Alexandra Nilasdotter creates objects that are functional and minimalistic, hand thrown ceramics influenced by architectural lines and with the natural beauty of raw unglazed clay on full display. Interviewing her in her studio in Gustavsberg, I got to see and touch everything which for me is always a delight. The pieces are smooth and soft to the touch, with a powdery appearance. Just one year since graduating from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, she has been nominated this year for the Formex Nova prize, and has received a lot of recognition for her work. Definitely one to keep an eye on.
Since your graduation from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in 2017 you have had great success with your ceramics. How does it feel to have your work recognised in this way so soon after?
It’s actually a little strange to hear it talked about like that, everything seems to just move forward all the time, and sometimes it feels like I can’t stop and savour the moment. I have been working a lot and one thing moves to the next at such speed. I have also just been trying to find my way into the world, and trying to learn how to survive in just the one year since I have graduated. Of course it gives me an enormous boost being nominated for such a big prize, it certainly helps to promote me and my craft and it helps me make a living!
How did this journey in ceramics begin?
There was nothing that related to ceramics when I was younger. When I was 10 my parents were building a house and I remember being fascinated by the drawings and all the technical aspects of architecture, and I then wanted to be an architect. Already at ten I had done a lot of my own drawings and plans for houses, both for myself and for other people. Sadly in High School I did not have the academic grades needed for Architecture School. I did find an old pottery wheel during one of our craft periods and started to experiment with that on my own, making various objects with clay. I really loved it and was told that there are schools that I could attend to further my studies in this area. That’s when I started in Malmö at Östra Grevie Folkhögskola, and after that at Formakademin for two years, where I actually begin to sell a few of my pieces. I realised that if I was going to continue with ceramics as a profession I needed to get a proper University education, that’s when I applied to the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts and I got in.
You have said that you’re inspired by industrialism and architecture. How do these elements feature in your ceramics?
I suppose the architectural elements in my ceramics are not so evident to others, but I am inspired by buildings and objects around me. For example I have bowls and vases done in the shape of water towers and silos around Sweden. As for industrialism that is more a term that others have come to associate with me. I consider myself a machine rather than an artist when I work and produce. I also feel that machines are still essential today and are used by designers and artists to produce their work for a larger market, in a shorter time span.
Have you been influenced by Japanese pottery?
No, I don’t believe I have ever been inspired by any pottery of any kind. I have found my own style and I am really not into trends, or having my work labelled as Japanese or Scandinavian. I started doing the white unglazed pottery at school in Denmark, but before that I had a different style and aesthetic to my pottery. I started to make the unglazed ceramics perhaps, in an unconscious way, to be different from the other students who were all working a lot with glaze. I also love the technical aspects of pottery and having the clay presented in the most natural state as possible where we can see it for what it is without hiding its natural beauty.
What is your biggest challenge when working with clay?
To achieve perfection , from the throwing process to the firing. The clay is such a living, organic substance so I know I will never achieve that perfection, but also to continue discovering new shapes that could be turned into products.
Do you often start out with a plan and drawings for your ceramic pieces? Or are they more freestyle?
When I see something architecturally that inspires me I take photographs then I try to create a piece based on that, like the water towers for example. After that I do a technical drawing of that object, somewhat like architectural drawings. I usually show these during open studio sessions for people to see the wider process of how I work.
Will you only be producing functional pieces or do you have any plans to create non functional art objects?
I have done pieces for previous exhibitions, but I do think I will continue to create functional pieces as that is what I find challenging. Finding that object that people would be able to use and that works and that also looks good.
How does one stand out in a sea of ceramicists? What would your advise be to someone just starting out?
To not compromise. Just keep doing what you want to do and what you are inspired by. But do not pay attention to trends or what is in or out. Although even if it has been said that in order to be able to sell and to be able to survive, there might have to be compromises. But at the end of it I think it’s important to be true to yourself, and what feels good for you, and not to move too fast in terms of style. It takes time to make a name for yourself.
What are you inspired by?
Furniture and objects. When I am at exhibitions I look at the furniture and the use of the space more than the actual art! I love interior spaces.
Is there a dream project?
I think it would be fun to collaborate with a big brand. It brings along a lot of different challenges and ways of working and producing that I have never been taught or shown how to do. Working with others instead of sitting alone in my studio as I am used to. That would be a challenge.
What are you working on now?
At the moment I am working with my partner, Taiwanese glass maker and designer Liu Chien-Kuang for our company Normal Object Factory. We are designing an object in glass for a Scandinavian company dealing in furniture and objects for the home. There are other projects that I am not able to disclose yet at this moment. I am also working on a candleholder that I hope to have ready for Christmas.