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4 - 27 July 2024: Mud biuro 111 by Ola Lewczyk

4 - 27 July 2024: Mud biuro 111 by Ola Lewczyk

July's exhibition, Mud biuro 111 by Ola Lewczyk. A collection of work that is inspired by home and exploration and the outcome of an apprenticeship with renowned Devon based wood firers.

Learn more below. This is set to be a good one and we can't wait to share this really special selection of pots with you.

Private view Wednesday 3rd July 6-8pm


What is the name of your exhibition and how would you sum it up in a couple lines? 

Mud biuro 111 is like a time capsule of my understanding of clay, found materials and fire. From mud into mug, pots as testing grounds and a way of getting to know the materials and the elements.

Learning to make use of what is at hand, gathering plants to make ash glazes, stoking the kiln with wood for 4 days, circling continuously but slowly moving forward, letting be led.

The  pots are merging the tradition of British studio pottery that I’ve been trained in and slavic folk craft of where I come from.  

The presented body of work is a culmination of my 1.5 year pottery apprenticeship with  Sabine Nemet and Nic Collins


What is it about both pottery and clay you are drawn to?

Pottery is a way for me to explore the possibilities of clay as a material. I like how it opens up to different  worlds of clay, glaze and firing methods, each of them being a thing in its own right. The deeper  you go, the more it all opens up. It’s like geological processes compressed in time.

We’re making  stones and glass using tools that nature is using, just on a shorter, intensified timescale. Pressure,  heat, varied oxygen atmosphere, molecular bonds changing and forming. Working with clay,  making glazes and wood firing especially, is working with all the elements. Earth, water, air, fire. I  like the rhythm of it, the repetitiveness, the building of muscle memory, the craftsmanship that goes  into it.

I like how old the culture of making pottery is, how it’s connected with our everyday and our  hands. For me it is about the pots but it’s not at the same time.  


How long have you been working with clay and how did you find your way to making  pottery? 

More intentionally for about 3 years. I first learned how to throw during covid, sort of randomly in fact. I was studying in London and when we lost access to the workshops because of lockdown, I was going crazy having to do all my work on a laptop, not being able to work with my hands. I saw  that the local community studio was renting wheels for really cheap and me and my flatmate  thought that it might be fun.

So we put a wheel in our kitchen for 3 months and I started learning  how to throw from the internet and from books. Those were nice, evenings spent in our clay  covered kitchen. Then I did my final uni project on developing a clay-like material out of food waste, bioplastic adjacent. I was working with found clay, processing it, looking at its chemistry to try to get as close to it materially as possible. This project was what got me into the alchemy of it all.

After I graduated I knew I liked clay and wanted to continue learning but didn’t want to stay at uni. That’s how I ended up doing the apprenticeship in Devon and started training properly.  


Tell us about your apprenticeship with Sabine Nemet and Nic Collins? What were your  biggest takeaways from this experience?  

There is so much value in learning the craft from people who are so incredibly skilled in what they do. It was a formative learning experience for me to get to work for two potters with such different approaches, working techniques and ways of firing.

Being exposed to that from early on really cemented in me that there is more than one way of doing things and gave me the confidence and  curiosity to simply try things out.

We didn’t have the possibility to bisque (no electric kiln, we fired everything from raw in the wood kilns) and never kept plaster but I wanted to work with moulds. So I dug a hole in the ground, covered it with a cloth and it did the job. That is in essence the approach they passed on to me, making use of what’s at hand, looking at limitations as opportunities, not overcomplicating things because it’s all complex enough. And it informs the  look and character of the pots and always leads to some interesting stuff that then develops into  another thing and another thing.

A lot of the times you try something and it doesn’t work, it ends up teaching you even more. The apprenticeship being in traditional wood fired pottery, gave me a  solid technical and practical base and a relatively good idea of quality and form. During that time, through practice, I learned how to make and how to look.  


Woodfiring is a feat in itself; what do you find the most challenging and rewarding part of  it? 

Somehow in all I do I find myself working with fire, it’s like a guide for me at this point. I find it so  mysterious and wild, humbling nearly. Within wood firing I like that it’s physics and chemistry and  a bit of mysticism too. Mud interacting with flame and ash. Chemical elements binding, expanding  and shrinking, oxygen atmosphere changing, temperature rising and dropping, everything moving  and breathing, demanding attention.

