Getting visual with Finland’s national visionary
Erik Bruun has created a visual palette of Finland for well over half a century.
When your passion is the same as your work, it’s your life and way of living,” says Erik Bruun, 92. The spry nonagenarian says he can’t imagine retiring because he loves what he does−and he has so many ideas waiting to be carried out.
Bruun is one of Finland’s best-known graphic artists whose distinct signature work has spanned six decades. He is probably best known for the loveable hand-drawn pen and ink drawings with dashes of pencil and water colour that run the gamut from posters for nature organisations and a series for Jaffa, one of the country’s most popular soft drinks that was created more than 50 years ago and continues to be re-printed. He has also created logos, stamps, and even a poster for Finnair’s 90th anniversary five years ago.
“As I’ve always been interested in airplanes and flying, it was an honour to design the poster,” says Bruun.
As a much sought-after artist, Bruun has received numerous commissions over the years. Yet, what sets him apart from many graphic artists is that many of his published works have originated from his own ideas and passions, which he has then created and placed with clients.
“I have a vision and I carry it out,” he says. Bruun, born in 1926 Viipuri, which later became part of Russia in 1944, grew up in a Swedish-speaking family in a Helsinki suburb. As a schoolchild, his talent was erroneously mistaken for deceit−one of his teachers couldn’t believe how quickly and aptly the young Bruun drew a map and subsequently gave him a failing grade.
“That experience only fuelled the fire, making me even more determined to draw because I knew the truth−I had not cheated, I had drawn the map,” says Bruun, with a twinkle in his eye.
In 1953 he founded his own graphics company and has been self-employed ever since. Along the way he’s won many prestigious awards including the Pro Finlandia medal, and the Arts Council of Finland granted him the title of professor to honour his lifetime contribution to the country’s visual identity through graphic arts.
He has lived in a yellow wooden house built in 1845 on the fortress island of Suomenlinna, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with his artist wife Sinikka Bruun for 48 years.
He says the island setting with its views of the Helsinki waterfront has been an inspiring place to draw: “Nature has informed most of my work because I’m passionate about conservation.”
Text Katja Pantzar
Photos Fabian Björk