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Interview with an artist: Kirsteen Holuj

Kirsteen Holuj has been an artist at Westbury for around 8 years, she describes herself as "a maker of ceramic", although this doesn't describe the true breadth of Kirsteen's artistic talents. She's exhibited in many places including , Claydon House, Off the Wall - Aylesbury Museum, Upstairs Gallery, Town Farm Art Show and with the Buckinghamshire Crafts Guild. She also teaches Raku classes during the summer months.

I had the pleasure of catching up with Kirsteen last week, we chatted about lockdown, her interest and support for the Artists support pledge and how she became an artist.

Firstly tell us how you've been managing with lockdown.

My studio at Westbury is so important to me, it's my own space. I can slosh things around and make a mess. So when lockdown first hit I had to make the best of my space at home, I re-opened my shed which I had used previously as a studio many years before.

However I found it challenging and difficult to work from home, most of my tools were at Westbury, the clay wouldn't do what I wanted it to do, it just didn't really feel like my space!

I've also discovered that my studio provides me with a healthy routine and I enjoy working to deadlines, after all you have no choice but to get the work done when you have a deadline to meet!

Lockdown has taken away this routine and removed all deadlines due to the closure of exhibitions and galleries. Without the routine and deadlines I've found at times it can be challenging to find the motivation to produce work.

I have almost felt guilty at times about not achieving what I would like to, I question whether I have been wasting time, I could have created a whole new body of work, a new range, I could have experimented, tested out different things but I just haven't done much of this at all.

I have however been messing around with copper and silver, copper is way cheaper than silver if you make a mistake, which I have been making many!  The idea is to make plant inspired forms that will work with some of my pots.

I have always loved mixed media and have worked with mild steel and ceramic pieces on a much, much larger scale in the past. I have really enjoyed the change of material and I've watched way too many silversmith YouTube videos and can’t seem to stop buying lovely metal smith tools.  I hope to have some finished pieces, that I am completely happy with, over the next few months.

Now lockdown has been released a little I'm beginning to use my studio at Westbury again - I've loved getting back into the routine and having a little more structure.

Tell us how you became an artist.

I gained my degree at Middlesex Polytechnic which was in Commercial Design. I graduated in 1989 right in the middle of a recession!

However soon after graduating I had a fantastic opportunity to live in Chicago with my partners (now husband) work. Whilst there I happened to be watching a local TV channel which were featuring an arts centre "Lillstreet".

One thing it had was a pottery and they were offering pottery courses. This piqued my interest and I soon found myself signing up for a course!

I really relished this time and opportunity to experiment and to be creative.

My degree was very structured, there was drafting and compromise and I always knew deep down that I was a maker. I remember being a maker as a child, at university I would often say

"I wish I could run away and become a potter"

We never got the opportunity at university to try out pottery, our department was based with all the engineers and not with all the arty types. I would have loved the opportunity of doing more making!

On returning to the UK I did a little interior work along side being a stay at home mum. It was at this time I once again reignited my love of making and signed up to do a pottery evening course with local potter Mark Fraser, as well as a Life Drawing course. This soon led on to a ceramic course at Aylesbury college.

I had grand ideas to combine pottery with Life Drawing, I wanted to see if I could do figurative three dimensional work, however I soon became more interested in making organic and growing forms.

It was whilst I was at Aylesbury college that I had an opportunity to tutor a class for two weeks, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I was soon tutoring other classes and so my life as an art tutor began!

Raku classes at Westbury

Tell us about artistic process.

Everything seems to lead on to something from before - You get to know what you like, I like texture I don't like colour very much. Every now and again I try to bring in colour but it never works!

Most of my work happens organically, the process and ideas are always in my head.

My work all stems from organic forms, ferns, pods, spores and texture.

I love being in nature and was bought up in wild Scotland by the sea so perhaps my love of organic forms has come from this experience. I remember going through a phase of creating windy haired sculptures as I always remember my hair being windswept!

My favourite ever picture of the Isle of Coll

I notice that you've been part of the Artists Support pledge, tell us about this.

I came across the artists support pledge by accident and noticed that it was gaining momentum, this led me to investigate further. It's incredible how it's moved on,

When I looked at the artists pledge at the start of lockdown there were around 92000 hashtags, which is 92000 pieces of work. I looked more recently and it's now increased to 172000, it's been running for just two months and it's built up so much momentum.

I sold a pot really quickly at first it was great!

All work has to be on sale for under £200 and you pledge to buy somebody else's work once you've reached sales of £1000, it doesn't cost anything apart from the time it takes to put things up.

If people want to take a look search for #artistsupportpledge

As we draw to a close tell us something that you've been up to during lockdown apart from your creative work.

I've been enjoying regular Cake Bake dates with family - We'll get together over zoom and bake the same recipe together, last time we baked orange and courgette cake which was very nice.

whilst it bakes we will just chat and afterwards we'd eat cake and drink tea!

It's been a great way of keeping in contact.

One final question - What do you enjoy about being an artist.

There has always been something in me to be a maker. I could have done anything whether silver, wood, metal. If I'd picked up something at the right moment that's what I would have been making. It just happens to be clay - the manipulation of clay in the hand and its response is always an exciting experience, the way it can take any form or texture you choose to express, it is like no other material. And what's more I enjoy the challenge!

More of Kirsteen's work can be seen in our artists gallery

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