Tatiana is a ceramic maker originally from Moldova. She spoke to us about the link between shapes and human emotions, her fascination with molding wet earth into something beautiful and the art of living in the now. Her work is rooted in an old traditional technique from Romania and inspired by many fragments of her life in Ireland.
Generation 20 is a photo and interview series by Julia Monard focusing on the new wave of artists in Galway.
Can you give us an introduction to yourself as an artist?
I am discovering myself all the time. I feel like there is always room to find something new in yourself and to make the best of yourself. Maybe this is why I started doing ceramics or art. I’ve been doing art since I was five years old, collecting all the things from around the house where I lived. My parents didn’t really pay attention to what I was doing, collecting rubbish, putting it together and calling it art. I was very good at maths at the same time, so they encouraged me to study in that direction. Then I got a degree in cybernetics. I tried to work as an accountant for three years and didn’t fit in at all. Working in an office, time just passes by and you’re making money but don’t have energy to do anything.
How did you first come into contact with ceramics?
I went to an arts studio in Romania – I wanted to learn how to do sculpture. To do sculpture, you need to do a prototype in clay first. When I touched the clay, I instantly felt like I had found myself. So, I quit everything to do with numbers, found a brilliant ceramist in Romania and I started working with her, without any money or anything. I just learned and worked from there. Through clay, I discover myself; I’m working with my spirit and mind. You get quite isolated and you focus more on what’s happening on the inside. Why do I have these thoughts? Why am I like this? I’m shaping clay, but at the same time, clay is shaping me as well. I become calmer and more focused.
What materials do you use?
My main material is clay, but I also like to call it mud. There is a saying; ‘No mud, no lotus.’ You need to take something dirty to make something beautiful. That fascinated me since childhood. I love the fact that clay is wet earth and you’re shaping it. I use different types, so I can get different colours – terracotta, porcelain, stoneware, and black.
What are some of your main inspirations?
I’m usually trying to find a connection between human feelings and shapes. I believe that when I feel in harmony with myself and everything around me, I tend to make round shapes. If I have a very good day, I call it a ’round day’. When I am nervous or anxious, I tend to do sharp things. My work is mostly connected with feelings, but I can also find a pattern in nature. I love the look of tree bark and stones. Sometimes, I am inspired by people as well.
How does your early work compare to what you are doing now?
The difference is huge. I used to make work like you often see in museums, with three colours – black, white and brown. I made these huge pots – in Romania we have this very old culture named Cucuteni-Trypillia, it’s about 5,000 years old. When I learned ceramics, I learned by doing this technique – everything by hand, no tools. When first I moved to Ireland, I wanted to take my work in that direction. Something really changed when my daughter Mia was born. I felt like I needed to use colour more. I think she was one year old when she started to ask for yellow food, yellow clothes – everything yellow. Little by little, I started to discover colour. People who know my work from the first years look at it now and wonder if it’s me. It used to be more utilitarian, now it’s more art and decorative. I’m changing as well; I feel more joyful in life.
How does it feel doing ceramics here compared to Romania?
When I was in Romania, I used to go to this art camp that one of my very good friends ran. No shoes, you’re walking on the grass, it’s usually in August and it’s so hot. You find a small shade under a tree, you do your work and you can only hear the wind, maybe there are some children playing around. It’s so wet here in Ireland. When it’s very, very cold, you can’t really play with clay. The clay itself is cold and wet when you work with it. If it’s also cold outside, you don’t really want to do anything – just drink teas and coffees and keep yourself warm.
How does Galway allow you to be an artist?
In a lot of places, you feel like you need to define yourself or be a part of a group. Here, there aren’t too many rules you have to follow – you feel so free, you express yourself and you find a group of people who appreciate what you’re doing. I get to do what I love, but people also connect with my works.
“Coming here, life settles down, you breathe normally, people aren’t rushing anywhere”
What’s your preferred way to present your work?
Through exhibitions, I think. I would like to do more projects where I would involve more people, kids especially. I did some workshops in one of the schools in Knocknacarra. I see how kids are starving for something creative; they want to touch, they want to be involved. They don’t need much – you give them a piece of clay and they start to do amazing things. After they were finished with what we were doing on the day, they wanted to do their own work. I would love to work with children and people with disabilities. I want to involve different communities in what I’m doing so we can make bigger projects and exhibitions. From time to time, I get ideas and I have to materialise them. After I make them, I’m kind of free again. The presentation often comes second. Right now, I have three or four works that I just have to make.
What is your Galway story?
I came here to visit my brother about ten years ago. It was January, the sky was dark, but I liked it. Galway is just the perfect size for me, I am able to cycle everywhere, I go to Barna woods very often or to the shore or to buy bread in town. It’s quiet yet so vibrant in terms of culture. There’s so much going on, you never get bored. Because of its size, I think the community is a lot more connected, you know so many people. I go to the market every Saturday and I know everybody – the man selling eggs, cheese or vegetables. We ask about our children and families and I love that.
When do you feel most free?
