Like most good stories, this one starts with a journey…
Criss Barsony and her boyfriend Razvan were working full-time in Cluj-Napoca when they decided to pack up their bags in search of adventure. They had only one plan in mind: to head west. On a shoestring budget, the odds were stacked against them, but when they discovered the work exchange website HelpX, the pieces of the puzzle were set in place.
So they headed out, first to France and then down to Spain, spending a few months in each place until one day they came across an English woman running a ceramics workshop in Spain. ‘Actually it was my boyfriend’s idea as he is trained in ceramics. She told us that she was booked up already, but we begged her to let us stay just a week.’
Luckily for all involved, she agreed. And so began a new journey that would alter the course of Criss’ life forever.
‘At first I just started playing around with little bits of clay in her workshop. I had everything at my disposal; the glazes, the tools, the kiln. It’s very interesting; nobody forced me to do anything, it all came from me. For me it was the perfect formula.’ Criss was left to experiment freely until a visitor saw Criss’ delicate creations and suggested her style was better suited to porcelain. ‘She invited me to try it out in her nearby workshop, and asked me if I wanted to sell my creations there. Of course, I said yes! I think what kept me experimenting through that early period was their wonderful feedback. They were so encouraging and it was the engine that kept me going.’
When they returned to Cluj-Napoca full of ideas and energy from their trip, the realities of being back hit home. Without access to a fully stocked ceramics workshop, Criss could have stopped there. But she didn’t. Instead she tracked down a single old man who produced liquid porcelain and befriended ceramics students who were studying at the University of Fine Arts. ‘I asked them endless questions about everything, and they were very pleased to help. In a way it was the best way to learn. They filtered their knowledge through to me, teaching me only what I needed. Occasionally I would hit a wall, I would be making things to complicated because of a lack of knowledge. But they would show me a simple method or technique and I would make another leap forward.’
The delicate porcelain jewelry with its clean white purity allows Criss to indulge in her second love; illustration. She says ‘I see the white of the porcelain like a blank page waiting to be drawn on. Certain colours appeal to me but I am not sure why. I am fond of muted greens and greys.’ When you look at Criss’ work you would think that she has years of professional training, but she works instinctively and naturally, from the illustrated characters that come from her imagination to the form and colours that have appealed to her from the her first experiments.
Criss tells me that she has considered taking a course of some kind as she feels she has much more to learn. ‘My friends say it isn’t necessary to get a degree, that I already have my own unique style. I can’t see a distinct style in my work. I always feel a sense that there is something more I could be doing, that I haven’t quite reached the best that I can be. It would be a dream for me to work with under a master ceramicist.’ She is currently working on a collection to submit to a fair in Bucharest in the Autumn. ‘It is the first time I worked in terms of a ‘collection’. The fair is for designers and it they have certain standards. It is a different level and a challenge for me.’
When I ask her if she would classify herself as a ‘ceramicist’ Criss is characteristically modest. ‘That’s…wow. My perception of myself is very different from how other people perceive me. I don’t feel like I am there yet.’
She may be hesitant to talk about herself as a professional, but when I ask her to describe the ceramics process her eyes light up with enthusiasm. ‘There is something so magical and exciting about putting something in the kiln; it goes in one way and you take it out in the morning and it is transformed. I feel like I can take an image from my imagination, and make it a reality.’ Without realising it Criss pinpoints the perfect image for her own story. Each bold step on her journey, from abandoning the safety of full-time work to persevering on her return to Romania required a vision, a belief that she could succeed. Despite the fact that ceramics is arguably the most arduous craft disciplines requiring technical training and specific knowledge, Criss success is undeniable proof of the importance of a curious mind, a free imagination and the courage to experiment.
To see more of Criss Barsony’s porcelain jewelry and illustrations or to buy her products, visit her website.