Written by Dana Slaven
Elisa Bartels lives and works in her beautiful home in Collaroy Plateau. Her house, which she shares with her husband and step children, is filled with ceramics and artworks made by herself and other artists. Before meeting Elisa I didn’t realise what an interesting and creative person I had stumbled upon. Having been brought up speaking only Italian (she learnt English by watching Humphrey Bear) and having a background in cheesemongering, her home is both down to earth and creative. While Elisa dabbles in many creative activities, including botanical dying and cooking, her passion is ceramics.
Her studio, built by her husband as a gift, sits in her front garden. Humble and without pretense, it is the workshop of a hardworking and practical creative. It became very clear throughout the course of the morning that Elisa works in a completely unique way and this comes across in her pieces. Her ceramics were what initially motivated me to contact her. They were unlike anything I had ever seen. Elisa works using a technique she calls “black firing”. To make these pieces she moulds the clay porcelain and places it into a package of sawdust wrapped in foil. It’s important that this package remains air tight to create the blackened effect. During the firing the pores of the clay expand and absorb the smoke of the burning sawdust. As the clay cools after firing a smokey black pattern is left on the porcelain. To me the result looks like the surface of the moon. Elisa’s black fired pieces are delicate and ethereal. Another fantastic ceramic piece which she recently commissioned is the Floating Mosaic. The mosaic is made from hundreds of small rectangles of fired clay which are then joined together with steel rings. The finished product is a beautiful hanging image which appears to be so ethereal that it could dissolve before your eyes. “It was just finding the balance between the strength to keep it going, but that the image could just go at any moment,” Elisa said. Having finished her first Floating Mosaic with complete success, she’s moved onto a new one. The concept of the ethereal and transitory seems to be a constant theme throughout all of Elisa’s work, both in the kitchen and the workshop.
Both cooking and ceramics, strong facets of her life, seem to effortlessly intertwine: “The thing that drew me to ceramics is that it’s such a chameleon material, we can eat off it, and we can drink from it. One informs the other. So you don’t just stick your cheese sandwich on any old plate. You stick it on the cheese sandwich plate and it looks beautiful. All of a sudden, you go that is fantastic.”
Although Elisa has found her niche, she makes it clear that it hasn’t been all that easy. Elisa is well versed at figuring out the way to utilise her own creativity effectively. The space she works and lives in is an integral part of this. Since moving to her home in Collaroy Plateau she’s been able to find her niche: “I think for me space helps me with my creativity because it just helps me focus, or not focus it makes me spacey, it makes me zone out. I’m so busy not thinking that I think my clearest. Does that kind of make sense? If you try to hard sometimes nothing comes.” Hearing Elisa talk about her own creative process makes me realise that it’s just something you have to find in yourself and it’s important not to force. “Good things take time; anybody that tells you otherwise is a liar or a fool. Good things always take time, and patience. You can’t rush a cheese. The cheese will mature when the cheese will mature, and it’s just your job to watch it, make sure it’s happy and then let it do its own thing. Ceramics is kind of like that too, don’t fidget, just do the minimum, let it do what it will naturally do and don’t step in too much.”