Next in our series of International Isolation Interviews we invited Krzysztof Strzelecki to share what life is like in his studio in Poland and how his practice has developed over the last year.
SEAM: Have you always worked in ceramics? What inspired you to start working in
Krzysztof Strzelecki: My adventure with ceramic started for a short time around 2011 when I was living in Warsaw, I took evening classes where I learned that clay has a lot of possibilities and great potential. Later I was travelling around India and Europe and never had the opportunity to come back to this medium until I visited Japan and took a wheel throwing course in 2019 before my final year at university. What inspired me to work with clay was the possibilities of this medium, you can paint, carve, making sculpture, furniture, dishes - just everything. The big influence was the fact I like to feel the material that I work with under my fingers and control the process of creating with my hands. Leaving a mark of me on every piece.
SEAM: What does a typical day in the studio look like?
KS: Every day is different in the ceramic studio. The work rhythm is determined by the clay and the stage of dryness. Sometimes you need to leave clay for hours to let it harden and sometimes you have to work fast before it’s too dry. Because of that I often work on two artworks at the same time. My process of making a vase starts at
the computer where I make a collage with drawings and photographs for my vase. In
my studio, I roll slabs of clay and I let it rest for few hours before I assemble them
together. The next step is to transfer my collage onto the object and make necessary
changes. I am then able to paint and curve the outlines that add details.
This detailed stage sometimes takes a few days and with bigger pieces can take a week, by this
time the clay is too dry to work longer. When this is done and the vase is drying until
it is bone dry I start the same process with another work.
The next step is to carefully load a kiln with bone dry pieces. At this stage, work is
very fragile and easily cracked or broken. After biscuit firing it’s time for glazing and
then I fire the pieces again at a higher temperature. Two days later I am able to open
the kiln and see the final results. If everything went according to plan and the piece
looks perfect it's time to take pictures of it.
How you can see there isn’t a typical day in the studio. Every day has different energy
of work sometimes is slow and quiet and another day hot and with physical work. I
think this is the reason I love working with clay. There is no risk of getting into a
monotonous rhythm of work.
SEAM: You studied at Camberwell College of Arts. Did you enjoy your time there? How
did your study there influence the work you have gone on to pursue?
KS: Camberwell College of Arts was a special time in my life. Today, two years from graduation, I think it was the most important part of my art life. Camberwell is part of the much larger University of the Arts London (UAL) and sometimes there was a feeling that students were ignored by this big corporate system. For example,
accepting too many students for the space in the studio and available equipment
leaves you with the feeling students are here not to make progress in their creativity
and helped to develop their skills but rather to just as a source of money from their
tuition fees. However, this is a problem at many universities.
During the 3 years, I had tutorials with professors and help from technicians that
was invaluable. The equipment and knowledge of the people who work there are the
biggest benefits of studying at Camberwell. Fine Art at Camberwell gave me space
and time to research with different methods and thanks to this flexibility I was able
to find the medium by which I was able to express my ideas and vision. I would never
have had that experience if not studying at Camberwell.
My first year I started at the painting department and then in the second year I
transferred to photography as taking photographs and making videos were taking
more impact on my art and it was more relevant to the way I wanted to express
myself. Learning more about photography, meeting new people with a new
perspective on art was game-changing for me. The experience pushed me forward to
experiment with different methods of how photography and art can be presented.
From printing on a big scale, to transfer images into fabrics. And in the 3rd year I
wanted to make an installation with ceramic and photographs and once I walked to
the ceramic studio I ‘never left’ it again.
SEAM: Other than studying in London for your degree, have you always lived
in Swidnica? Do you plan to continue living and working there?
KS: Swidnica is my home town where I grow up but I have not been living here since I
was 18. I moved to Warsaw after high school. Next, I lived in India for half of the year
doing volunteer work at the yoga school (Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre) where I
was making promotional videos and taking photographs. My next home was in
Edinburgh and today there is my second home. Before London, I lived for few
months in Bolivia where I started taking photographs. I moved back to Poland mostly
because of the pandemic but it ended up in a good way as I was able to make my own
studio that gives me freedom to experiment with ceramics.
I lived in many countries and places and probably it’s not the end of my journey. I am
planning to move to Switzerland or France next. If I get another opportunity I may go
SEAM: Where in the world would you most like to do a residency?
KS: Japan. I visited Japan briefly for holidays and would definitely like to explore their culture more. There is a long history of ceramics and they respect it as an art form.
At the same time, it's an “erotic country” but closed. It’s fascinating! So if I ever get
this opportunity I would go immediately.
SEAM: Can you tell us about your creative process? Where do your ideas originate
from and how does it progress until the work is finished?
