Bogdan Kosak and his wife Beata in their studio in Cieszyn (Polish-Czech border).

THE MODEL MAN

BY: MARCIN MOŃKA, PHOTOS: WOJCIECH TRZCIONKA

CIESZYN 23.5.2016

ART DESIGN PEOPLE

Sometimes he says he chose a lousy job... but he cannot imagine himself doing anything else. Bogdan Kosak, a ceramist, believes that everyday objects can be beautiful, though we do not need too many of them to be happy. What matters most in life is... life.
Created in hundreds, but no two of them alike: the objects named Pebbles [Otoczaki] accompanied the ceramist for a decade and are one of his most recognizable designs. When they appeared for sale in the now non-existent Opera gallery, the customers asked for... kosaks. The objects had been inspired i.a. by Adam Wajrak and his story about mysterious small creatures migrating in large groups through Polish forests, forming incredible swarms. ‘They seemed to have come from the cosmos. I thought I could create unidentified objects and multiply them to get real hordes,’ Kosak says. A Pebble swarm in action could be seen at one of the exhibitions in the Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw: it counted about 800 objects. ‘One animal is nothing, but when you see a hundred elephants, that is another story,’ Kosak likes to remark. What is more, each Pebble was made manually! Those ‘unidentified objects’, created in the years 1996–2006, have visited many exhibitions, trade fairs and art and design shows worldwide.

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No crowd, no noise
Kosak often jokes that his Pebbles have travelled far more than he himself. However, one year he wrote the following sentence in his notes: ‘I am happy to have ended the work on Pebbles and I am working on a totally different design.’ He summarizes it simply: ‘One day I asked myself: “How long can you go on with the same stuff?” The best thing was that people had plenty of ideas to use them: they became vases, ashtrays or sugar bowls, even though they had been created as seemingly useless. I am happy to see them serve people around the world.’ Yet, he has only one Pebble at home. Why? He is reluctant to gather things. He does not like crowd or noise. ‘The number of objects at home should be just sufficient for your needs: a chair, table, bed, vase, plate, kettle, cup... They should also be made well and of high quality materials. I may lack something just because I cannot find an object that would fulfil all my requirements, but when I finally get it, I want it to stay with me all my life. I do not like wastefulness and cannot afford it. I do not appreciate season production, which makes things fashionable for a while and then they end up not even in a junk room, but straight in trash,’ he explains. However, he admits to being very fond of books. He once tried to limit their number, saying to himself that he could use a library. ‘I have ten cups because I need them, not because they are beautiful. I use different cups to drink coffee in the morning and in the afternoon. It is the same with books: I cannot predict my mood on Sunday evening and the poem I would like to read then. Libraries are not open 24/7. Besides, it is good to have a book at hand, both at home and at work. The Internet does not solve everything. It is like drinking coffee from a plastic cup instead of a porcelain one,’ he says.

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A lousy job
What he likes about his job is that he can create objects to be used by everybody, such as plates or cups. ‘It is a challenge to think up an object both well made and cheap. I am inspired by designers from the 1950s and 1960s, owing to whom factory workers could afford beautiful things. It remains my dream for a cup to cost less than a few dozen Polish zlotys,’ he confesses. He likes the transience and fragility of ceramics combined with its incredible durability: it may either last a while or survive a thousand years. Sometimes he has had enough and dreams of moving to a secluded place, where he could be surrounded by books and good art and... grow carrots. ‘A potter used to be a lousy job. Both in the antiquity and modern times, he was the poorest of the craftsmen. He made pots occasionally, when there was nothing for him to do in the field. In turn, ceramics factories were always financially supported by kings: no king, no factory,’ he smiles. His road may not be the easiest, but it seems he could not have chosen otherwise. ‘I was born in a village and attended a small school: I had only three peers in the class. I was a loner, but it suited me. I liked nature. There was a lot of earth and clay around and they say I could model it into various things as a boy,’ he says. Since he also drew well, he was thinking of architecture or painting. His secondary school teachers discovered his modelling and form shaping abilities, which later became useful in his work with ceramics.

