It was a few years ago in Melbourne that I first came across Natalia Milosz-Piekarska’s luminously coloured jewellery. I was intrigued by her painted surfaces and tactile shapes; her very organic forms reminded me of some kind of mysterious, shy yet friendly sea creatures, and they stuck in my head.
So it is an absolute pleasure to finally be able to have a chat with her! To start off with, I asked her if she had any memorable childhood experiences with art and making. “It’s hard to define a particular experience. Both my parents are creative souls, and I’m an only child, so I was bombarded. Creative activity and thinking was part of daily life and a way to stay occupied. I was always making something, painting, drawing, writing stories, fiddling around with making music, making clothes for my toys… I was never bored.”
With a background like that, wanting to make a career from art was an obvious choice, and so Natalia studied a Design/Visual Communication degree through Monash University. In her last year, she took an elective in Gold and Silversmithing; however, she freely admits she was “terrible” at it and ended the subject with no intention of pursuing it. She decided she didn’t want to be a graphic designer either and so when she graduated, she packed her bags and travelled around the globe for a few years.
Discovering the incredible contemporary jewellery scene abroad was an eye opener, and on her return to Melbourne, found a similarly vibrant scene here. She decided to give it another go, doing a few short courses to get her skills up before applying to RMIT. She completed four years of study, and now divides her time between the bench, lecturing at RMIT, and working at Pieces Of Eight gallery.
Imagination is never in short supply in Natalia’s work. Such a diverse range of work comes from a, equally diverse range of materials and skills. “I don’t have one method to be honest, as diverse are my materials and ideas, so too are my methods. I do whatever I need to get a job done. I might do a sketch, play around with materials, trial and error, or sometimes I’m very calculated and precise. I guess it depends on the idea, the context, the purpose and how much time I have to experiment. In regards to techniques, I carve timber, sculpt in wax too, then cast in silver, gold or bronze, I saw-pierce sheet metal, I cast resin, I bead. I mix and match skills and techniques to best suit the piece I’m working on.” More recently, she has moved more into traditional ring forms, working with gold, silver, and precious stones.
When pressed on her influences, she said “I always find this question too hard. I compare it to when I step inside a record store, or get asked what my favourite movie of all time is… I freeze up and suddenly have no idea what I like, ever liked, and why I’m here.”
Spending her time surrounded by jewellery makes her very happy. “To be honest, I get a lot of icing on my cake. I don’t mean to sound overly saccharine, but I get a real thrill from so many different experiences. Of course it’s amazing when my work is validated with a grant or an award, and I’ve been very lucky to have had a few successes in that department, but I get such a kick out of seeing my work being worn by someone, or a genuine compliment or thoughtful observation.”
Of course, things are not always rosy in Natalia’s workshop. “Oooooh, yikes! I have epic fails all the time. There’s your usual nuking of silver or gold when having a particularly bad soldering day. Or it could be spending days working on a piece that just simply ends up looking plain rubbish when I’m finished with it. How do I overcome it? Take a deep breath and move on.”
I also asked Natalia if there was something quirky about herself that she’d like to share. “Well, I’ve noticed recently that I pull the same weird and rather unflattering concentration face that I used to see my dad make when he sat at his drafting board, (he’s an architect). I was mesmerised by this funny scrunched up pout that he’d develop when he was deep in thought, and now I’ve caught a reflection of myself doing the same thing when working away at my bench.”
You can find more of Natalia’s joyously quirky pieces (with no scrunched up faces in sight) at Pieces Of Eight and e.g.etal in Melbourne, and Metalab in Sydney. Natalia also occasionally writes about her work on her own blog, ahhness.blogspot.com.