KS: For my project ‘cruising fantasies’ my ideas are coming from chatting with people on social media. Because of lockdown and not being able to meet with people we all
move into a digital world where people are often more open about their sexuality
and fantasies. With erotic conversations come out the idea of visualising them on
ceramics. Every vase is unique and combines different fantasies of my own or
somebody’s who shared them with me, porn movie and pictures from ‘online
cruising’ on different apps.
Once I have a vision of cruising story around park, beach, forest city etc I create a collage of random drawings and pictures to visualise the final effect. Once I do a sketch on the vase there is not too much opportunity for change. The difference between clay and painting on canvas is there is no opportunity to paint again and cover what you don’t like. With every vase and object, I made I learn what works and
what does not. Practice is the progress in this case.
SEAM: What particular projects are you working on at the moment?
KS: A few days ago I received the great news that I am one of 6 winners of the ‘Summer
in August. So right now I am working on a new body of work for this show and this is
the priority at this moment.
I have some sketches for bigger works (2 metres high) and it would be a great
challenge for me to do something bigger as never done anything on this scale.
SEAM: Your work explores how different societies relate to LGBT+ issues of
acceptance and prejudice. Could you tell us more about this?
KS: We are living in a very interesting period where many issues are addressed by media
and politics. Society is changing, awareness of people is increasing, we talk and we push
more for tolerance, acceptance and freedom. In the last few years much has changed in Poland, much more than from the begging of this century. It’s a good direction but at this same is still a lot to be ‘fixed’. Because there is already so much bad news on TV, social media etc. and people rarely share the good times, I want to show the ‘rainbow’ side of gay life to show society it can be positive. Art should make the audience talk about positive changes we have achieved already. Sexuality, erotic artwork and LGBT+ life has a lot of positives sides worth focusing on it. I believe by sharing the bright, fun and positive side of LGBTQ+ life we can achieve more than when we share fear, hate and prejudice.
By presenting gay men in the natural environment I show they are part of it and do not
need to hide and should feel freedom like everyone else.
Creating my own perfect world almost mythological, utopian vision of tolerance to body
and acceptance to sexuality. It may be impossible but how nice it's to transform myself
into this world created by art.
SEAM: Do you have a favourite gallery in Poland/ Swidnica?
KS: There are a few very good galleries/ museum in Poland and I recommend that
Krakow. The art market in Poland is changing and going in a good direction but
unfortunately, there are not a lot of small, private galleries and now after the
pandemic and bad economic situation I am afraid many of those which are in Poland
will be closed. I think there is a big potential for new art galleries.
SEAM: Are there any artists that you think have had an impact on you work?
KS: I was always fascinated with classical art, religious paintings from the 15th and 16th century. The big impact had a work of Hieronymus Bosch ‘The Garden of Earthly
Delights’ or Caravaggio. Their work inspired me to paint as a teenager.
There are definitely a few contemporary artists where I look to learn from their work
and style like Paul Cadmus, Molly Hatch, Philip Eglin or Stephen Bird but thanks to the Internet and Instagram I see so many good artwork and a new artist that I get inspired every day. Recently I adore work by Ally Rosenberg, Matthew Ronay or Carlos
SEAM: What do you consider the biggest challenges when making ceramics?
KS: Accepting getting different results from what I wanted or even losing work when
cracked or broken. Because of that, I think ceramics is the most difficult art medium
because until you take it out from the kiln you cannot be sure of the final results. Later
transportation of work can easily result in it being broken or dropped.
I try to embraces the Japanese attitude of wabi-sabi, which accepts and appreciates the
unpredictable beauty of any ‘imperfections’ – each form, therefore, is unique, and every
‘broken’ piece adds to understanding of the bigger challenge.
SEAM: What do you listen to while you work?
KS: Audiobooks, very often fantasy books. I do not have too much free time for reading,
unfortunately, and I think books are the best way to be creative. Sometimes music
but some types of music and songs can be too distracting. A podcast about the world,
SEAM: Your work explores the natural world and its relationship with mankind. Are you inspired by your surroundings in Poland?
KS: Nature in Poland is stunning we have sea, beaches, mountains, forests. Summer in Poland is very green and worth visiting, but I don’t get inspired by nature here particularly. Creating a vision of a paradise world means that I often embrace exotic landscapes or British parks because of their history of cruising and landscape of the verge of forest and park.
SEAM: What has your experience of the pandemic been like in Poland? Has it had an impact on your work?
KS: Not being able to travel and being forced to stay in Poland for longer than I was planning had a big positive impact on my artwork. For the first time, I had time to focus on my work and experiment. I was lucky that I managed to finish my studio here before lockdown and during all this time I was working. Living between two countries is time-consuming and often disrupts the process of creation. Lockdown forced me to stay in one place and it was the busiest time in my creativity.