At first, Izabela Wilk, also known as Izabella Wolf, struggled to even call herself an artist despite her creative instincts. Notwithstanding her reluctance to define herself as anything for fear of restricting herself, her stunning ceramics and illustrations are nothing short of artistry. Her depictions of uncovered women alongside animals, existing harmoniously and within the world of nature, represent a freedom from manmade restrictions and a strong admiration for her roots and for the innate power of femininity.
Could you please introduce yourself to our readers?
Hi! My name is Izabela - my real surname is Wilk which in my native Polish language means Wolf. I think I am an artist, who recently started to use this definition as I never liked to define myself. The reason for that is that I have been always floating in between craft and art I think and always struggled to find my own shore, yet always enjoyed being an outsider. My work has shifted towards illustration and ceramics since 2017 and it seems I do not stop and explore each medium deeper and deeper.
Where do you think your creativity and passion for art stems from?
I think maybe it comes from being brought up as a single child (I am not anymore, however). I think that it kind of forced me to create a parallel world in which I had some imaginary company. I think being brought up in an analogue world I also had a tendency to dream about some kind of computer, so I used to draw it, it was pointless but really fired up my imagination and gave me amazing comfort. I just kept going and had this urge to create and express myself in this way - drawing, painting, sculpting. If I didn’t have something - I drew it. If I wanted to look some way (usually I wanted to look like an adult when I was a child) I just drew it - some weird version of me in adult sailor moon like or spice girls style wardrobe.
Could you talk us through your creative process? What is most important to you when you are creating
My creative process is solitary mostly; however, I learn how to do things when people are around too. But it definitely helps to be alone, maybe with music or a podcast and space which is clean and tidied up, otherwise my focus shifts away and I think of a dirty glass or hoovering a carpet, (laughs). Boring! The process involves drinking coffee and being sure my everyday errands are done - I need to wake up, drink coffee, feed my dogs, cats and goats and then - I am ready to work. When I cannot concentrate anymore, I go for a walk. I also need to think of things like packing orders, driving them to the post office, buying packing supplies and running accountancy as I am a one-person business with 13 animals on top.
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I noticed that blue is very dominant in much of your work, often being the only colour. What is it about blue that you are so drawn to, or, perhaps, illustrates the themes of your work so aptly?
I think for a very long time I didn’t know why I chose blue - specifically the colour I use is Prussian Blue. I never gave it much thought; I was fine with being intuitive about it and I let the unconscious lead me. However recently I read an amazing book by Benjamín Labatut Un verdor terrible in which there is a chapter about Prussian Blue, which is quite tragic and gave me some insight to my work. So basically, the guy who made an artificial blue which is Prussian Blue, as I remember well unfortunately contributed to creating Cyclon B, which was used during the WWII. Like many beautiful ideas this turned into a horrible disaster, the invention eventually became a grudge towards people. Also, I come from Poland, from city called Lublin, where there is Majdanek - one of the concentration camps in which gas chambers were in use. This history and this place always haunted me and made a profound effect on me, and I think in my work and life I always try to give some memory to the ancestors, who once were a big part of the community in my hometown - now they are gone, like ghosts. So, the Prussian Blue is some impression of it maybe, like my blue tears and longing for something, some vanished family?
Another common theme within your work is the naked woman, sometimes accompanied by a wild animal and or plants and flowers. Could you talk a bit about your understanding of the relationship between nature and femininity?
I am a woman, I identify as a woman, but I like my pronouns to be she/they - since I was 18 I called myself Izabela Dawid Wolf to somehow express both elements within me (and within every human I guess). But as I wrote above, I think I am quite sentimental and I deeply feel my roots and my feminine line in my family - strong women, who had to deal with a lot of shit. And as a woman I feel this heaviness of my ancestors, the pain and misery of outsiders and pioneer[ing] women who were burnt by the churches, the sadness of patriarchy, the destructive nature of patriarchy - to own and to rape, destroy. So, my work is a rapture and gratitude, sometimes an apology. I am deeply connected to other creatures (I live in a village, with 13 animals, surrounded by trees, fields and herbs), so I guess the symbols of naked women with animals means freedom, liberty, rebellion, staying in the roots to my own self, and disagreement to this destructive aspect of our world. It shows deep affection and connection, intersection between all the creatures who rise no matter what. I am a privileged white woman from Eastern Europe, but from Eastern Europe. I carry some kind of burden and heaviness from the past and I think I have an empathy and openness to other people’s burdens - mostly minorities, animals, plants and environment. I think it comes from a place of injustice and my disagreement with this injustice.
