Birger Kaipiainen was a leading figure in the field of 20th Century Nordic ceramics. His work is characterized by a unique, creative idiom that earned him the nickname “King of ceramics”
Born in Finland, Kaipiainen studied at the Central School of Applied Arts in Helsinki. In 1937, he was offered a position in the art department at Arabia, Finland’s leading ceramic company, which at that time was positioning itself as a frontrunner in the realm of free applied art. Kaipiainen’s early career coincided with the ideas of Functionalism and the endeavours to strip applied art of all ornamentation, decorativeness and sentimentality. But Kaipiainen forged his own path. With a unique artistic sense of colour, he created a variety of poetic and pictorial ceramic objects. At Arabia, he enjoyed an artistic freedom to fulfil his dreamy visions – free from the constraints of industrial production.
The large dishes he created for Arabia are refined examples of his extraordinary creativity. Densely decorated with colourful berries, fruits and flowers, they are influenced by the art of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, as well as by his own childhood memories of the Finnish countryside.
As the Finnish art historian and author, Harri Kalha, has pointed out, the basic tone of Kaipiainen’s work is nostalgia; an escape from the present Everyday and a melancholic yearning for the Elsewhere, a more beautiful world infused with memories gilded by time. Another remarkable feature of Kaipiainen’s work is his use of applied three-dimensional elements, made of ceramic fragments or beads, which add an enthralling sensuous and tactile dimension to his aesthetics. Nothing seemed to limit his imagination, and he stated in his 60th birthday interview: “Imagination costs nothing, it has no limits, and no one can say where it ends“
In 1954, Kaipiainen moved to Sweden where he spent four years working for Rörstrand – a period in which his ceramic art entered the realm of sculpture and his themes became more infused with Surrealism. His sculptures in glazed stoneware, richly decorated with painted motifs of faces, clocks and swans, belongs to this period.
Kaipiainen was a bold and visionary storyteller. His wondrous designs and iridescent glazes testify to an unusual virtuosity, not only artistically, but also regarding ceramic techniques. After returning to Finland in 1958, he continued his work at Arabia until his death in 1988.