Please can you introduce yourself and tell us a little about what you do?
My name is Michal Keren Gelman. I live in Israel, on the west Galilee, in a small community located just next to a nature reserve and overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. I am a wife of a charming jangler, and a mother of 3 kids and a dog. I started my creative journey, learning jewellery design at the “Bezalel” academy of the arts, in Jerusalem. After graduating I found myself in the theatre world, designing accessories for the stage. It took me about 12 years of searching, travelling, wondering and parenting till I found my home base in clay. Clay allows me to express myself with much more simplicity and clarity.
Since then, for the last 6 years, I teach & create at the studio below my house. I often travel around Israel giving workshops and Lectures of the inspiration and practices I develop and use.
I make contemporary functional ceramic homeware. A few months ago I opened a new etsy shop – ”Freefolding” is my studio brand .
You use a technique called ‘free folding’ could you tell us a little more about this?
My shop is a combination of contemporary ceramic & porcelain studio. I design and make functional ceramic home wares. I create vessels out of clay sheets and spent much time investigating the possibilities of the clay sheets to be folded, closed and to create a container. I combine handmade prints and ceramic decals, which I design myself.
The name Freefolding (sounds like the Tom Petty song – Free Falling) reminds me the feel of
a childlike movement, free and brave and surrendered. Clay wise – I learn how to flow with
it, listen to it; I am often surprised by it.
Can you talk us through the processes behind one of you pieces?
My latest work is a series of vessels called “Norwegian wood”. The inspiration behind it is a combination between the Japanese aesthetic that fascinating me for so many years and my own wooded green environment. Along the years, while having my sunset walks, I was hypnotized by the way that the treetop’s contour was slowly sharpening against the
darkening sky. I knew that one day I will have to capture this moment in my camera and
make it into prints. Last year, for my 45 birthday, I gave myself a present – two weeks in
Kyoto. There I could witness how the great beautiful nature reflects and absorbed in so many
ways into the potters work. It was a strong meaningful experience for me. When I came back
home, the first thing I did was finally bringing my natural surroundings into my vessels by this
“Norwegian wood “print collection.
What is your inspiration behind your ceramics collection?
I love material and what time immerses in it. The way it leaves marks. Some might say scars, others say ornaments. The “Wabi – sabi ” – the beauty of the transitory, the magic of the imperfect, the motion in it, the freedom it allows. That’s what fascinates me about working with clay, the ability to leave one’s impression, without needing it to be a final one. For clay is a living material, even after it is burned, changes keep occurring. It absorbs flavours, touches and looks.
New ways to unravel traditional forms and to play with them are the force that attracts and motivates me forward. I feel very grateful for the opportunity to create, to be gathered by my endless sources of inspiration: music, nature, architecture, film, fashion and words…
and to be able to embed them in substance.
You are from Israel could you tell us a little more about your daily life there and your studio space?
My life is good and simple. In the morning, after my kids are off to school, I usually take some quite time to myself. I’m a morning type of woman. I enjoy drinking my morning coffee in front of the computer, catching up on my Facebook, Pinterest and my Etsy shop. A couple of times a week I would go out and have my morning coffee with a friend at our local coffee bar. It is like a members club, everybody knows each other, people from all around, Jewish, Christians and Muslims in a great friendly atmosphere. I love to start my day with an open energy and interactions with friends. Later on I gather inside and work many hours in the studio by myself. Twice a week I teach at my studio between 09.00-12.00. In the remaining days of the week I have the whole day to myself.
It took some time for me to create the necessary separation between my house (upstairs) and my studio (downstairs) . At the beginning I wanted to live at the studio 24×7. The fact that I had to do the laundry, wash dishes, and cook food was totally unacceptable. Well, the reality forced me to draw the lines. It is very comfortable to live above your studio, especially because clay can be a very demanding material, but it takes some discipline.
Eventually, I always seek for balance. In life, as in my work – The balance between my passion to create, and the obligations of daily life, Between the times when I’m making my pots in the studio, to the ones spent in front of the computer promoting and marketing my shop. Between finding my own language in clay, and the endless possibilities of change. Within the clear limits I can fly.
What is the artistic community like in Israel, is it easy to be seen on a global scale?
The clay artist/ designers community here is growing & developing quickly. There are many talented creative people in our small country. I’m less connected to the art community, more to the clay craft one, and I can see that even though we have no tradition of continuous craft activity in one place, that the last few years clay is getting more and more attention and being exposed especially at galleries and magazines .
The clay community is very diverse and cohesive. Especially now, when we have a new home for ceramicist called “beit binyamini” in Tel Aviv, that centres many activities – teaching, exhibitions, master classes and a big library. Our consumers audience, however, are not yet established. Even though I have many great customers here in Israel, it is not easy to compete with cheap china clay and “easy to get” homeware. Not many people can appreciate the handmade quality. We get almost no support or budgets from the government for the art and craft.
I think that the possibility of marketing through the web is a tremendous stage for the unique community of makers from Israel. I believe that nowadays, when craft is being appraised again around the world, handmade ceramic design will get much more present in galleries, fairs and people’s daily life.
What do you love most about what you do?
What I love mostly about my work? Well…. every morning I step into the studio as if I’m stepping into a playground. I love just messing around with the clay. I love it especially when
it is in its “leather hard” state. Means still flexible. For me the clay is in its most vividness phase.. I enjoy the adventure and sometimes on my way to create something I imagine, something new comes forward and is being born.
If you could collaborate with any other artist / maker, who would it be and why?
If I could collaborate with a another artist..i would take a high jump to Rei Kawakubo, the French- Japanese fashion designer of “ Comme des Garçons”. I love her work, which is sculpture in space and motion. I love its layers. The way that narrative of the design and Fabrics reflect in her shows through make-up, hair styling and accessories. I would love to make some porcelain jewellery object for her design shows.
If you were stranded in the wilds what item would you want with you to survive?
If I would be stranded in the wilds I would take a big piece of cloth, for cover and shelter… but if we go metaphorically, meaning if I will have my shelter, fire & water as a base, I would probably take a Wislava Szymborska poems book, and my glasses..
Where would you like to be in ten years?
I’m a one woman show: creating, making and designing each piece single handedly. In ten years from now I would like to grow into so many places, like working in bigger scales, or return to my roots and design a jewellery collection but never leave the immediate connection to clay. I want to be healthy, vivid and still curious about creation and life. I would love to travel around the world, to meet and work beside other ceramic artists, but always come back to my home studio. At this point my goal is to be able to reach and sell my work on a wider international scale. I wish to be able to keep on evolving and reinventing myself in the personal style and language I created as an artist.
Thank you Michal for such a beautiful and insightful interview. I LOVE your work, and having spent many years living and working in Israel myself, I long to go back for a visit. It really is a beautiful country.
Michal is kindly donating a gift voucher of £50 to spend in her Etsy shop. Now if it was me, those mugs or that planter would be first on my list!! All you need to do is complete the little rafflecopter widget below. Winner will be announced on Tuesday 24th March. Open to all – worldwide. Good luck!
Lou Archell, a writer, photographer, stylist and founder of Littlegreenshed. A UK lifestyle & travel blog
Lou is also a busy mum of two amazing boys and the founder of Sisterhood Camp – an annual creative retreat for recharging and empowering brilliant ladies, Lou is passionate about supporting and inspiring others whether through her workshops, writing, photography or lifestyle hacks.