On your website, all of your products are currently sold out! What do you think it is about your work that makes it so popular?
I am very lucky, and I usually sell out very quickly. However, my drops are small, I wanted to keep my business small, I don’t grow like corporations, I want to grow like a human. But I really appreciate that I can live like that, there are ups and downs, and days when I wonder: how will I deal with this? But who knows that anyway? I have no idea why it is popular as I never even thought so to be honest, of my work in this context when I see accounts with 100k followers or more, I don’t feel popular.
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Do you feel any restrictions having monetised your art? Is there a pressure to only create designs that are popular?
I do not think I feel restricted in any way. I usually do what I feel, for many years I tattooed and that made me feel restricted for sure. I need to monetise my art as I need to live, eat and survive. I think monetising art is such a taboo. I do not come from rich family, I have always been a hard-working person and if not for my customers I would not have been able to do what I do. And here I want to say thank you. But yes, monetising a creative process is hard, like I mentioned at the beginning I had a big problem to even call myself an artist, and sometimes to ask for money and to choose the price is difficult especially for someone like me who is an artist and craftsperson I think, and on top of that - a woman, trained to be a bit apologetic, and never ever to make an impression of being materialist (sic).
Following on from this, is there anything that you hope people get or take away from your art?
I put lots of energy into what I do and good intentions - the emotions like rapture, gratitude, awe - so I hope that it is felt in things I create, and it gives good energy to the people who buy it and to the spaces in which my work is held. I like to think of that as a talisman, magical objects.
Where do you find inspiration? Or, where does it find you?
Inspiration wise - books, myths, tarot, plants, music, films, memories, feelings, dreams in general. Sometimes I am deeply moved by something which finds me like book by Irene Sola When I Sing, Mountains Dance that even the title deeply resonates within me and helps me to instantly create some landscapes and images in my head. I love going for walks, I have my favourite spots which I only show to people who are close to me. These moments are inspiring too, the same places are never the same, they change during the day because of the light, they change during the seasons. The sky is never the same and that admiration for this drives me. These are very simple things and they cost nothing.
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I saw there was an exhibition held in Berlin featuring your work back in April. How was that experience? Would you like to do more exhibitions in the future?
The exhibition in Berlin was a great experience. It happened thanks to Rhi Dancey and her proposition to collaborate. When she found out I live quite close to Berlin, she had an idea to make an exhibition which was accompanying the launch of our collection. I loved it, Rhi is a great artist and person who I find very inspiring as a business model too. I love the idea she works with many artists, and I felt proud to be amongst them. At the same time, I had a terrible private situation going on in my life so it was very difficult, and I had moments when I was literally exploding with tears and a grey and heavy cloud above my head which made me often sad and nervous so yep it was a very borderline experience I would say.
Are there any other art forms you enjoy doing or would like to try in the future?
Oh my gosh, there are so many things I would love to develop and do, I definitely would like to create more (again) little figurines and useless ceramic things like masks and naked ladies incense holders. I worked for a while with Polish traditional weaving technique, and it would be great to find time to go back to it. And I would love to paint and draw more and experiment in this field.
Finally, what are you working on right now?
I am working now on two main things. The first one is an exhibition and an art auction for MSN (Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw), it will be a charity auction for amazing organisation called Fundacja Ocalenie - this is one of many Polish grassroots organisations which helps refugees and migrants, now focusing a lot on these people who suffer at the Polish-Belarusian border. Another thing – more personal is working on a book project with my friend from London. It will be a very beautiful item, made in limited copies, quite an experimental for a book and I would like to keep it like that now – a small secret.
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