Whilst each culture has its distinctive practices, there are many shared elements. I tap into those, which I think is why my work is so cross-cultural: it draws on a shared ancestry of ceramics
Silvia K. is a rising star in the British ceramics scene, with her clean designs and artisanal influences having accrued her a range of accolades and widespread celebration. We got the rare chance to sit down with her over a coffee and talk about her roots, inspirations, driving forces and future.
Hi Silvia, so good that you could take time out of your schedule to talk!
Hi, no worries – it’s been a mad rush what with Christmas around the corner, but there’s always time for a chat!
I can only imagine! So, what’s your coffee of choice?
At this point in the day? Well, I’ve been working with my students at the University of Brighton and I’m off to the studio after this, so probably a double espresso and a glass of water.
That should keep you going! As you’re tight on time, let’s get straight into it: what’s your story, Silvia?
Ok! Well, I was born and raised in Slovakia. It was more socialist than communist at that time, and there was a lot of support for local crafts. When we were kids there was no internet or games consoles or anything, so we used to spend our time outside, playing in nature.
We’d go to these local markets where they sold handmade baskets and pots and toys and the such… So I was always around these things growing up.
I was into painting, but that wasn’t a thing you studied at that time, so I went into business then philosophy and aesthetics. It wasn’t for me, though, and I moved to the UK halfway through the course – that’s where I got into pottery. I got more into sculpting than painting, 3D over 2D, and I’ve never looked back!
How did you get into pottery once arriving in the UK?
Well, I first arrived in London but it was way too big – I like villages, and London isn’t that! Then I discovered Brighton and instantly fell for it. It’s got everything, like a massive village, and you’re not engulfed by the urban area. You’ve got the sea one way and the South Downs the other, I can jump on a bike and be in nature within minutes.
I started doing evening classes, then did my master’s at Brighton. It was a wonderful time, I love the course and the opportunities it offered.
You also spent some time overseas, did you not?
Indeed – I spent some time in The Netherlands, learning traditional pottery processes, but the best part of was definitely Italy. I got funding through the European Erasmus programme and spent three months throwing on a potter’s wheel in a little village in the South of Italy, in the middle of summer. It was really hard work – there was a shortage of water so we had to use the same lot for everything, very old school you know. It was really inspiring. That was my first real workshop experience, seeing what a studio was like. When I got back to Brighton I did another internship with a successful British ceramicist, which showed me another aspect of the trade.
You now work at the university – what’s your role there?
I’m a Ceramics Demonstrator, helping students with their production. I call them ‘my kids’, even though some of them are old enough to be my parents! I’m not involved in their creative process or there to advise them on designs, I just show them how to make ceramics, and it’s great because it exposes me to so many different styles and approaches to ceramics. My studio assistant is a former student who did an internship with me after graduating, I always keep an eye out for those who are talented and work hard and offer them an opportunity getting experience in the industry.
Do you have others assisting you in the studio?
No, it’s just me. My assistant works there the two days that I’m at the university, but otherwise I’m there all by myself. Hopefully soon I’ll get someone to do emails and social media for me, so I can focus more on the pottery!
Sounds like a necessity! So it’s principally you making?
Oh, absolutely. It’s still a very personal thing, I love getting busy with the clay and making the pieces. I wouldn’t want it any other way!
Your work is very distinctive – what informs your style?
Well, I’ve always been interested in old traditions. Whenever I go back home, to Slovakia, I always go to these small villages where people still wear traditional dress and crafts are still practiced.
People say my style is Scandinavian, or Japanese or what have you – but my inspirations come from Slovakia and all over. It’s down to looking at tradition, I feel: before industrialization and synthetic dyes, there was only hands and certain colors the world over, you know.
So, whilst each culture has its distinctive practices, there are many shared elements. I tap into those, which I think is why my work is so cross-cultural: it draws on a shared ancestry of ceramics. I’m currently very interested in Moroccan and Spanish traditions, how they use terracotta – I spent some time in Morocco over the summer, looking into it.
That’s fascinating. Now, this is something we’ve been really interested in: your use of leather. It’s very unique. Where does that come from?
I’m glad you like it! When I was young, my father would use his old belts to make handles for baskets – in order not to waste them, you know. I guess the inspiration comes from that. I’m not a leather worker so I like to leave it as plain as possible – it’s the ceramic that I’m interested in. But I feel it works both to balance the pieces and give them a utilitarian feel.. They’re made to be used, you know.
Interesting that you should say ‘utilitarian’ – do you see yourself as an artist or artisan?
Oh definitely an artisan. I don’t want to be a part of the gallery world, I like the production side. My inspirations all come from artisanal traditions, it’s what motivates me to continue. There are many potters who work in the art world, but I would rather be a skilled artisan producing pieces that people will use.
What is it that you most look forward to when you enter the studio each morning?
It’s got to be finishing an order and sending it off. When an order comes in, it all gets very busy and messy, and it’s only when it’s finished and the last bit of packing is done that I can tidy up. I do a thorough clean and have a glass of wine and relax a bit, ready for the next!
I also love it when I hear from clients. I sometimes get postcards letting me know that people like the piece, sometimes pictures of where it is in the house.. I think that’s so lovely, you know, taking time out to do that.
Where do you see yourself going, in the future?
Well, as I said I’m currently interested in Moroccan and Spanish pottery. Beyond that, I want to carry on producing what I do – useful pieces that can be part of the household. Way down the line, when I can’t produce anymore, I’d like to be a pottery master. I figure I’ve still got thirty years left in me though, so that’s quite some way off!
And where do you see pottery going?
Oh, that’s hard to say. I hope it goes somewhere colorful: it’s all about monochromes now, and people need color in their life. That’s what I’m working towards, at least!
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk, Silvia!