Iwona was brought up by her Mom in a small town in Poland and now lives in Krakow. “My Mom encouraged me and my sister to be creative in every way we could,” she explained. “So she allowed us to paint on the whole kitchen windows. Those paintings stayed on the windows for weeks and it looked really beautiful to me at that time,” she smiled. “They also made neighbours wonder, but my Mom didn’t care. I also remember painting on the whole kitchen floor covered with old newspapers as ‘canvases’. I was about five or six years old. Anyway – I was painting and drawing since I can remember.”
I asked Iwona what her main influences are. “My works are strongly inspired by the Art Nouveau,” she said. “The more I think about it, the more I realise that all the fairy tales, that my Mom and Grandmom used to read to me when I was a child, were strongly decorated in the Art Nouveau style. I remember analysing every decorated letter, every drawing on the margin, every illustration. I also remember gazing at my Grandmom’s jewelry box, touching every jewel. I cannot believe how strongly we can be influenced by things when we are children.”
She continued, “I am strongly inspired by the world of insects, which was also a strong theme in Art Nouveau creations. Maybe it has something to do with my education, maybe again with the fairy tales where insects were part of the illustrations, maybe because I think of the insect world as an undiscovered and secret world, full of misunderstood wonders. And I guess this is what I tend to do with my works – create worlds full of wonders, create stories written in silver.”
I asked Iwona when she discovered metal clay. “I discovered it in 2010, when I was lying in a hospital bed, just after I had a surgery that changed my life. It was an end of one chapter in my life, but also a moment of strong clarity about what I wanted to do. I knew, that all I have always wanted was to create art that has a use, that is noble and precious, that is like jewellery but also so meaningful. Before the surgery I was afraid and didn’t have an idea how to follow that path (the previous path although also art-related, took the wrong way and lost its meaning). After the surgery it all didn’t matter. I started to search for a way to make it happen and found metal clay. I took classes at Planet Art in Poland. I also passed my Instructor’s Exam there after a few years. The first memorable thing I made at home was my first beetle, his name is Stefan. He is tiny and looks like a tick, but a cute tick” she smiled.
Iwona has a home studio. “My workshop is small and is in the place where I live,” she told me. “So I spend a lot of time in it. When I work all my space turns into a workshop. I have divided my creative space into ‘areas’, which have a role: a space where concepts are being made (floor), a space where dirty work is made, space for chemical reactions, soldering, etc. So I tend to create chaos in those areas, but never mix them together.”
I asked Iwona if she has a style. “I like to think of my style as ‘the New Art Nouveau’” she smiled. “It’s like listening to neoclassical music – it seems classical, but somehow fresh and modern. So my style is quite narrative, detailed, is often symbolic, and has this ethereal lightness.”
I’m always interested to find out if artists have favourite pieces, things that have a special story or mean something special to the artist. “Yes, I have two of those,” Iwona said. The first is called ‘The Inside Story’ and was a Bead Dreams Finalist in 2016.”
“The main concept and inspiration behind this necklace was my surrealist drawing.” Iwona explained. “It tells a story of beauty, imagination and innocence that all of us have inside and how easy it can be hurt by those who are greedily attracted by those features.”
“The innocence is represented by two people inside the rose, who are awakening. They are protected by a spiral cord, which also pierces through a hand, which is trying to get the rose, causing it to bleed (garnets). To the left from the rose is a pack of winged spheres that are guarding the key-hole: the entrance to this universe. There is a tiny human trying to get to that hole from the top. The key to the rose is in fact held by a dragonfly-like creature, which is ridden by an archer. They are also protectors of this delicate imagination land. The piece is kept in three colours: red, white and black. Some parts of silver were oxidized black, some were polished and some were kept white-like, to bring out the expression of emotions in the picture. The hand and the key-hole entrance are rough and cracky, as they have connection to the ‘outside’ world.”
The second is called ‘Triptych’ and was a Bead Dreams Finalist in 2016 and is a Saul Bell Design Award Finalist 2017. In this piece I wanted to create a story about a surreal, magical land, where flight comes naturally to its inhabitants. Flying has always been present in my dreams and artwork, as were insects. The jewelry is a scene where all three pieces (bracelet, ring and a thimble) play a part. The center of all is the ring – a magical flying island with a bottle of honey. The real honey is the most favorite thing for all insects. That is why all the creatures in this work are racing to get it. Some of the insects are ridden by tiny people, who are also trying to get to the honey or are trying to protect the honey. It is a contest. It will be most likely won by the rider on the biggest beetle (bracelet). The rider of the butterfly (thimble) does not want to take part in the race, but doesn’t know that the Fate is controlling his destiny in this story. The Fate is represented by the face on the bottom of the thimble.”
Iwona’s work is so complex and interesting with so many elements, I asked her about her creative process. “I tend to have ideas when I look at things/stones/elements or when I work on something, I am very concentrated and my mind is empty,” she explained. “Then the best ideas come. Sometimes I make fast sketches and don’t pay attention to details; sometimes a painting, drawing or photo is an inspiration to transcribe into jewellery. I hate making detailed sketches of jewellery, as I find it a waste of time. I already know what something is supposed to look like. When I draw, I want it to be more than ‘just’ reality.”
