In the beginning, a wire is a straight line. Later it is bent, curved, and circled around. And with it the life of craftsman, too. Which direction, we find out with Slávo.
Could you introduce yourself in one sentence?
I am a craftsman working with wire and a traveller – I don’t need to travel far but I don’t like staying in one place for too long.
How did you find your way to wire craft?
It definitely wasn’t straightforward. It all began with my father who worked with twine. He had close ties to crafts, he even kept a museum of village in Jarabina, Spiš region. The village was famous for its wire craft and when I was six that was how I first got to the material that would later shape my life. Later I attempted studying design, but the degree had too much of maths and physics and too little of the actual creating for me. The employment office offered retraining in wire craft at the time. Tinkers are known to be travellers and therefore they do what I love. Because of that opportunity, I got to see the technical and the practical side of the craft and it completely captivated me.
You are originally from Stará Ľubovňa, and currently live in Broadstairs, Kent. To what extent do your place of origin and the place you live influence you? Is there a point where the two influences intersect?
My environment influences me on two levels. Existentially, it got to a point where I could no longer survive as a tinker in Slovakia. However, here in the UK craft is highly esteemed. It is constantly evolving. There always are exhibitions, opportunities to apply for grants, to grow, to find inspiration. As a result, there also is competition. In contrast to that, in Slovakia we are unaware of how critical the situation is.
When people think about tinkers and wire craft, traditional ornamental patterns come to their minds. But the ways in which the material can be used are innumerable. In Slovakia we cling onto its history – but if the craft does not assume a new form, a new face, it is going to disappear. We can’t simply keep reproducing the same patterns and shapes.
The second level on which I am influenced by my environment is the inspiration I draw from it. We live close to the white chalk cliffs which constantly undergo strong erosion. The rocks here fall apart and the sea wears them down into remarkable shapes. The wave-cut notches inspire my objects. I call them “rocks”. All the undersea structures, algae, shells – exactly the way Ernst Haeckel depicted them – are great creative stimuli for me.
Nature is a big part of my creative process. Just like in Slovakia I was influenced by the mountains, here in Kent I am inspired by the sea.
The way you work with form verges on creating optical illusions. Where does this characteristic of your style come from? Is it influenced by the properties of the wire, the material’s flexibility?
I started off with classical wirework which is very ornamental. I was told that wire work without the ornaments is impossible, as they are functional and hold the wire shape in place. Only working with the material and through experimentation did I realize there are different ways. I achieve the firmness of the wire by increasing the density of the weave. Now my work is even firmer than objects made using the traditional technique.
Wire art technique has its roots in the technique used in basketry. Instead of joining wicker, tinker only works with one piece of material.
I aim to make my objects functional. At the same time, I give them life. I want them to make spaces more beautiful whilst also contributing something to those spaces.
Is your work autonomous or based on commissions?
Apart from my own work, I do also work on commissions. They tend to be interior installations on a specific theme. Work on these projects is interesting but more demanding as the feedback you get is instant. The meeting of other crafts and materials appeals to me – intersecting wirework with wood, glass, even metal. I often work with smiths – although we use the same material, we work under very different conditions. Unlike them, I don’t use heat at all.
Would you say that craft is still alive in the contemporary world? Why is its survival important?
Personally, I feel obliged to hand down my knowledge. For me, some of it was handed down by circumstance, some of it I gleaned from tradition, and in some ways, I acquired more knowledge from the present. I feel an urge to hand down my craft. Currently, the internet is starting to play a big role. Spreading of knowledge and connecting is easier and easier. The decrease in mass production quality elevates the handmade, durable production. It isn’t just its uniqueness that is coming into light, but also the efficiency of material utilization.