Exploring the inspirations and attitudes of artists working with clay and ceramic, featured in Vitamin C
As a young girl, Klara Kristalova spent many hours walking through the woods surrounding her home in Sweden, with only her dog as a companion. Woodland creatures like owls figure prominently in her ceramics, as do porcelain-skinned girls with pre-Raphaelite hair that often seems matted down, as though from a recent dip in murky waters. Her work speaks of both a desire to hold onto girlhood and a budding curiosity about the darker paths of womanhood.
In some cases, this process of growth is sublimated into a transmogrification: a figure perched on a ledge has the body of a girl and the head of a horse. Kristalova has spoken of such human-animal hybrids as ‘an image of the whole girl-person’, perhaps another way of saying that some creature or another is one’s ‘spirit animal’.
Before becoming an artist, Kristalova trained as an interpreter, and you could say she is still interpreting, turning stories into ceramic. Here the Vitamin C: Clay and Ceramic in Contemporary Art featured artist tells us why she works in the medium, what particular challenges it holds for her and who she thinks always gets it right.
Who are you and what’s your relationship to clay and ceramics? I'm an artist, living in the Swedish woods, working with drawings and clay among other things. I started building things out of clay when I was a little girl in my parents' studio.(My mother was a trained ceramic artist and my father was a sculptor). Then I took a long pause from it and rediscovered it after my art academy years. At that time I needed something fast, cheap but long lasting that combined colour and shape, I also embraced its (in those days) underdog qualities. I love ceramic and hate it. Its so dusty, and I sometimes feel trapped by its endless possibilities.
Why do you think there’s an increased interest around clay and ceramics right now? I have no idea, could it be the hands-on quality that is something completely different from the digital? Sounds like a very banal answer!
Ceramics is sometimes regarded as decorative, rather than fine arts. Does the distinction bother you at all? That's the distinction I felt was so liberating when I started. It gave me freedom, but now, I don't know, maybe it became so explored and used by so many so that feeling got lost.
Whose work in this world do you admire? I look a lot at other peoples work, I enjoy that a lot, and get a lot of inspiration that way, and admire everyone who puts a lot of effort, work and spirit in their work but honestly, I dont have any specific favourites among ceramics. And I don't go into the developing techniques path very much.
What are the hardest things for you to get ‘right’ and what are your unique challenges? The expression of the work. I want it to contain something I cannot control, and something I maybe cannot even describe, I just know if it's there after the final firing, and if it's not there the work is not good enough.
What part does the vulnerability of the material play in things? I would prefer the work to be less vulnerable, but my work is sturdier than many think!
Is how you display a piece an important element of the work itself? Do you ever suggest how something might be displayed? Yes and no. I like to combine the work for a specific show in certain ways. I often build up scenographies that makes the works' connection stronger and that make the exhibition's impact more dramatic, but basically the works are made to get on by themselves, without anything else. What the people do with their work in their new surroundings is up to them.
What’s next for you, and what’s next for ceramics? (At the time of writing) next for me is a show at Perrotin in Paris, I'm part of a group show in Luzern, Switzerland and one in Kristinehamn in Sweden. Then a solo show at Lehmann Maupin NYC in June 2018.
However, if you mean more in general, I would love to work more with textiles, and some other materials I have been thinking of. I also will have a vacation soon - some more dream time. What's next for ceramics? That's really not up to me, I'm using such a tiny part of that material's potential, but I'm very happy with that.
Clay and ceramics have in recent years been elevated from craft to high art material, with the resulting artworks being coveted by collectors and exhibited in museums around the world. Vitamin C: Clay and Ceramic in Contemporary Art celebrates the revival of clay as a material for contemporary artists, featuring a wide range of global talent selected by the world's leading curators, critics, and art professionals. Packed with illustrations, it's a vibrant and incredibly timely survey - the first of its kind. Buy Vitamin C here. And if you're quick, you can snap up work by Klara Kristalova at Artspace.