 1954, Kaipiainen moved to Sweden as an artist at the firm of Rörstrand.

At the end of 1958, after returning to Finland from Linköping, Kaipiainen travelled to France with the economist Maggi (Margit) Halonen, with whom he had become acquainted through Armi Ratia. Maggi and Birger Kaipiainen were married on Christmas Eve at the Finnish embassy in Paris. However, Kaipiainen again had a bitter loss ahead of him: the marriage ended with Maggi's sudden illness and death in 1966.

Birger Kaipiainen's work played its part in Finland's world conquest in the field of modern applied art. In 1960, he designed for the Milan Trienniale exhibition a group of bead birds, set against the background of a monumental Finnish landscape. Kaipiainen's birds and exhibition design both won a Grand Prix. For the Montreal Expo in 1967, Kaipiainen constructed a gigantic 'Sea of Violets' (Orvokkimeri), which was later placed in the meeting chamber of the Tampere City Council.

With his romantic artist's soul, Birger Kaipiainen steered clear of socially oriented design work. At the request of the Arabia factory's management, he finally agreed to design some models for series production. The Tapetti pressed-copper ornament was in production from 1953 to 1962. The late 1960s saw the birth of the Paratiisi tableware set with its luxuriant fruit-and-flower ornamentation. The manufacture of this set stopped in the mid 1970s, but it has since come back into production with small changes. Today it is regarded as one of the classics of Finnish design.

Kaipiainen was granted an artist's pension in 1981, after which he continued his work on a freelance basis, continuing to arrive at the Arabia factory almost daily. Birger Kaipiainen died at the end of a day's work in July 1988.

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