I love the physicality of it, the continuity of putting in pieces of  wood, reading the fire by listening to the crackle, watching its smoke and looking at its colour,  adjusting the stoking to the fire’s rises and drops. The staying up, the sweat, the burns, the sore  muscles after finishing. It feels like you’re really with the fire and that presence stays on with you.

It’s a very grounded practice with a touch of magic. Nobody can be sure what exactly goes on in  the kiln during the firing or how the pots are gonna look like when they come out. It’s like you can nudge the fire and flame into the direction that you want but at the end of the day you’re only allowing for it do its thing, you watch it play out its agency.

Working with the unknown must be  both the most challenging and rewarding part of it. 


The pieces in this exhibition are the culmination of your apprenticeship in  Moretonhampstead; is there a piece/shape you are particularly proud of and attached to?

There is definitely a few but the spoon shelves (łyżniki) are very dear to me in many ways. They are  based off a domestic folk object, traditionally carved from wood and highly ornamental, made  over the several-month period spent in the halls during sheep grazing - its form being informed by  the way of its making.

I think they’re the most playful and free of my forms. I made one clay mould  and used it raw repetitively until it broke, piecing clay slabs together to create patterns, extracting  all the life that I could out of it. To prevent sticking I covered the mould with pure wood ash before  pressing the fresh slabs onto it - that ash turned into the glaze. They are one of the last things I  was working on in Devon and they feel the most dear me.  


What is your favourite part of your making process and why? 

I think I go through phases and I can see that my main points of focus shift at times from throwing and form to making glazes and foraging for materials to being super into my research etc. and I try  to allow for it. I think my practice really benefits from being able to jump from process to process and from medium to medium.


You also make incredible candles, can you elaborate briefly on that? 

My granddad is a beekeeper and to make the candles I use beeswax that he collects after the honey harvest. Beekeeping has been in our family for 5 generations and my great-granddad used  to make candles to keep the local church lit, it used to be a way of tribute. 

My granddad built a wax sun-melter for me to get the wax off the frames. I strain the wax to take  away particles of dirt and bees. Then I hand-dip strands of wick, layer after layer building up the  candles. Each piece is made with multiple candles, having multiple lightning points. Hidden wicks becoming pathways of fire, wax pouring itself into new shapes. They are that sweetness and sun materialised. I see them as an offering of light and warmth as well as a symbol of transformation  through destruction, each of them one of a kind and finite.


Other than beeswax and clay, are there other materials you'd like to work closely with in  the future?  

There is so much I want to explore within these two but I’ve started to learn forging and working with metal, which is something I’d really love to do more of.


Who is a maker whose work you love and admire that we should know about but might  not?  

I’ve been really drawn to Gareth Mason’s work, I like how expressive and playful it is. These days I  can see myself wanting to be more loose within my throwing and go more sculptural and he does exactly that, so much aliveness in the clay. He used a stool to bash a pot, I thought that was cool.


What is the most recent ceramic vessel or piece of pottery you bought for yourself, from  where and by whom?  

This might be quite unusual but I rarely buy pottery. Usually things so happen that I get pots by exchanging or gifting and this makes them much more meaningful to me. But recently I went to a  local antique market and saw a small earthenware jug, dark brown with white, yellow and green  slip decoration around the rim and belly. No name, no stamp, just a country pot. I got it for £1 and  haven’t stopped staring at it since.


You have received an incredible grant this year, to further your exploration and experience  with clay and other materials; what are you getting excited about and what do you have  lined up?  

I have a couple of residences coming up that will be centered around creating installations. I’m  looking forward to be able to go up in scale within my making and use clay in different ways.  Then as a part of the grant project I plan to road trip around old pottery villages in my area in Poland, to try to get as much knowledge from the folk master potters as I can and hopefully  apprentice with one. There’s a lot of clay in the forests and in those villages every other house used to be a potter’s house, the craft being passed on generation to generation.

Now in each of them there is 1, maybe 2 potters left, if that. Often without anybody to take the potteries and tradition over. It’s scary for me to think that they might be the last keepers of all that knowledge and honest understanding of clay  and making and the locality that can only come through having spent their whole life interacting with it and learning from the ones who did the same before them.

So it’s my personal quest to absorb everything that I can, spend more time there and be, observe, talk, make. And see where it takes me.

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