Alicja Podgorska Birkner is one of the first artists we are excited to introduce you to for our collection of organic stoneware sculptures at ISĒ. Elevate your interiors with her minimal centrepieces to bring a timeless elegance to your home.
Surrendering to an unexplainable power, Alicja Podgorska Birkner translates her feelings into matter, allowing pure shapes to gain manifestation in the real world. Seeing herself not as a ceramicist, but as a mediator helping to convey something given to her, by an energy larger than herself. Reaching a place where everything just flows, her hands, eyes, mind and heart connect, her thoughts still and visions become clearer. Alicja describes the process of sculpting as diving into an ocean of love and surrendering to the feeling.
As a young girl, Alicja Podgorska Birkner was always drawing. Pursuing her dream as a graphic designer, she stumbled upon sculpting and immediately found her place in life. She first touched clay at the age of 24 and now exactly 30 years have passed since Alicja graduated her studies in ceramic sculpture and design. The final process of creating is the one she loves the most. Connected to the material and everything surrounding her she straightens the angles, smoothens the surface and meticulously makes sure the shape is perfect. With an immaculate attention to detail her joy spurs into ecstasy when the form turns out exactly as it is supposed to be.
We sat down with Alicja to hear about her ceramic practice, find out why she doesn't name her pieces and asked her to share styling tips for the home.
Photo: Alicja carving her sculpture.
Can you tell us a bit about what brought you to your ceramic practice?
When I first touched clay, I was in my second year of studies. My first sculptural attempt was made with such surprising ease, that I immediately felt at home working in three dimensions with this material. This was my first important discovery. It felt like I arrived to an inexhaustible source of creativity. Although I also enjoyed working with other materials like, for example marble, working with ceramic material gave the most creative freedom. Not only, but also because I have been able to work at home or in the kitchen when I had my first child, Alina.
Can you guide us through your process? How do you formulate an idea to a finished piece?
The idea for sculptural work is born while drawing. I have a lot of full sketching notebooks with my ideas, because I draw almost anytime and anywhere. I often sketch while on public transportation, like on a train, and do so almost obsessively, wherever I am. Even in between house keeping activities, when I sit down to have a coffee, or when talking on the phone. Then, I usually build a raw small model of the sculpture, which to me is like a three dimensional sketch. This step is followed by the final construction of the sculpture. Then the clay must be left to dry. In order for the clay sculpture to become a stoneware sculpture in the end, it has to be fired at a high temperature in the ceramics oven.
Photo: Alicja's stoneware sculpture displayed on a mantlepiece.
Where do you look for inspiration and ideas?
I am not looking for inspiration and Ideas. I am lucky that they just come to me. And the more I work, the more new ones come to me. I often feel like a mother and a mid wife to my sculptures at the same time. I help these ideas to be born. And I cannot help myself feeling that I am just a tool for the material manifestation of the the sculptures, which are informations, given by the universe.
A quote by another artist, Paul Klee, describes this very well: "Art does not reproduce what we see; rather it makes us see."
What are some themes you find recurring in your work?
The three current themes that have crystalized over the years of my sculptural work are multi-partial forms, "step" forms and organic shapes.
Photo: Alicja creating a form of her sculpture.
What has been the biggest lesson for you working as an artist?
Determination, persistence, humility, trust and gratitude. What I create is to be accepted only by me. It doesn't matter whether someone else likes it or not. The creator is the decisive instance when a work is created to be as it should be. The basis for this is creative maturity. Trust in yourself. It is also not important whether someone will buy it or not. The creator often wonders about the meaning of his or her work. But you can't expect to receive such an answer, and only continue working once you received one. Keep going and looking for it at the same time! The most important lesson for me was to accept that there is no point in asking yourself about the meaning, just as a plant does not ask itself why it is growing and blooming. It simply does. And so, the creator grows and matures in the creative process. After all, he has no choice. He creates, because he has to.
Why don't you name your sculptures?
I do not name my sculptures, in order not to suggest anything to the viewer, to avoid affecting their reception, as this in my opinion, would disturb the direct relationship between the viewer and the sculpture.
The sculpture must be watched, which is something that can not be replaced by any description. Just like you can not describe describe a piece of music with words. You have to hear it. Experience it. Feel it.
What is the most influential book you have read?
There are a lot of inspiring books I have read, but because I ask myself the question: who is man above all and search for answers, these are mostly books that deal with similar questions. The spectrum of those, ranges from books about natural sciences, to philosophy and metaphysics.
Photo: Alicja's n6 sculpture styled on a glass table in the living room.
Tell us about how sustainability plays a part in your work?
Sustainability to me is an attitude to life. It starts with waste avoidance and separation, recycling and conscious shopping. I am very glad to be able to say that my work allows me to be in harmony with this lifestyle. Stoneware is a natural clay, which is very durable and also robust. To build it, I use very simple, almost primitive tools and materials. Knives, spoons, pieces of wood, old journals, and used cotton cloth.
Do you have a favourite piece you have made?
I like most of my sculptures the same way, I do not really favour one in particular. But I have some that I do not like. Those are in the minority and I do not sell those. I keep looking at them again and again with amazement, wondering why I created them. Sometimes, this leads to accepting those and liking them.
Do you create your ceramics with an idea of what space you want them to occupy?
The only thing I can say here, is that I wish for my sculptures to occupy a space with enough breathing room and the possibility to be seen from multiple viewing angles.
Photo: Alicja standing next to one of her sculptures.
How would you describe your home decor?
My home is a space where children would like to move in directly. Clean timeless lines are important to me, but at the same time it is supposed to be comforting and welcoming.
I have large paintings by my daughter, Alina Birkner and my husband, René Birkner - mostly in friendly and comforting colours. I always have fresh garden or meadow flowers, which are distributed across the whole place, in several vases of my own, to create a pleasant atmosphere. We have also also become very accustomed to the sculptural porcelain tableware I designed. Materials and colours mix below a high wooden roof with visible beams.
Can you share 3 tips for styling your home?
1. Whatever you’re styling your home with, should be durable and timeless. You don’t want to get bored by what you’re buying.
2. Only buy objects you REALLY like. Otherwise they won’t have any value to you.
3. We find that we tend to collect. Keep checking over and over again what you really need, and give away superfluous things. According to the motto - less is more.
Oh, and don’t forget flowers!
What is on the horizon for you?
In my artistic future, I would very much love to be able to realise large sculptures in the landscape. A sculpture in the middle of a dandelion flower meadow. Only the sky, the grass and the sculpture.
Discover the magnificent creations spawned by an award winning artist and allow yourself to experience the aura of their timeless perfection. Complimentary shipping worldwide.