Designer and illustrator from Warsaw, Malwina Konopacka worked for several important newspapers. Her vase designs charm with colourful eyes, frivolous plants and, among them, stalking animals.
Malwina Konopacka graduated from Industrial Design department of Fine Arts Academy in Warsaw, as well as from Illustration department of Universität der Künste in Berlin. She provided illustration for, among other newspapers, Przekrój, Zwykłe Życie, Machina, or Architektura. When asked about the birth of her love for illustrating, she said:
My home was always filled with drawings. My grandfather, as well as my father, are extremely talented! I had so many professional tools: beautiful sheets of paper, colourful crayons, various pencils etc. So I was drawing quite often and very eagerly! (...) I often draw illustrations with some kind of text, situational joke or something like that. I’m inspired by exaggerated everyday situations, I love to take details as a whole, or the other way – find details in a whole. I like to play with my creations.
Her drawings appeared on NikiNiki T-shirts, as well as on a calendar, which she designed with the help of Tomasz Bersz for Bęc Zmiana foundation. 80 occasions in 2015 is an interesting concept with intriguing illustrations. The calendar commemorates various unusual occasions, such as Stanisław Bareja’s MA thesis defence. This red-and-blue calendar includes Konopacka’s drawings which remind of the dates and the reasons for remembering them.
Aside from illustrating, Malwina Konopacka is keen on designing crockery, because, as she explains:
I am a graduate from Industrial Design, and designing various everyday object is something I’m very close to. In my professional life I focus on drawings, sure, but I try to find opportunities to transfer the drawings onto different media, shapes, things. Everything I know about creating vases I got from my Academy, I visited ceramics department and got the hang of it.
Her fusiform vase design with several indentations, meant to resemble the shape of an eye lived to see numerous interpretations. In the original version only the indentations are highlighted with colours various colours, such as gold or platinum. In many of her projects she likes to choose one dominant colour to serve as a kind of theme for her works. That was the case with Jungle series, inspired by paintings of Henri Rousseau. These long, oval vases are decorated with the images of fantasy beasts and plants. Kobalt, another series of hers, is quite different in style. This time she goes for something less organic. Alongside quick, expressive drawing of eyes, faces and hands she places geometrical shapes, connecting all the elements with intense cobalt colouring.
She redesigned the eye vase for the 10th anniversary of Łukasz Jemioł’s fashion atelier. The redesigned series consists of 10 unique vases in black and gold.
Cutout is quite a different story. This time Konopacka strays away from monochromatic colouring, and lets loose, creating vibrant, colourful compositions with parade of different shapes, loosely based on Mattise’s cut-outs.
The designer likes to stress the connection of her ceramics with her illustrations, pointing out that her vases require synthetic thinking, bold and kinda simplified shapes of adornments. She explains:
A vase is quite a large objects. It’s like a canvas or a sheet of paper, where you can create illustrations in 3D, you can use all 360 degrees.
Once a year, Malwina Konopacka creates a series of 15 to 20 vases, which have a common motif such as colour, theme, technique or simplistic illustrations. The artist has several perpetual patterns, though the designs she creates especially for exhibitions are unique and not repeated. In 2018, the Oko vase was joined by her latest creation – Teresa. Malwina describes the process in an interview with Cezary Lisowski for auction house Desa Unicum:
At the end of 2017, I was invited by the Association of Friends of the National Museum in Warsaw to participate in an auction for the Museum. The proposal included creating an interpretation of the OKO vase with ten prominent artists. OKO is my showpiece, I couldn't imagine that someone else could develop it. It also seemed too small for the invited painters and artists. The idea of a vase in which I deviate from functionality has been following me for some time. I also wanted to create the OKO family of ceramic objects. Hence the idea of switching to a different scale.
Konopacka collaborated with the artists for six months, which ultimately led to the creation of 10 very different objects. Some of the artists had previously worked with ceramics, while others were just introduced to this world. Paweł Althamer and Włodzimierz Pawlak participated in the project, among others. The idea behind the Teresa vase was to create ceramic objects that are less utilitarian and more sculpture-like.
That same year, the designer and her Teresa vase were invited to take part in the 1000 Vases exhibition (2018) in Paris as part of Paris Design Week. Teresa is by definition a unique item intended for exhibitions and private collectors. The motifs on it are more painterly than decorative; they are a combination of an industrial form – reproducible, made from a mould – with an artistic, aesthetic interpretation. Since 2018, Konopacka expanded her production with the Aniela fruit platter, the modular Nana vase and the Krystal vase created in cooperation with French duo Slavia Kolektiv in the Czech manufacture Blazek.
