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Stories in ceramics: In conversation with Daumante Stirbyte

Daumante Stirbyte in her studio
11 months ago

Born and raised in Lithuania, Daumante (Dauma) Stirbyte creates strange and endearing works that convey a sense of curiosity and wonder. From 2017 – 2020, Stirbyte was the International Artist in Residence at the London Clay Art Centre in London, Ontario, where she continues to live and work. Dauma holds a BDes (Hons) in Craft Design from Dublin’s National College of Art and Design, and her work was awarded Best in Show at FUSION’s 2018 Emerging Artist Exhibition in Waterloo. Dauma’s work is currently featured in the Gardiner Shop exhibition Some Place Else. We talked with her to learn more about her journey into the world of ceramics.

When did you first become interested in art? Have you always focused on ceramics?

I was always a creative and sensitive kid. I used to draw more back then, because it was the most accessible and affordable thing I could do. I come from an underprivileged background, and there were many things we couldn’t afford. We had to be resourceful, so we always found creative solutions and an alternative way of doing things.

Ceramics was never even an option growing up. Art classes weren’t great either—they were structured in ways that didn’t allow for much outside-the-box thinking. I did play piano for years growing up and music is still a huge part of my life. I always have music playing while I work.

So when did you discover clay?

I went to NCAD in Dublin, and things were structured in a way that allowed me to choose various crafts and try out different departments before settling on one thing. The idea of storytelling and creating a character has always appealed to me, so I went in thinking that I wanted to focus on graphic design. Ceramics happened to be one of the electives I chose and I lost myself in it like nothing before. The tactile aspect of it really drew me in, and I found that I could bring my ideas into the 3D world, which felt amazing!

I realized how much more connected I felt with clay than to a piece of paper or having to design things in a digital world. So when it came to making my choice at the end of the year, this was a no-brainer.

Ceramic beetle on a mirrored dish

You have a unique and quirky style. Where do you draw inspiration from?

Ah, so many different things! Inspiration can come from the most mundane day-to-day things. Growing up, I hid in books about ghosts, aliens, and mythical creatures. I hid in video games, in music, and in quiet and lonely places. Running away to imaginary worlds felt safe and comforting, and I do the same now with my ceramic work.

I used to spend my summers at my grandparents’ farm, surrounded by all kinds of plants and animals, so I often draw inspiration from nature. In the narrative work that I created for my show Some Place Else, I wanted to add specific elements that had meaning to me. Elements that were deeply personal and also sort of secret, as no one else would understand their significance, so I used various details and snippets from my childhood photos. I admire a wide variety of work from artists who work in all kinds of mediums, so that is a source of inspiration too.

Talk us through your process, from inspiration to building.

Day to day, I take little notes and jot down sentences that pop into my head. Sometimes they happen to be phrases from a song or just a couple of words that make me feel something. Nothing starts as a clear, solid idea for me. I try to capture fleeting light bulb moments, so I use my phone or sticky notes to write things down. I then sit down with my notebook and transfer things onto paper. I draw, elaborate, and plan out ideas that I think might be exciting to make.

Sometimes I’ll have a fully realized plan of what I’m going to make, and sometimes things start to change as I begin to build. I’ll switch between making and planning in my notebook in a way that feels helpful and natural. The actual building process consists of coiling, slabs, pinching, or building solid and hollowing out. Everything is then fired to Cone 6. I often do multiple firings to build layers and achieve the desired surfaces.

Ceramic alien pulling a berry on a string

Your work brings 2D storybook-like characters to life. How do you achieve that aesthetic? And how would you describe your signature style?

I like using bold contrasting colours, and rich, vibrant surfaces. I think my work is quite illustrative and stylized, like a cartoon or illustration that’s come to life. My process is quite detail-oriented, and I choose to create 3D work rather than drawing on clay because I enjoy creating objects. I enjoy the space they take up. They become real, they exist in the same dimension as us—alongside us.

What’s next for you? Are there any exciting projects or goals in the pipeline?

I am continuing with the creation of narrative work, and I have a couple of exhibitions this autumn in Ottawa and Waterloo. These exhibitions are in the early stages of planning, so sign up for my newsletter to find out more.

Find ceramics by Dauma Stirbyte at the Gardiner Shop, on site and online.

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