This week, I talk about the Finnish word “kaiho” and how art can bring up deeper longings than we first realize.
I created this acrylic painting at the end of September. It’s called “Sammumaton kaiho” which is something like “Unquenchable Longing” or “Extinguishable Longing” in English, but I think that this time, the Finnish name is much better.
Kaiho is one of the most heart-breaking words that I know. It’s not like kaipaus (yearning) but something much quieter. And being a short word, it’s like a whisper in the air.
Say it softly with me: “kaiho” (kaaiihoh)…
It feels like a piece of a deep agony flies away with the word. Maybe every language has these kinds of soothing kaihos that don’t belong to the daily vocabulary, but that need to get out now and then.
Quick Start with Happy Colors
I started the painting by filling the canvas with candy colors. With a big brush, it was quick and fun.
I didn’t overthink the subject, but painted plant-like shapes and tried to enjoy the process as much as possible.
In the photo above, the painting is still quite young. But it progressed quickly!
Finlandia Raised the Longing
It was Friday evening when I was adding final touches to the painting. At the same time, I was watching – well listening to – Voice of Finland. It’s a singing contest, pretty similar to American Idol.
Even if all the songs are usually rhythmic pop songs, one singer had chosen differently. He sang Finlandia, a hymn, instead. Every Finn knows Finlandia, and it brings many stereotypical images to mind: forests, lakes, swans, snow, blue, white. I have heard the song thousands of times. But this time, I was painting too, and it always boosts my senses.
Do You Know Finlandia?
The song is composed by Jean Sibelius in 1899, and a poet V.A Koskenniemi has written the lyrics.
>> Here’s a great article about Finlandia, including an English translation for the lyrics.
Watch BBC Symphony Chorus and the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Finnish Sakari Oramo, play the song.
Remembering What’s Lost
With Finlandia, I was reminded of what I no longer have. As a child, I lived in Karelia, Eastern Finland, near the Russian border. Finland lost a part of it in a war in 1940, and it has left its marks on future generations as well. But personally, the bigger loss was leaving Karelia to study engineering, and quickly after that, losing my mother.
Here’s an earlier picture of me, my mother, and a close friend Saimi Norimäki. Saimi was born in Western Finland, and she was much more straight-forward and brave than what we had used to see. But she was a woman with a warm heart, and I have many fond memories of her.
This photo is a good representation of the sadness that I have. The colors have faded away, there’s a lot of empty space, but I still remember the people.
A More Joyful Longing
However, when painting along with Finlandia, I was able to dig through the sadness and find the longing that was more joyful. I asked myself: “What are you painting, Paivi?” The answer came quickly:
“I paint what I know best – what it is like to walk on Karelian meadows on a hot summer day, how the warm and rough ground feels, and how the soil smells. I know what the heart of Karelia is, its temperament, culture, and nature.”
I also remembered many old Finnish songs, poems, places where I used to go as a child, and the word: kaiho.
They say that Karelian people often laugh and cry at the same time. We tend to get caught by emotions, and easily see polarities in them. So even if my painting has happy colors, it also has this kaiho, this longing, that’s unquenchable – that never leaves me.
I now believe we all have layers of longings. Under a sad layer, there can be a more joyful one. In a global world, each of us has many identities, many cultural impacts, and it’s easy to forget some of them. So when creating, we are not purely painting the longing what we are consciously aware of, but how we are truly built. With this natural integration, art has the power to make us feel more whole and grounded.
“Is this the painting that needs a hanging wire,” my husband asked pragmatically the next morning.
When weather allows, I photograph my paintings outside.
This painting is 54 x 65 cm – about 21x 25,5 inches.
My Journey of Painting the Longing Continues
As a young woman, my mother got a book of poems which I now have. The book is called Ruiskukkaehtoo (Cornflower Night), and it’s written by Anna-Maija Raittila.
Ruiskukkaehtoo is also one of the poems, and my goal is to paint that! Not so much to illustrate the poem itself, but to express what comes to my mind from it. Even if it’s a poem and not a song, it has a captivating rhythm. I am pretty sure it will take me back to painting the longing.
Create with Me!
- See the new free mini-course Paint the Emotion! The painting of this post was made with pretty similar techniques.
- Stay tuned for a new class! I am working on the new class Floral Freedom. It’s about painting freely by using the principles of Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky. The registration will open in November.
- Sign up! Does music play a big role in your art-making? Sign up for Creative Junk Journal 2020 to get my mini-course about expressing your favorite music!
16 thoughts on “Kaiho – Painting the Longing”
Wow what a beautiful post, thank you for sharing!
Beautiful and meaningful blog post. Thank you!
Thanks so much, Michelle!
Excellent writing Paivi and the music video really ended dramatic!
Thank you, Wendy!
The beauty inside you shines through in your writings and paintings!
Thanks so much, Rae Lynn!!
I love your work, Paivi! I love your enthusiasm and the emotion that you display!
Thank you, Eileen!!!
I love this – Finlandia – I can’t say I ever heard the song before however, I recognise the tune as it is used for a hymn we sing at church. The name of the hymn eludes me at the moment.
It’s lovely to read of your life and I can imagine your longing – but I am sure your mother and Saimi must be watching over you and very proud of you.
Your art in all aspects is truly wonderful and each piece I see I go “WOW!”.
I do see emotion in Kaiho – to me the warm colours behind remind me of the warmth of the past and your passion in remembrance. The cool colours to the front remind me of peace and acceptance, some things we can never change but the events of life make us who and what we are.
Paiva, thank you for your gift and for sharing it with us. It’s really beautiful and a joy to behold. Thank you. x
Alice, thanks so much for your comment. It really means a lot to me. Thank you!
This is so heartfelt! I have called it being “ sentimental” but it is a sense of longing for what was and for what we want/need for our creative lives. Thank you, Paivi!
Thanks so much, Sally! Well said about the longing!
Thank you for posting the beautiful song Finlandia. It brought great emotion of fighting and the victory. It overwhelmed me with its beauty and fierce triumph at the same time. I can see now the feelings you placed in your painting. My longing would be to hear it again. I love this painting.
Thank you, Phyllis, for your beautiful words!!
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