In 2019, Malwina Konopacka, with the help of children aged from 7 to 12, created a spatial installation called Fontanna (Fountain) as part of the 11th edition of the Narracje art festival in Gdańsk. The artist conducted workshops during which young participants worked with ceramic elements designed and made by Konopacka. Several hundred forms in differing shades of cobalt and turquoise – colours associated with water – were decorated with various original motifs. When the elements were ready, they were used to make a mosaic that was later placed in the basin of a disused local fountain. The installation not only gave the old fountain a second life, but also drew attention to the effects of climate change, which include falling groundwater levels and increasingly acute water shortages.
Konopacka, together with her daughters Aniela, Teresa and Julia, took part in a joint exhibition of artists and their children entitled Co Dwie Sztuki To Nie Jedna (Two Arts Are Better Than One, 2020) and organised as part of the winter break at the Zachęta – National Gallery of Art. Other participants of the exhibition were Olaf Brzeski with Konstanty, Iza Chlewińska with Miłosz, Kinga Nowak with Tytus, Zbigniew Rogalski with Tymon, Jaśmina Wójcik with Zoya and Lea, Paweł Althamer with Kosma, Monika Drożyńska with Tymon and Cecylia Malik with Urszula.
The exhibition created a new field of communicating and experiencing art. The works – made especially for this show – touched upon topics important to both young artists and art recipients. The children involved in the process of creating contemporary art invited their peers to experience the exhibition.
Malwina Konopacka presented her Mama totem – a 180 cm ceramic figure, the artist's first such large object. Konopacka showed Mama for the first time in Prague at the Odyssey exhibition within the prestigious Art House, part of the Designblok festival. The object combines the Oko and Teresa vases, the Aniela fruit platter and other ceramic elements in the shape of discs, pretzels and balls. A total of six items in pale pink, white and gold colours. The artist admits that the totem is a symbolic self-portrait, but also an image of a contemporary woman and mother. Together with her daughters, they created graphic identification and posters for the exhibition.
Malwina's most recent design is the Irena vase, named after the artist's grandmother. This is yet another of Malwina’s designs to be named after a woman – a reference to the Polish tradition of giving china sets female names, such as Helena, Aldona or Iza, made in factories from Chodzież or Ćmielów. It is also a personal tribute to the women in the artist's family, which she talks about in an interview for Vogue Polska magazine.
The Oko vase was created when I haven't had any children yet. My own family started with Nana – this is what my younger daughter Teresa called her older sister Aniela. Then there was the Teresa vase. It looks like Oko, but it's 79 cm tall – as tall as my younger daughter at that time. When Teresa was created, Aniela felt sad that there was no vase with her name on it. I was working on a platter then and asked: ‘How about Aniela's fruit platter?’ And so it stuck.
Malwina Konopacka's website: http://malwinakonopacka.com/
- 2020 – Co Dwie Sztuki To Nie Jedna / Two Arts Are Better Than One, Zachęta – National Gallery of Art, Warsaw
- 2019 – Odyssey exhibition as part of ArtHouse, Designblok Festival, Prague
- 2018 – Z Drugiej Strony Rzeczy: Polski Dizajn Po 1989 Roku/ The Other Side of Things: Polish Design After 1989, National Museum in Kraków; Design Days, San Francisco; TERESA – pre-auction exhibition, National Museum in Warsaw; Designblok, Prague; 1000 Vases as part of Paris Design Week, Paris
- 2017 – La Cité, Le Corbusier’s Unitéd’habitation in Marseille; Texture: A Polish Touch, London Tent, London; ĄĘ as part of London Design Days; DS – Auto OKO, Budapest; Places of Origin: Polish Graphic Design in Context as part of DesignMarch, Reykjavik
- 2015 – La Tavola Polacca, Expo Milano, Milan; Kreakcja i proces, Kielce; What Goes Behind… Contemporary Polish Ceramic Design, The London Design Festival, London; Oko / Jungle, Łukasz Jemioł Butik, Warsaw; OKO, Pies czy Suka, Warsaw; Inside Out. Polish Graphic Design and Illustration in the Making, Wanted Design, Terminal stores, New York
- 2014 – +48 Social Club,Tokio Design Festival, Galeria Vacant, Tokio
- 2013 – Malarze Ilustracji, Muzeum Sztuki Nowoczesnej, Warsaw
Written by: Anna Cymer, February 2017, translated by AS. Updated by HSz, Sept 2020.