She continued, “sometimes when I prepare myself to sculpt a creature, a face, etc. I try to ‘teach my hands’ how to do it by drawing it from different angles, draw it in different situations. Sometimes the hands have to learn, although the mind knows what it wants.
I also work simultaneously on many designs. I can’t concentrate on one, because I feel like I am trapped by it. When I get stuck with one design in a place that doesn’t feel right, I turn my attention to another design. Often a solution appears when I don’t look for it.”
Iwona uses a number of other techniques as well as working with metal clay. “I generally work with metal, not only as metal clay (so cutting, hammering, etc.), I solder a lot, do enamel (traditional and UV), do electroforming, do lost-wax casting. I sometimes do cold connections and hinges, I use magnets. Lately I discovered the gracefulness of sculpting in porcelain and will definitely use it in more of my designs. I also love to use chemical reactions to achieve colour on metal or different shades of enamel, etc. I experiment a lot.”
Iwona sells her work, it is how she makes a living. “I have my website gallery, where you can find my work. I also have an Etsy shop, cooperate with online galleries Ars Neo and Olissima in Poland, Silver Chamber in the UK and Charm Silver in Sweden. From time to time I take part in art jewelry fairs and have exhibited in France, Finland, UK and Poland.” She also teaches. “I do teach from time to time and really love it,” she smiles. “I like to open a new way of thinking in people’s heads, show them new solutions, it feels like creating a new reality. Surprisingly I am often hired to teach people about amber – which is a famous stone found in the Baltic Sea, as well as in Poland. I also like to teach how to create hollow objects (bottles, faces) with metal clay.”
I asked Iwona what she does to relax. “I run. I run to take the edge off. Then I eat sweets. A lot. I go to the woods to breath. I dance and drive a bike not to let my soul get numb, to let out some sorrows. Also – NETFLIX!” And she told me something surprising. “I enjoy reading astrophysics books in hard rock night clubs, as the loud music helps me concentrate.”
Iwona’s current work looks fascinating. “I am working on a piece inspired by a photo from the ‘Wonderland’ series by Kirsty Mitchell. https://www.kirstymitchellphotography.com/galleries/wonderland/ It’s a woman’s face in porcelain surrounded by moths and butterflies in a mysterious way.”
She continued, “I am also working on a really elaborate project – chess pieces. The pieces are made of bronze and silver, adorned with pearls and garnets, chemically coloured. The Queen, the rook (tree), knight (rider of the butterfly), bishop (the priest in a mask) and a pawn (mud golem) are a part of one of two armies from a fairytale kingdom, which is preparing for a battle. Every piece will be different and have its own character. Fortunately I have found a company that decided to sponsor the materials for me to finish this work.”
Iwona is passionate about metal clay and is instrumental in promoting the medium in traditional circles in Poland. “I have already been concentrating on bringing metal clay technique closer to the awareness of ‘traditional jewellers’ in Poland and I hope I have been succeeding. In 2015 I was asked to conduct an introductory metal clay lecture and classes for the Goldsmithing Artists Association. This is the biggest and most important association that unites jewellery creators in Poland and I have been a member since 2015. I had a chance to talk about the greatest Metal Clay artists from around the world, to show metal clay as it really is. You can read more about it here – http://blog.rekamistworzone.com/stfz-workshops-in-jarocin-2015
“Also, already two years in a row I have been taking part in an event called ‘The Night of the Goldsmiths’ in the ‘Museum of Art Jewellery’ in Kazimierz Dolny. I was asked to perform a show, which would ‘unveil the techniques of Metal Clay’. So I try to work on the people’s awareness of this technique, to fight with myths and show its amazing possibilities, as I have heard really irritating comments in the past about metal clay being ‘a child’s plaything’. But I believe I am working on changing that opinion. I also would like to go further with metal clay. Not only to make jewellery but also to make larger art pieces. The perfect solution would be to create art pieces for costume movies or photoshoots.”
Finally I asked Iwona what she would like to achieve artistically or creatively in the next five years. “That is a hard question” she said. “I would like to go where no one has gone before… I would like to travel more; I would like to take part in some surprising art projects that would create a new way of artistic development. I would like to have more contact with people in my line of work. And I would like to visit Australia, not only as a tourist one day”
To see more of Iwona’s work, visit these websites….
Facebook fanpage: https://www.facebook.com/rekamistworzone/
Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/RekamiStworzone
Julia Rai is a teacher, writer and artist working in a variety of media. She is the director of the Metal Clay Academy and runs the Cornwall School of Art, Craft and Jewellery. She finds inspiration in science fiction and fantasy and loves a good story where disbelief can be suspended in favour of wonder. Her practical and ultra-organised side is always vying for attention alongside her creative and messy side. Each is trying hard to learn from the other and live in harmony.