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The model-making shop
However, he first worked in the Extravagance gallery in Sosnowiec, convinced that painting was his destiny. He painted and organized exhibitions for other artists, but felt that something was wrong. He decided to come back to his profession of ceramist and at the same time search for his way in life. In 1995 he started working at Porcelana Śląska [Silesian Porcelain], where he managed the pattern shop for about a dozen years. He gained experience, carried out his first designs and opened his own model-making shop: Modelarnia Ceramiczna [Ceramics model-making shop]. ‘Of course it cost me a lot of work and sacrifice. Sometimes I made designs for the factory not for the money, but for the material and the possibility to bake my objects in kilns,’ he admits. One of his first designs for Porcelana Śląska, made in the early 1990s, were the Iris [Irys] and Calla [Kalia] vases. ‘I wanted the vase to be what the frame is for a painting. Flowers are central here. Sure, a vase looks good also when it is empty, but it begins to speak only after you put flowers in it,’ he states.

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For all time
Those days, he also created Pebbles, Tomaszów and many other designs, all governed by the same rule. ‘I always design objects that I would like to own myself,’ he declares. He is lucky to have a wise advisor by his side: his wife Beata is usually the first critic of his works. ‘She has a great sense. She may deny it, but I know it very well. She can tell me a lot. She was my first friend ever: I met her when I was a bit over 20 years old. With time, our friendship became something more,’ he reveals. Four years ago, he and his family settled down in Cieszyn, after changing places several times. The longest period – 14 years – he had spent in Dąbrowa Górnicza. ‘I have always liked living in places where I could walk and get to every spot on foot. However, I also need a studio where I can carry out my ideas, a café, cinema and bookshop. When our son Adam was born, this list was extended by a kindergarten, playground and school,’ he says. His son was an inspiration for the project named A Souvenir from Cieszyn [Pamiątka z Cieszyna]. It all started with playing by the Olza River and watching the treasures that it was throwing out on its banks. ‘I find it hard to talk about the Souvenir project; I guess it would be easier to write a small poem about it,’ he laughs. ‘It is a contemplation of the charm and beauty of an object. In the past, art was connected with sacrum, but it was still an object; today it has ceased to be object-like. A Souvenir from Cieszyn is a liberal art project and a certain anecdote on a utility object which becomes useless, but retains that little bit of beauty,’ he explains. It is also a social project, carried out with children from the Na Granicy [On the border] Political Critique Youth Club in Cieszyn. They discover the ‘treasures’ such as glass and ceramic pieces and then wash and sort them. After consulting an archaeologist and an art historian, these are put in specially designed miniature showcases, each of which is labelled and numbered before it goes out into the world. The Souvenirs have already been sent all over Europe, to Argentina and Sri Lanka. The money gained by selling them will allow the children from the youth club to go on a trip or to the cinema.

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Happiness
Bogdan Kosak’s engagement in this project is not surprising when one learns his definition of happiness, success and fulfilment. ‘Young people often think of choosing a good school, job and work to earn a lot of money in order to buy a car and other things. Still, I never felt that need; it did not impress me,’ he sums up. He recalls the days when his grandma used to take him for a walk in the forest. On the edge of it there was a wooden house with a dirt floor. ‘Those were the 1970s and yet the people who lived there never complained though they did not even have electricity at home. When grandma talked to them, I did not get an impression that their life was a failure. Now that I have lived in this world for some time, I realize that what matters most in life is life. You have to live it honestly, in line with what your conscience tells you, and when it comes to owning more or less refined objects...’ he pauses.

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Bogdan Kosak was born in 1966 in Sumin (Poland). He is a graduate of a secondary ceramics school Średnie Studium Ceramiczne in Katowice (1987). He designs utility porcelain objects and ceramic sculptures. In 1995 he opened his own studio Modelarnia Ceramiczna in Dąbrowa Górnicza and in 2011 he moved his activity to Cieszyn. He has made designs for Porcelana Śląska, BGH Network and Kera Ceramika. In the years 1995–2006 he managed the pattern shop in Porcelana Śląska in Katowice, while in the years 2006–2008 he was the company’s technology specialist. He has participated in fourteen individual and forty six collective exhibitions. He was a winner of the main prize in Śląska Rzecz 2006 and 2011 competitions as well as a nominee in Prodeco 2007, Prodeco 2008 and Śląska Rzecz 2009 competitions. He won the grant of the Silesian Voivodeship Marshal’s Office in Katowice in 2013. www.ceramikakosak.pl

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