Annu Kilpeläinen (b. 1985) has ditched London’s grey skies for the tropical worlds inside of her art.

Since graduating from the University of the Arts London in 2010, Annu has had her own solo exhibition (Ocean of Possibilities, which just ended at FISK in Portland), has been featured in Pick Me Up’s 2014 graphics show, and has boasted work from more than enough projects in between.

Her tropical artworks bear a stark contrast to her snowy homeland of Finland. Her family’s background is deeply rooted in the country’s traditions and it wasn’t until her grandmother’s sister came to visit from America, clad in lipstick and shiny jewellery, that a curious, creative spark ignited.

As her work would now show, that spark has since blossomed into a full-blown inquisitiveness for all things opposite and exotic.

We caught up with the illustrator to chat about her move to Australia and everywhere she's been in between since that initial curiosity for the unknown took hold.

You’re still only just settling into Australia - are there any differences in the creative scene that you’re already noticing?


I'm still mesmerised by everything I saw whilst travelling in America, and then arriving here last week and just taking in the sea and all the green plants everywhere. I don't feel like I have immersed myself into the creative scene just yet. I wanted to come to Byron Bay first, get back to work and take it easy in a smaller town for a few weeks before heading to Melbourne and eventually Sydney later on in the year. By far, it seems like being creative comes naturally as an extension of the lifestyle here. People are quite loose and fun with it, I've seen so many hippy vans driving around—it’s great. I’m excited to eventually go to the bigger cities and see shows, meet more people, and really get back on working.


Tell us about your solo exhibition, Ocean of Possibilities. The title certainly seems to fit where your career is at right now!


I used to (and sometimes still) do simple little doodles with funny words of things I've thought of or seen, and Ocean of Possibilities was one of them. It felt like a fitting title for the show, as it does feel like that is where I’m at. I got so excited about coming up with ideas that, for a second it felt like everything was all over the place. But when I looked at all the sketches together, it all made perfect sense. The exhibition is essentially about how there really are an ocean of things out there and sometimes the little things get forgotten, like the feeling of putting fresh socks on or how satin feels to touch. There’s also images of love and care in the form of cars, fixed old vehicles and rallying new ones. It was my first solo show overseas too, and it was my first time in America, so when I started planning everything, I got so excited I had to go for a run to let some energy out.

How does being featured in a huge graphics show like Pick Me Up compare to having your own exhibition at FISK?


It was great to be part of Pick Me Up last year as it was shortly after I started freelancing. It really made a difference to have that big exposure. Somerset House as the setting, the previous Pick Me Up shows, and all the other people exhibiting all made it very special. With Pick Me Up, I had been doing quite a few little projects here and there, but FISK was refreshing because it was nice to focus on one body of work to exhibit. And with FISK it was great to get to travel and do a show and, through that, meet so many great people.


Your illustrations for Mosaic Science’s ‘The cost of pure water’ cover a relatively dark topic - the shortage of clean, safe drinking water for populations in Ghana. Even though your artwork sticks to your signature use of vibrant patterns and colour, the theme is still accurately depicted. Can you explain your thought process in going about these pieces?


I love working with Mosaic Science. I illustrated a story about the obesity crisis in South Africa last year for them and then this one came up. Whenever I'm in the process of colouring in, I listen to/watch documentaries—it’s been like an extended education and it feels important to raise awareness for these issues. There is so much in this world that should change. I hope the illustrations ease the audience into reading about these heavy topics. I like the effect of bright, bold colours on dark subject matters. Someone came up to me at the FISK opening and said, “They are so bright and yet so dark.” They were looking at the artworks of the car driving into a pool and the car taped to a lamp post. I like the fact that they are not dwelling in sadness, but there are these darker undertones. 


In the Ghana water illustrations, I read though the article a few times, I had also watched a documentary on sachet water before so it was a topic I was already aware of. I also received some reference photos of the Johnny Water packaging machine and delivery trips, so through these the final images came about.


What’s up with all the cars—real and illustrated?


Haha, I get asked this a lot. It started off with drawing a funny coloured car, and then eventually more, and then I thought it would be interesting to do a zine about Rally. I used to watch Rally on TV with my dad, I guess it used to be a big thing in Finland, and maybe it still is. Anyhow, the cars resemble people in a lot of ways and they work as extensions to one’s persona. Isn't it funny how cars have lights just like eyes and how you get attached to the car you own? After drawing so many cars, I wanted to paint a real one, and it’s actually in the countryside in East Finland as a field rally car now.


Can we expect any new styles or techniques to come from you after all you’ve experienced on your travels?


Right now it’s all filtering through. I try out different techniques and styles, most of the things don't ever see the daylight of the internet though. But there’s always fun ones that eventually come through and end up in actual pieces. I'm excited to see what I can come up with. 

Words by Victoria Kamila for Sunday Blessed

Artwork by Annu Kilpeläinen