"I had a kind of huge floral still life spread out on the floor, wet, waiting to be rolled up... paints in yogurt pots, newspaper everywhere, and flowers in vases on the floor.... Big dark red roses, small fragrant and curiously hairy roses, yellow, orange and white poppies, water lilies in different shades of purple, black tulips and tiny carmine flowers whose names I don't know."
Maija Isola, letter to her daughter from Paris, 1970
Maija Isola has created over 500 designs for the famous Finnish textile company Marimekko, in a collaboration that has lasted 38 years. Many of her designs are still in print, in fabrics, comforter covers, porcelain, bags, shower curtains and more. Among them, the famous Unikko pattern, designed in 1964 and still extremely popular, which has become a kind of emblem for the brand.
Maija Isola studied textile design at Helsinki University of Art and Design, graduating in 1949. Her first textile designs were created for Printex, a textile company founded the same year. At the time, there was a shortage of clothing in Finland, and the company set out to fill the gap through its subsidiary Marimekko, founded in 1951 to turn Printex fabrics into clothing and furnishing fabrics.
Many of Maija Isola's most famous designs date from the 1960s', when Marimekko gained worldwide recognition after a complicated 1950s: the wheels had come off at the 1958 Brussels World Fair, when many journalists, particularly from the USA, took notice of Maija Isola's bold work.
As both an artist and a textile designer, Maija Isola drew her inspiration from a multitude of sources, including folk art, modern art, nature and her many travels throughout Europe, North Africa and America.
She often worked in the evening, sitting on the floor, painting the original work across the entire width of the canvas. Nature was an inexhaustible source of materials for her, and she sometimes used real plants for her creations. She composed the Kivet fabric, a print resembling giant stones, from circles cut from colored paper.
Many of the sketches and paintings she made on her travels were then used as the basis for her textile designs. Her vivid graphic style and use of intense flat colors had a considerable influence, and her work, which includes over 500 designs, 50 of which are currently in production, has remained remarkably enduring.
When Marimekko director Armi Ratia banned floral motifs at Marimekko, Maija Isola rebelled and painted a whole collection of graphic, pop-art-inspired floral fabrics: among them the famous Lokki-maija-isola motif (1964), printed continuously ever since.
A large, casual pattern of stylized natural shapes, Melooni (melon) is one of the many motifs in Maija Isola's 1960s production that superbly captured the spirit of the times.
The idea for the Lokki (seagull) motif came to Maija Isola while she was looking at a window over which a curtain had been drawn. The sun was shining brightly, and the curtain's wide pleats formed wavy shadows on the fabric.
Maija had a sudden inspiration: if a fabric is printed with waves, even a small piece of it appears abundantly, richly folded.