Having moved from the rigid world of tattoo art, Polish artist Izabella Wolf aka Devils Claws found her freedom in illustration and ceramic painting. Her works carry an air of mythical alchemism in a tribute to animism, her ancestors, and the wise women hunted both in the past and today. Let this feature spellbind you through Izabella’s creations and insightful commentary.

How would you describe your creative process in the sense of storytelling, or emotional emphasis on the viewer?

I think my process has changed with time, as for a few years in my life I had to compromise, making artistic work purely through the strict process of tattooing, founding and running a tattoo shop. Even though it was/is amazing to do, I felt that it was eating away at my soul in some way – the process of tattooing has many rigid rules and is designed to eventually create something for someone, to be worn forever. This leads to a lot of pressure and means that the contour must be as good as possible; you can only experiment with very specific things, others are forbidden, and I often have to find a compromise for the final idea with the client, which is fair enough. So, a few years ago I decided this would no longer be my path, at least not the main one, and started a process of somehow getting to know myself again. It’s very strange. At first, I was aiming for something ‘perfect’, although I did not know what it meant and what it should be; I was destroying paintings and drawings and felt uneasy about breaking the rules of tattooing. Making ceramics helped me a lot. I started doing them almost five years ago, and my main idea was to paint on them, not necessarily creating my own forms. That process gave me so much freedom to open up because I literally had to give up on any rules I had after tattooing for so many years. For me the process is like a trance, a meditation, something I look forward to. I think it is very emotional, and sometimes I draw things unconsciously and then after time, I’m like “ouch, this was not so meaningless”, and the narratives unfold in front of me. I have noticed that I am often drawn to some motives which I had explored – I watch movies, read about them and then transfer some ideas I gathered onto paper or ceramics. I think the narratives build themselves naturally – I cannot force it as that always ends up badly. 

In your work, you often depict various devilish women, animals, floral motives or rituals and practices. Why is it so important for you to depict these things at this time?

These motives were always very close to my heart. Since I was a little girl I was drawn to heroines, ecology, and contact with other beings. Funnily enough I noticed that in pictures of myself from my childhood, whenever I am with other kids holding baby dolls I never hold a doll, but a teddy bear, dinosaur, doggy toy or other animal – something creature-like rather than human. I was also always a rebellious child – I don’t know where it comes from, but I literally felt rage when I was learning about the history of witch burnings, the cruelty of mankind in general. It never left me. I come from a city called Lublin – it is an old town in the east of Poland, where one of the main concentration camps used to be. The view of the concentration camp was normal for me as it is next to the cemetery where my grandfather lies. I think it haunts me. So I feel that in my work I somehow try to create a memory of ancestors who died long ago, the women who were murdered for their wisdom (and still are being murdered in many parts of the world). I feel like these creatures, demons, goddesses are archetypes to me, my life guides. Like I said before, I have always been very connected to animals and plants and hypersensitive to their suffering. So I guess sometimes my work is an apology to the world. 

Your ceramic paintings have an aesthetic not unlike of tarot cards. Are they connected to any mythological or fairytale stories? If yes, can you tell us more?

I am actually very interested in tarot. And as I mentioned before, I feel that I often use archetypes in my work and symbols which are taken from tarot, alchemy, and various religions. I am interested in mythologies from all over the world, but I like to randomly combine them, as they are all so universal, no matter where they are from. There are symbols like ritual stones, there is the Sun and the Moon – you see them every day, every night throughout your whole life; this is the only unchangeble thing, yet obviously, the moon seemingly changes its shape, and there are a lot of things happening on the Sun’s surface. But you know, in general. So I take religions with a pinch of salt – they are myths, legends, very beautiful, interesting, archetypal, universal, but at the end of the day they are stories. And it’s up to the individual how deeply they get involved with them, how much they want to believe. For me it is enough to see the moon and the sun and I already feel the power, the energy, the truth. And I see that in tarot, and that is the reason I go back to it every now and again. For me tarot is a path of life in pictures. It is a bit like therapy, it’s not about the future – reading, but about asking yourself questions. It is very dificult, but once I focus on this I always feel relief. And you can find it in my work, some questions or things I explore within myself at the moment perhaps.

In terms of technique, you use a wide range of media. How do you pick the right one for each idea?

