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  Vol.12, No 6, 2004
Old Masters on a Plate

Ceramics that will bring a smile to anyone’s face

Jolanta Paškevičienė

Sentimental rose blooms go well with rusty pipes. The Mona Lisa invites a pheasant or a flock of motley birds to her breakfast table. Gold-winged dragonflies and tawny mice, quiet cows and winged angels, the baths at Pompei and the skyscrapers of New York, the churches of Vilnius, and Spanish boats all coexist peacefully in the ceramic works by Dalia Laučkaitė-Jakimavičienė.

Her works include both functional, lavishly decorated crockery and non-functional, realistic plumbing. Without touching a shiny tap, you will not believe it is made of clay and not metal.

There are many mysterious women in Dalia’s work: madonnas from Botticelli, da Vinci and Raphael, images of which, as if playing with luxurious dolls, she takes from one work to another.

Reserved and fragile like a porcelain figurine herself, she paints plots that are childlike. Her women turn out not only romantic but also erotic, not only sentimental but also ironic, not only as sweet as angels but also whimsical plotters.

In a postmodernist way, she brings together the motifs of classical art and the everyday forms of crockery and other simple things.

“I like the collage principle, when you combine elements of your own and parts from elsewhere in one work, when you combine incompatible things, and mix scales, perspectives and epochs. You do it as if you are being naughty, and yet very serious at the same time,” she says.

Dalia works in clay, moulded or pressed out of moulds made from real objects and decorated with decals. It is unique in Lithuania, and has been acclaimed at several international exhibitions of ceramic art. She also earned the title of an innovator several years ago when she was the first in Lithuania to use her own computerised decals.


Dalia tells the story of women’s life on plates with architectural forms, on a variety of real objects transferred to clay, pipe joints, stove doors or light bulbs, as well as china plates. For the decoration, she usually uses industrially produced glazed porcelain plates, on which she arranges a multitude of pieces of decal, sometimes 50 or 60, and sometimes even a hundred. She also paints in silver and gold, and draws with a thin pen. The third-firing over-glaze technique is her favourite, and it demands infinite time and patience. Sometimes a work is fired five or six times.

“I want the result to be a paradoxical contrast, the idea that everything is relative, art-kitsch, beauty-ugliness, reality-dreams, funny-serious, old-new. Combining the contemporary and historical, working with over-glaze techniques in a very precise way, and feeling like a 19th-century porcelain decorator is fascinating to me.”

She admits that the technical side, the execution of the work, is always important to her, and in that sense she really feels she is a ceramicist, an artisan. Her work is influenced by the history of art and architecture, by kitsch and industry. But it does not comment on the decline of industry or the social aspects of kitsch, but mostly on her personal history and her childhood memories.

“I like my work to be a bit surrealist and sentimental, slightly ironic, full of allusions, historical, mythological and religious, but mostly personal.”

Studio, not kitchen

Dalia much prefers to look after the pots in her studio than the ones in the kitchen. She also prefers baking biscuits (unglazed ceramic work after the first firing) in the kiln, rather than in the oven. But her husband and her two sons, who are 18 and 20, don’t want to relieve her of these duties.

Ceramics and cooking have much in common: you roll, knead, cut out and bake. However, she feels happiest when she escapes everyday life and runs away, in the literal sense, to her studio in the attic of the house.

Here, cutting and assembling colourful decals, drawing with a sharp pen, or painting with the thinnest brush, as if playing childhood games, she feels like a fish in water. This is her own domain, and nobody disturbs its peace. Not even her husband, who is also a ceramic artist and an associate professor at the Academy of Art.

“In many respects, I feel safe behind my husband’s back,” says Dalia.

“Like many men, he understands better technical matters, chemical reactions and materials, and maintaining kilns. I don’t have to bother about these ‘male’ things.”

She knows that if a technical issue arises, she can get expert advice and physical assistance from her husband any time.

Dalia does only what she wants, what she is concerned about at the moment. She doesn’t like commissions.

“I never know if people will like it, if what I’ve made is what they expected, if they will not be disappointed by what I’ve made. This is restricting.

“I prefer to be free in this respect as well. Anyone who wants to acquire a work can choose from those I have already made.”

She parts with her work quite happily, although she works slowly and with pleasure.

She does not make multiple copies of her works. The creative cycle goes round in a circle, and she returns to a theme that she has not touched for some time. China plates, cups, real objects or pieces of them, and wall plates, are all united by the over-glaze technique and the use of decals.

Nobody would doubt that she prefers old art. Numerous scenes from the Old Masters can be seen in her works, and especially portraits of women.

“Am I trying to draw attention to the woman? I do not expound social or feminist ideas. I find the image of the woman-bird very beautiful, and I exploit it a lot.

“My women have many meanings. They brim with secrets and can be understood differently. In them, everyone can find what they want, what is interesting and topical to them. I only stir up the fantasy.”

On the best of times and resurrected objects

What can be better for an artist than time without any interruptions, which can be devoted to creative work? That is how Dalia describes symposia.

Almost every year she goes to creative camps. In Latvia, 11 years ago, at a Baltic symposium of porcelain decoration, she discovered for herself the over-glazing technique of decorating with decals. When they go to the porcelain symposia in the town of Dubi in the Czech Republic, at the Royal Dux Bohemia factory, she and her husband bring back intricate cups. As in an exhibition hall, clusters of these cups rest quietly on the shelves in the artists’ sitting room.

Other symposia provide a chance to work with different materials, stone mass, for example. Or to enjoy an ancient Japanese technique, noriage, when clay is dyed different colours with oxides, then layered, and after that cut into stripes.

But most of all, Dalia likes working with real objects which have outlived their days and become rubbish. She enjoys making plaster casts of them, then pressing or pouring clay or porcelain into the casts, and thus replicating the form and imparting the object with a new life. That is how a Social Realism-style female torso, parts from various incomprehensible mechanisms, or plumbing joints find their way into her work.

After the biscuit is baked and fired with glazing, it is decorated by drawing, painting and with decals. Then the pipes glitter like gold, and are covered in intricate lace, like rose petals that flow out of taps, while episodes from life in paradise are shown on a little light bulb.

Having for many years worked with industrially produced decals, Dalia knows by heart almost all the catalogues of the companies in the business all over the world. However, a few years ago she started making decals herself.

She had to “reinvent” the technique invented by American artists, to find out the optimal temperature and conditions for firing particular paints, and many other subtleties. And now any scanned image, a photograph of the sky made by her father, a piece of rough fabric from an old tablecloth, a tiny teaspoon from the family’s old set, or a fly sleeping inside a window in winter, can turn into a decal.

It only needs to be printed out in ferrous paint by a laser printer on special paper. By firing it at a very precise temperature, the brownish pink image remains stuck on the ceramic glazing.

“Working with over-glaze goes back a long way, and I am very happy to do the same as artists did hundreds of years ago,” says Dalia. “Combining laser decals with ceramic techniques that are a thousand years old makes me feel like an innovator.

“I don’t know whether it is good or bad that the computer is entering such a traditional field as ceramics. But I do think it is a continuous process. Maybe what I am doing now will be of some use to the next generation of ceramic artists.”

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