A scorching summer morning. We joined Maria Oblicka – an artist, designer, and the creator of the Łyko label – on a stroll through her favorite parts of Warsaw.
Cape Town, the south of France, Barcelona. Do the places where you lived over the past few years have any common denominators?
I’ve always been in search of a city that would be like me in some way – valuing a laid-back way of life and creativity. Yet each of those places attracted me for different reasons and at different moments in my life. I went to Cape Town after I finished my BA in Design. I also had an internship at a small label, designing wooden furniture. I spent the day sanding linden wood glulam, and after work I went to the beach, or to a bar called Power & the Glory, where I met most of my friends. Cape Town is a city full of creatives, artists, photographers, designers, and art directors, and it has a great sense of aesthetics. One other aspect was crucial to me – the city has incredible light, which is very inspiring for artists. The quality of the contemporary painting there is very high. This was where I first came up with the idea of sewing a linen kimono, which continues to be a popular item in the Łyko catalogue.
Meanwhile, I met a curator, Amy Bogen, who invited me to contribute to organizing exhibitions at her SMITH gallery. I felt right at home, in the very heart of the city’s creative scene, while keeping a good balance between professional and private life. Cape Town neighbors some of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen – the Cape of Good Hope, Simons Town, Cederberg. Of course, one reason why I went to Cape Town was because I wanted to become a surfer, a pursuit I’ve tried to continue in the south of France, near Biarritz.
None of this changes the fact that this place has had a rough history that makes it full of sociopolitical clashes, which is quite tangible, despite the beauty of the place.
I had been drawn to Barcelona for quite a while, mainly for the quality of the visual culture and the uncompromising attitude I see in the artists who live there. I know it might not be the most original, but I’m a great fan of Apartamento magazine, published by a studio in Barcelona. Moreover, I’m always keeping tabs on what Paloma Wool is up to; they inspired me when I was creating Łyko. The city itself has a pulse but it lets you relax, it is quite diverse in terms of the architecture and people, and after work you can hit the beach or head for a bar to eat some olives. My boyfriend is from Barcelona, he’s shown me the authentic local side of the town. Although I’ve been coming here for three years, I feel like my adventure with it is only beginning. I’ve led a nomadic way of life, depending on my designs, commissions, and relationships, and now I feel the need to settle down.
And how has Warsaw shaped you? What places and events had an effect on your creative process?t2
My relationship with this city has evolved over the years, but I’d say it has always been somewhere between loving it and struggling to love it. Sometimes I just felt I didn’t fit the web of places and communities I was a part of. I was born in Międzylesie and spent most of my time in the forest or garden. Warsaw had a major impact on my sense of security in the world, my connection to nature, and my ease in making contact with people (Międzylesie has a small-town vibe, everyone knows you, or at least recognizes your face). When I had to go downtown, I was gripped by anxiety, and when I came back I was always very tired. In Międzylesie I could catch my breath, recharge my batteries.
In high school, I spent most of my time after class taking drawing and composition classes at Atelier Foksal, at cinemas, in museums, at Plan Be or Nowy Wspaniały Świat. All those places fostered artistic aspirations in me. Getting into the arts academy set me on my path, and to this day that’s where I most feel like myself. The studio atmosphere completely soothes me, I feel best amid the wood finishing machines, materials, easels, and analogue cameras, or at Leroy Merlin. After graduating, I moved to Powiśle, where I lived around five years, on and off. At that same time, Helena and I started talking about founding our own label, and slowly worked toward that goal. My whole creative vision for Łyko was born at a time when I was living in Warsaw’s Solec district. That place had a major impact on my mental development, and on all the projects I took up at the time.
At that time, my friends and I set up the Krzak Cooperative gardening collective, with its headquarters on Jazdów Street. From then on, we spent just about evening evening and weekend together – weeding the soil, planting seeds, organizing exhibitions and concerts, garage parties or workshops. We began collecting people who had similar priorities and interests. That really was a beautiful time, I have a lot of affection for that place and for the things we made.
You’re tight with your family, with whom you spent a lot of free and creative time; you work in Łyko with your sister. What’s your role in that set-up?
Here I really lucked out. I have a big family and every one of them has a big heart and an intelligent soul. Family relationships are very important to me. Helena and I have always been very close, no one understands me like she does, she’s always given me the best advice when I hit hard times, we have a similar sense of humor. Our childhood was full of fun, quarrelling, and laughter. When we started putting together our own label, I was quite lost and uncertain. I think Helena was more ready and organized than I was. In my creative process, a large part was played by spontaneity and a YOLO philosophy.
Over time, Łyko began growing and becoming more recognizable, which meant we slowly learned to separate professional and private spheres and our roles and division of responsibilities in the company. It wasn’t easy, neither for me, nor for Helena. Ultimately we reached the conclusion that it was best to work together as little as possible. I took care of the design, trips to the sewing room, organizing sessions, photography, and the whole product creation process, from the idea to the photograph. Right now, owing to my travels and my art projects, I’m more doing photo sessions, consulting, or more recently, rebranding and creating a new visual identity.
You graduated from the Sculpture Faculty of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. You feel at home in various forms, including photography, radio plays, and directing. Lately you’ve been working with your voice. Could you say something more about that story?
As far back as I recall I’ve had lots and lots of talents and even more ideas. I’ve always been attracted to painting, drawing, sculpting, sewing, design, experimenting with materials, making films, writing, photography, singing – basically anything that’s creative. That might sound like a positive thing, but for me it’s been problematic. It’s like spreading yourself too thin, you’ve got one foot in everything and in nothing all at once. I looked for a discipline which would let me combine several means of expression. Studying sculpture let me integrate many techniques and interests into an installation, video art, or writing. I did my diploma project at the Spatial Works Studio with Professor Romuald Woźniak, who had an inestimable influence on my artistic development. The main part of my graduation project was a book, a two-part drama and an appendix in the carpentry workshop.
I turned thirty in December, I feel like I need to work more intentionally. I’m still looking for the common denominator for all my passions, one of which is certainly the voice, expression, speaking, listening, singing, telling stories, cultivating my own aesthetic, finding my own path. I’ve always toyed with the idea of putting out my own record. I’ve been singing ever since I remember, it’s an integral part of my artistic practice.
What are you working on now?
As always, a couple of things all at once. My boyfriend and I spent the first half of the year on La Gomera island, making a documentary film about the local society, caves, and the Silbo whistling language. Right after that I had a collective exhibition in Gorlitz. I’ve been working for over a year on putting out a collection of linen underwear, which I’m sewing myself from Łyko production scraps. Apart from that, I’m beginning work on my first solo exhibition. I’m also working on some outside graphic design and photo/video commissions. Meanwhile, I’m slowly moving to Barcelona, where I hope new professional opportunities await me.
Interviewer: Paulina Serwatka
Photographer: Piotr Czyż