These days I just go crazy and experiment, like I mentioned earlier; I feel like I have completely abandoned the idea of the contour. I now play around with different media to find my favourite means of expression, to find the perfect medium for soft fur or colour blending. I am currently trying to discover the stain, the textures, the colour, the light. 

Are the characters you portray based purely on your imagination, or are there any narrative-based characters (perhaps from your daily life that you change into the devilish females or creatures you portray)?

The characters are based on my imagination and my animals – I have three dogs, two cats and six goats, so they often appear in my work. I sometimes also imagine how one of the animals would look like as a human, and this is the outcome. But yes, these creatures and characters are certainly also merged with the stories I mentioned above. Sometimes I’ll read a book or listen to music and what I do will be heavily influenced by my impression of what I’ve read or heard.

Which artist inspires you at the moment? Are there any interesting creators or ceramic studios we should follow?

So many… My favourite ceramic makers from Poland are the Fenek studio. My other favourite Polish artists who also work with clay are Aleksandra Liput and Paweł Olszczyński, and Wojciech Ireneusz Sobczyk. I must say that I am so overwhelmed by the amazing art in my country right now that I will narrow it down just to Polish artists who deserve a lot more attention. I love graphics by Alicja @sorrowschild, paintings by Kuba Glinski and Nikita Krzyzanowska, I loooove anything by Aleksandra Waliszewska, along with old Polish illustrations, but the present ones are also top level shit. Julita Gozdzik, Emilia Jechna, Zbiok, Jan Porczynska, Julia Kowalska, Mila Aller, Stachu Szumski… Okay, that’s enough, but I could go on and on and on.

Our current theme is “Full of Desire”. So, I’d like to ask you what your dream goal is, or what do you desire for yourself as an artist right now, and what would be the ultimate achievement for you?

My dream goal is to have a loving and supportive audience – without that I would not be able to create and live. My dream goal is to have a big party and exhibition with music and food and not sad white walls. My ultimate success would be to carry on, develop my techniques and style, never compromise, be loved and give love, surround myself with a beautiful garden from which I can eat, surround myself with loving creatures, and create a space where my friends can come to feel good and do stuff with me. This represents fullfillment for me – a dream goal is to have financial stability by doing what I do, but also to always have time for and with my friends for simple pleasures.

And as the last question, are you currently preparing any new exhibition or project we can look forward to?

I am involved in lots of exciting projects at the moment. The first one is my participation in Easterndaze by Radio Cashmere – this is a 24-hour-long radio show broadcasting independent radios from the world’s so-called East, together with Edka Jarzab, Hanna Grzeskiewiwcz and Julian Rieken. As the team of Warsaw’s Radio Kapital we created a 1.5 hour long podcast called “Spells” – it includes voices of solidarity from India, Ukraine, Poland, Iran and Armenia, Polish and Ukrainian music, and a future manifesto. It is constructed as a bewitching spell narration; I must say I am proud that it sounds so beautiful, and the meaning is powerful.

Another project is my collaboration with Galeria Promocyjna, Warsaw. I was chosen from Ukrainian and Polish artists to participate in the “Dear Future” project, which will be shown in the streets of Poland.

This December my works will be held in two galleries: Prześwit (thanks to Nanazenit) and Marszałkowska 18, where you can buy my original works.

I will also take part in the GIT market, at my favourite v9 gallery, who are the best in screen print and lots of other exciting things – I think these guys are doing the best shit in Poland – they somehow gather the coolest kids who do the most innovative, crazy music and art projects. So I’m excited to be a part of their market.

And lastly, I am doing the artworks for a wonderful Polish association called Słuszna Strawa – they work with refugees and immigrants in Poland.

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Izabella Dawid Wolf has always been a forest person, very much into mosses, mushroom picking, flowers, animals, and connecting with them. She spent some years of her life in London – studying, working her ass off and partying, and that London time definitely shaped her somehow, but also helped her to realise what she needed – and that was to be closer to forests and mosses. So after some years when she moved back to Poland, she decided to move to a Polish village where she currently lives with her dogs, cats and goats and random stray animals. In her work, she explores the boundaries between craftsmanship (ceramics, textiles) and art, and with time she feels like she’s come full circle with her search, now reexploring the subjects which always fascinated her the most: the environment, other creatures and her relationship with them.


Artworks / Izabella Wolf (Devils Claws) @devilsclaws

Interview / Markéta Kosinová

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