Jola Spytkowska – Ceramic Creatures

We asked Jola a bit about herself and being the featured guest artist at Shoreham Art Gallery during May. Here’s what Jola had to tell us:

What will your show be composed of and why these objects?
The work I will be showing at Shoreham will mostly be my smaller, more commercial pieces with a couple of one offs.

Why do you create what you do?
I want to make myself happy and others into the bargain. Its what I do best and its my way of giving pleasure to others – and to hopefully inspire them.

What do you wish gallery visitors to take away from the experience?
A sense of delight and an idea that ceramics doesn’t have to just be functional but can be imaginative and fun.

What needs, wants and desires does your work fulfil for your customers?
The feedback from people looking at my work is that it makes them smile, that it has humour and that cheers them up.

In some instances customers say that they almost feel as if they could talk to the piece. (to a handbag for instance)! I suppose because my aim is to give each piece as much personality as possible, I want there to be an engaging presence which communicates itself to the viewer – through a look or body language.
I’ve never actually set out to be humorous, it just happens in some of the pieces. The humour perhaps comes through in some pieces where it captures a human or animal foible. Observing people and animals is a very enjoyable past time and not unlike watching TV really. I particularly enjoy comedies and cartoons. Adding some mechanical features to the mix adds interest and in some pieces acts like a camouflage. For instance when I made ‘Stanley’ the tape measure dog, people took a while to work out what it was, it intrigued them and then they thought it was a toaster!

What is personal to you about what you create?
My creatures are a bit like my children. I have created them, and I find it difficult to let some of them go. Of course this can be a problem when it comes to selling. Some pieces I hold on to for a few years before I can let them go. This is especially true of my one off pieces.

What if any artists inspire you?
The Surrealists for their depiction of the strange world of the unconscious. W. Heath Robinson for his absurdly complex inventions and whacky humorous illustrations. Looking at his work freed up my horizons and made me aware that I could create all sorts of creatures without paying any attention to realism. Escher for his intriguing mind games.

The Victorians for their clever illusions. The change in perception needed to see the face of a young woman or an old hag in the same picture. Medieval art – I love the strangeness of the creatures and the humour. Picasso of course; his wonderful freedom in mark-making, his playfulness and experimentation – his genius.

What is your greatest joy when creating?
Being totally focused and in the moment – probably not dissimilar to mindfulness. Being inside my own world that I have populated with my own little characters. Its a place where I can freely play and where there are no rules or regulations.

Which part of the creative process do you enjoy the most and why?
I love drawing the most because this is the place where I find my little creatures. Some of them have already been in my head and others appear through doodling/observational drawing. I draw almost
every day, its easy, very relaxing and addictive: Its more of an intuitive process and I tune into my unconscious mind. All I need is a sheet of A4 and a black biro and I can do it anywhere.

It is particularly good for me whenever I get stressed. Drawing is a calming, meditative activity. I now have several sketch books with more ideas than I will ever get round to making. The only way would be for me to stop drawing for a while so I could catch up.

Drawing is crucial to my making. If the character looks good on paper then I am reasonably confident that it will work in 3D. It also helps me to understand how to plan the making. When I look at the drawing I look at it in sections, at its components and not as a whole.

I then start to make the sections and put them together. Making the piece come to life is more stressful. A different part of my brain takes over and its problem solving time. Its challenging and when it goes well it makes me very happy. I know the piece is successful when I spontaneously start singing to it.

Tell us about your greatest fear about your creativity.
Ruining a good piece of work because of bad decisions about the decorating and glazing or technical problems with the glazes. The glazing is probably the worst part of the process. It involves much thinking and procrastination and avoidance.

Also, what if no one likes what I have made?

My other fear is not being as good as I could be…. As much as I admire other artists like Picasso for their energetic freedom in mark-making and execution, I still feel trapped by the need for too much precision. This can drive me mad sometimes because it means I spend far too long on making something. I am aware of it but can’t seem to do anything about it. It may well have something to do with the need to make a saleable object at the end of the day and the practicalities of it not falling apart.

I’m sure that if some kind benefactor gave me a big studio space and an income so that I wouldn’t have to go out to work, and there was someone to do the shopping and cooking for me I would be free to indulge my ideas to my hearts content.

What drives you to be creative?
My head is always full of little characters waiting to emerge into the world. I want to see them in the flesh. I see their potential in the objects around me – in kitchen utensils, in scrapyards, in the urban environment disguised as a parking meter….

Why I’m compelled to do this, I don’t really know except that I enjoy doing it.
I loved fairy tales as a child, and I loved the illustrations. I’m still drawn to fantasy drama like Merlin, Jason and the Argonauts and Harry Potter. I loved how inanimate objects came to life and spoke in Snow White.
Somewhere along the way a seed was sown.

Do you find inspiration from the world around you?
Yes, I can look at a tin opener and see a little tin pot dictator or I can look at an old Stanley tape measure and I can see a startled dog-like creature poking its tongue out at me. One of my early pieces was ‘The Singing Traffic Warden’ based on an old parking meter. I was absently staring at it one day while I was in a queue and suddenly I saw the personality emerge. It was almost fully formed and I didn’t have to add too much to it. It was one of my more successful pieces.

Lately I’ve been looking at handbags in shops and trying to see which ones have the potential to become an interesting face. Some look quite happy but there are definitely some grumpy ones out there.
I try and take pictures to record what I see, then later, through drawing I play around with these images until I’m satisfied that there is a definite personality there. Having a good camera during my college days was definitely a necessary tool for me to make discoveries in my environment.

I would spend hours in scrapyards taking photos of extraordinary objects which had lost their original function and had become transformed by destruction. I studied things at close range all the different textures and colours which had been created by weathering. It was here where I started to see potential creatures starting to emerge.

All this intense observation and filling up my conscious and unconscious mind led me to draw more. I started to collect these scrap components and draw them, assembling and reassembling them to find different characters. This also helped me to just draw from my imagination because now my mind was full of interesting shapes I had seen and I would just combine them intuitively.

Do you feel you create for an audience?
Yes, I do feel that I create for an audience as well as for myself. I have to feel happy with what I’ve made in the first instance. I want to put a smile on my own as well as other peoples faces.

The people who buy my work are usually people who have a disposable income and do not have children, either because they don’t have them or because they have left home. Children think my work are toys and want to play with them. Not a good idea!

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