The Mixture of Age-Old Craft and Hobby is Very Appealing

An interview with Klara Kristalova by Paulina Sokolow


Porcelain figurines have traditionally been associated with small-scale luxury and finery. In the home (or in a palace!), as eye-catchers and decorations, in informal sitting rooms, they have been enjoyed as complements to ladies’ conversations and socialising. Klara Kristalova is one of the artists who have torn down the prudish, straitlaced facades of these objects in more recent times. Although they share the same, familiar fragility and tactile sensations, the objects that spring from her hands belong to an entirely different species. One of her sculptures is currently being shown at CFHILL.

Your sculptures have a strikingly monumental quality. They are statues rather than objects. In purely practical terms, how do you manage to make them so big? (Alien Bird, which is currently on show at CFHILL, is more than 80 cm high).

I construct the sculptures in sections, and then glue them to each other with a special glue. I let the lower segment dry and become fully solid before I add the next one.

When did your relationship with clay first begin?

My mother studied ceramics in Prague, and when I was young, both my parents had day jobs in pottery on Gotland. We always had materials and kilns in the house when I was a child, so I was exposed to the material early on, and I became very comfortable with it. Later, when I was an art student, the immediacy of the material attracted me, along with the opportunity to combine painting and sculpture, and – most importantly – its rather low status in the art world at the time. That meant there was plenty of room to claim a space of your own.

Can you describe the different qualities of clay as you perceive them?

Well, it’s all about the fast, malleable, simple, and yet classical nature of the material’s expression.

The mixture of age-old craft and hobby is very appealing, but the fact that you can paint on it and turn it into a three-dimensional drawing is also important. That tense moment when you open the kiln and see the results – finding out if it turned out OK, or useless – is another fascinating aspect.

In terms of subject, your works are often set in nature. However, what seeps through is human behaviour, relationships, flaws, and vulnerabilities. How do you approach that dynamic?

Nature is my closest environment, as I live in the countryside, in the woods. I find details and variations, colour, and trashiness highly inspiring. Sometimes, I wonder what my art would have been like if I lived in a big city, because my surroundings have a way of finding their way into my works. But my main interest is the second thing you mentioned above: human nature. That’s where I look for good pictures to work on in a more active way.

How do your ideas come about?

I have many sources of inspiration: films, music, conversations, everyday experiences, radio shows, the news, other art, previous works of mine that need more work, and so on. Ideas can come to me at any time, and I almost always carry a notebook.

Who are your characters, and where do they come from?

Wow, I don’t know! They emerge from ideas about relationships and situations, but it’s all trial and error from there. I try different things and see what works. Is their expression right or not? It’s important to me that they have a protean, living air about them. I want there to be more to them than first meets the eye. A presence, a gaze that works, a twist to it that feels right to me, not too artificial. I can’t put into words the precise way in which that happens. All I can do is hope that it will happen – if it doesn’t, I have to discard the piece.

Klara Kristalova at CFHILL

Klara Kristalova at CFHILL