I’ll Take My Art Bold and Busy

Fields of Poppies!
Fields of Poppies!

“Dreadfully busy” is usually a pejorative phrase; a reminder to myself to settle down about my endless To Do lists. But I do love my art bold and busy. Art and design that makes you feel alive. Makes you laugh. Makes you jump for joy.

So the next time the house is a disaster, when the laundry taunts you–and know this, it will always taunt you–leave. Walk away. Go find something beautiful.

To get over our dirty socks and a touch of “We’re the only one not at the beach” envy, I persuaded my thirteen year-old daughter to check out some design with me. Turns out it’s the 50th anniversary of Merimekko‘s famed Unikko poppy design, and the Embassy of Finland in Washington D.C. hosted a special exhibit.

I’m a print kind-of-gal; I’m drawn to excess color, an avalanche of design. And that’s exactly what we found in the stunning light-filled setting: a vibrant sea of flowers, everywhere. Fields of poppies, poppy dresses, poppy tablecloths, poppy wall hangings. Poppies that were the opposite of the sleep-inducing flowers  in the Wizard of Oz. Those poppies bewitched; they lulled Dorothy and the Lion to sleep.

The Merimekko poppies have the opposite effect: they awaken their visitors. They inspire activity, as guests gasp, giggle, pose, photograph, touch, gesture, jump.

The famed poppy pattern almost didn’t come into being. Merimekko’s founder, Armi Ratia, had publicly announced that Marimekko would never print floral patterns, because she thought that flowers were more beautiful in nature than on fabric. But designer Maija Isola rebelled. She painted a red Unikko along with an entire series of floral patterns in protest. Her boss couldn’t say no. And an iconic design was born.

Unikko Exhibit, Embassy of Finland, D.C.
Clashing with the Tablecloth at the Unikko Exhibit, Embassy of Finland, D.C.

I wanted to know more about this rebel. I  found out Isola’s body of work includes over over 500 prints, drawing inspiration from traditional folk art, nature, travel. In 1970, Maija Isola (age 43) wrote this:

“Bon soir children. I’m having a wonderful time these days. I’ve started working. Once again, I feel as if I’ll never find the time to do even a fraction of all the things I want to do. – – I had a huge floral still-life of sorts spread out wet on the floor, waiting to be rolled up … paints in yoghurt pots, and newspaper everywhere, and flowers in vases on the floorboards. Large deep-red roses, small and fragrant, curiously furry pink roses, yellow, orange and white poppies, cowslips in various shades of purple, black tulips and tiny carmine flowers whose name I don’t know.”

So next time we’re feeling the pressure to perform like Martha Stewart, why not look to Maija Isola instead? She was, like you and me, a busy person. She didn’t know how she’d do it all, her place was messy and she didn’t even know the names of all the flowers on her floor. And what did she do? She created and had a wonderful time. And her work, her eye-popping, bold and busy work? Decades later, it made a thirteen year-old  jump for joy. It’s worth rebelling for that alone.

One Thirteen Year-Old Jumping for Joy, June 29, 2014, Umikko Exhibit, Embassy of Finland.
One Thirteen Year-Old Jumping for Joy, June 29, 2014, Umikko Exhibit, Embassy of Finland.



Author: Kristin O'Keefe

Kristin O’Keefe has bartended in Scotland, written speeches for college presidents, and led communications & marketing for an economic development organization. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, McSweeney's, Barrelhouse, Your Teen, Grown and Flown, and Scary Mommy. Find her on Twitter @_KristinOKeefe and Facebook at Kristin O'Keefe, writer.

5 thoughts on “I’ll Take My Art Bold and Busy

    1. Kristin O'Keefe says:

      Thanks Julie-Anne. That was a last minute, fun one to write–loved picturing the artist surround by the surplus of stuff that makes art, and her utter joy in all of it. The creative process at work.

  1. Darlene Campbell says:

    Okay, you’ve talked me into settling down about my to-do lists. I am writing less of them. Your Blog is a joy to visit.

  2. Elise Lipoff Mayer says:

    Love this post! And, love the poppies – they’re one of my favorite patterns!!


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