I think freedom is when you have no thoughts. I feel free when cycling on the prom or listening to music playing softly in the background. Playing with my daughter Mia – she immediately feels when you’re not ‘there’. I am learning how to be present, now, in this moment. Imagine doing clay – you can’t do it when you have too much energy, too much coffee, too much thinking. You have to throw everything away, open the window, breathe and then start to shape things. It’s like constant therapy.
How would you describe Generation 20 in your circles?
There are lots of creative people around. I see this desire in people to discover themselves more and more – the truth in themselves. They’re working on mindfulness and a green way of living. Because I’ve been into ceramics for so long, my friends help me to get out of that and onto other things, like planting more trees, yoga or meditation. My circle of friends isn’t too wide because my work is quite isolating. I get little time to get out and connect with people, but when I do, I try to make sure it’s a true relationship with a person. I tend to criticize my own work and not accept this label of an ‘artist’. It feels huge and I am afraid of it. My friends help me understand – you’re an artist and let me tell you why. Coming here, life settles down, you breathe normally, people aren’t rushing anywhere.
How does Galway allow your art to flourish?
I think it’s possible here because life is so quiet. Back in Moldova and even when I lived in Romania for a few years, you’re constantly thinking about how to make money to survive. You’re so focused on that, you don’t have time for the inner you. In our childhood, we saw our parents working every day, they didn’t have much time to hug us, draw with us or plant seeds. At home, I also felt this pressure from the community to have money, houses, cars, the best clothes – a kind of an image. I don’t feel this here. Coming here, life settles down, you breathe normally, people aren’t rushing anywhere. You start to wonder about who you are and what you want.
What do you think is missing in Galway with regard to culture?
Places to showcase, I think – for musicians especially. I see buskers on Shop Street and I feel they need space to play music, something covered. For visual arts, we need more affordable spaces to show our works, good quality exhibitions – there are spaces but they are quite expensive. I meet new people that make art all the time, but they don’t have anywhere to sell it.
What would you like to see 2020 achieve for your generation?
With Galway 2020, it’s a great opportunity to encourage small, emerging artists to get out of their nests and show their work. I would love to discover new faces and get them working with different communities. Hopefully, we will see more art introduced into schools, as we know how helpful it is for children to work with any type of media.
What is the most creative way you’ve seen your artform presented?
Because I do everything by hand and don’t really use tools, nothing is ever the same. I sometimes get inspired by people who do textiles. I try to get patterns and shapes from textiles. I often fall in love with large scale works; they make my heart beat faster. Lately, I got into a minimalistic approach – big scale but with simpler form and shapes and not that much colour.
How does old school and modern ceramic-making compare?
I like to make contemporary art using traditional techniques; this is where the old and new meets for me. Doing everything by hand is the oldest tradition. At the same time, I use very colourful glazing or pure porcelain. I think the old way was a lot more inner-focused. People used to do ceramics with no music around, they just sat on the ground, took a piece of clay and played with it. Now, every five minutes, you have to check a message that has come in and it is so distracting. Or you have targets, you have commissions. You don’t connect with your work as much anymore. You just feel like you have to do it and you have to finish.
“I’d rather leave something positive in people’s consciousness – hugs, a passionate kiss or a good chat”
What are some daily struggles you face?
Finding time for myself and for the little things. We tend to do so many things at the same time. You lose yourself and then you need therapy, meditation, and yoga to keep yourself together. I think this is the struggle. I am trying to just choose a few things and do them properly.
What is a quote that most represents you right now?
There is a quote by a Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh that goes ‘Only the present moment contains life.’ He says we have to be present in every single thing that we’re doing, even just sipping our tea. I tend to either go to a state of dreaming or into the past and future which takes me out of the present. For the last half a year, I’ve been learning to focus on the now. My daughter Mia is a great inspiration. She’s always present. ‘Mom, look at this rock. Oh, I love the sun. The sea is a different colour today. This food is really yummy.’ She feels everything. I try to apply that to my life as well.
What legacy would you like to leave behind?
I am not really looking to leave too much behind. Maybe less actually. I am prepared to stay in people’s memory as a human being, not necessarily as an artist. I don’t really need a role, a title or a label, but hopefully, my actions will be remembered. Ceramics aren’t easily destructible; we have works in museums from thousands of years ago and they will remain. When you leave wet clay outside, it just melts and becomes earth again. But if it’s fired, you have to be careful what you do because it becomes rock and it’s there forever. It’s not very environmentally friendly. I’d rather leave something positive in people’s consciousness – hugs, a passionate kiss or a good chat.
Generation 20 is a photo and interview series focusing on the new wave of artists in Galway. With each interview and portrait, we aim to uncover their motivations, aspirations and frustrations. To get the full authentic picture and find their common link, bring them all together and into the light. How does their journey relate to Galway and where would they like to see it in 2020? We want to see the people in the budding stages of their expression, those that are quietly grafting and doing wonderful things.
Open, bold and colourful, this is #generation20.
Photos and interviews by Julia Monard.