Illustrated art rug for the Helsinki central library, 2018.

I was among a group of seven leading Finnish illustrators commissioned to each design an illustrated art rug for the new Helsinki central library building, Oodi. The rugs are inspired by important Finnish authors and their works. My design is influenced by the life, values and works of the artist, illustrator and author Tove Jansson. Below are some of my thoughts behind the finished product.

“Tove Jansson’s colourful life and her pictorial and literary legacy, which touches every Finn, was a very inspiring starting point for design work. For me, as an illustrator of children’s books, Jansson was almost too predictable a choice for the author who inspired my work. Without question, the artist’s masterful illustrations and exciting stories have left an impression on me, starting from childhood.

However, what inspires me the most is Tove Jansson’s life philosophy and the broadminded, empathetic worldview conveyed by her stories and lifestyle. It took great courage to live openly in a romantic relationship with another woman in a time where homosexuality was a crime and a characteristic that was commonly considered a mental illness. Tove did not care about the prevailing norms but instead lived and loved the way that felt natural to her. The artist’s lifestyle was a statement for love and the freedom to express it; love knows no boundaries, love is the law and love in its various forms is the most human thing in the world.

For a long time now, I have thought that the significance of the artist’s life and works to sexual minorities, in particular, deserves a lot more recognition than it has received. As an illustrator specialised in children’s culture, it makes me sad that people have wanted to ignore or hide the artist’s sexual identity, especially when speaking about her life to child audiences. For example, her long-time life partner Tuulikki Pietilä has been portrayed as a friend or not mentioned at all. Fortunately, we live in a time where the prevailing attitudes are finally changing towards the better.

Some characters of the much-loved Moominvalley subtly portray love that is not allowed to be freely expressed. Tiuhti and Viuhti speak their own language that no-one else can understand. These silly, endearing characters take great pains to hide their greatest treasure – an enormous, splendidly sparkling ruby. The jewel symbolises their special love: something that is brilliant, strong and genuine, yet must be kept hidden from the world. The themes of loneliness and being different, which are present in many of Tove’s stories and the mindsets of their characters, are ones that touch us all. They speak especially to those who constantly feel like they must hide an essential part of their identity: their way of loving.

Love is a common thread running through Tove’s life, work and works, and I believe that it is the reason for her great popularity. The artist’s warm and accepting values have always been close to my heart, and their influence is also felt in this design project. I admire Tove’s ability to create colourful worlds and exciting atmospheres through words and images. These worlds – such as Moominvalley, which Tove created to escape the horrors of war – remind us of the importance of adventures, friendship and dreams. At the same time, they encourage us to be tolerant of difference, respect others, take care of our loved ones and have empathy. I would really like to see more of these values in modern life and dialogue. I wanted to create in my work a world where unusual, slightly strange yet gentle and friendly figures frolic in an atmosphere inspired by Tove.”