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Lisa Larson World Exclusive Interview for Fishinkblog

October 16, 2017

Welcome to all of my visitors and whether you are a regular reader or a new visitor, I have a very exclusive treat for you today as I have managed to secure an interview with the wonderfully talented, Swedish Ceramist, Lisa Larson! I can hardly believe it happened myself and I’m still rather smiley as a result lol

Through a chance email, I received a reply from Lisa’s daughter Johanna. She just happened to be visiting her mum that week and very kindly offered to ask Lisa the questions I had mentally prepared (never thinking for a moment that I would actually get to ask them). The following post is a culmination of a few months work, ordering books and magazines and then the wonderful surprise of the interview itself… enjoy!

My first question went to Lisa’s daughter Johanna.

What was it like growing up with Lisa’s creativity around you.. I see that you have a graphics background yourself, do you think your mum’s encouragement has given you a love of the arts too ?

I grew up in a very creative home with two big artist studios connected to the house, and I also went along to the factory sometimes. I basically spent most of my time in a studio since I was a baby. I played with ceramic tools, or clay, or in the sandpit they used for casting. I was encouraged to draw and paint and knit and sew, my mum taught me how to throw clay. I went to art school but ended up specialising in Graphic Design and Illustration.

Here’s a fab selfie shot (below) of Lisa and Johanna.

Now my questions are directed to Lisa….

What are your first memories of art and drawing… were your parents creative and did they encourage your own creativity when you were younger ?

My father collected art and antiques and was a creative person. (My mother had died when I was two.) He encouraged me. He owned a sawmill and I could use the waste bits of wood to carve figures. I used to bicycle around and paint the farms around the area too, and sometimes sell the paintings to the owners, as was popular in rural Sweden. My father once gave me a load of blue clay and I made a life size portrait of the boy next door in our garden!  Another neighbour (perhaps the boy’s father?) was an art teacher and was the person that advised me to apply to the art college in Gothenburg.

Was it unusual for a woman to be a designer in Sweden, some fifty years ago ?
My sister and I both wanted to be fashion designers and made all our own clothes. She did succeed (Titti Wrange, Annamodeller)…

and I ended up being placed in the ceramics department in art school, and loved the material from day one.

I saw a great video of a gentleman on the potter’s wheel and you reforming one of the pots he had thrown into a female figure, and later into a family pot etc. Growing up (and perhaps today) who helped in your own creative journey and who’s work do you admire who may or may not have been an influence on your work ?

The ceramicist and thrower in the video is Richard Manz who was my assistant at Gustavsberg. He was a very skilled technician. Else-Kulle Petersson and Kurt Ekholm were my teachers at Slöjdskolan in Gothenburg. I was also influenced by my husband Gunnar Larson and his artist classmates, teachers and colleagues. Stig Lindberg was my mentor at Gustavsberg. He had hired me and became a very good friend and colleague. (more about Stig here.)

What was it like working alongside Stig, (another hero of mine) and was it his free thinking style and humourous work, that allowed and perhaps encouraged your own style to develop and be appreciated ?

Yes, Stig had a lot of humour and we were all influenced by each other at the factory. He was very encouraging to us new students. We were free to experiment and he would visit the studio every week and discuss our work, and sometimes pick something for production, like the cat he thought was suitable. He asked me for more animals in the same style to make up a series. It became my first, Lilla Zoo.

I was frustrated for you when I read the story about you not getting paid very much for the work that you did that helped make Gustavsberg so famous. Was your transition to a freelance artist part influenced by that frustration yourself and are there any regrets about ever going it alone ?

No regrets. I had worked there for 26 years. Stig was gone, it was different times. Time to move on.

How did the collaboration with the Japanese company come about ?

I was originally contacted by a photo publishing company that wanted to do a photo project, and then they decided to produce some Lisa Larson merchandise instead (my photos probably weren’t that great!) and really wanted to launch the brand in Japan. My daughter was also enthusiastic about it and wanted to manage the brand internationally, and take care of all the new communications and new 2-D design tasks.

Below are part of the new Zodiac series due out in 2018,  planned future orders are already sold out!

Being trained as a textile designer, I think your scope for design onto fabrics has a universal appeal, I know that the Japanese company you work with has made tee shirts and tee towels in their ranges, but have you ever thought about creating furnishing and fashion fabrics for children as part of your product range. I would love to put drawings into repeat for you if it would be helpful : )

Thank you but that is my daughter’s job!  She has been inspired by my ceramic sketches and turned them into textiles, and she constructs the illustrations and the patterns for Uniqlo and other licenced clients. We have already worked with Ljungbergs Textiles and Boras Cotton in Sweden, and recently with Aswan curtains and rugs in Japan.

You can find more of the Japanese range of ceramics and kitchenware here.

Here’s one of the beautiful Japanese publications I discovered by Pie Books , great photographs.

Look at this cheeky chap awaiting some soup lol

Can you tell me a little more behind the story as to how your cat design came to be used by Baldelli and made into a moneybox ? I assume it was done with your permission ?

Not at all! It is total plagiarism! I first saw it in a shop window in San Francisco in 1966. When I asked what it was, I was told it came from a Danish importer. The shop owner said: “But, we do have a genuine Lisa Larson too”, and showed me into a back room!

Shocking to hear that blatent copying of designers work was happening mid sixties too. Some have the cheek to say it’s a compliment, but I disagree and if a company wants to compliment you on your skills and creative design, they should at least pay a royalty for using it !! Shame on you Baldelli.

I am delighted and also encouraged to hear that you are still designing and making now in your eighties… as an artist myself, I can’t imagine a time when I wouldn’t be still drawing and making new work. Do you have a list (perhaps even just in your head) of new pieces that you want to make and release to the world, as it were ?

Yes, my list is endless!

During my searching about Lisa’s work, I came across this fantastic company Scandinavian Retro who produce ‘Retro Klassiker’ magazine. Sadly it’s not available in the UK, but the very generous Editor in Chief sent me a complimentary copy and it is amazing….

132 pages just about Lisa Larson with photos of the majority of her ceramic work, what a delight. I just feel now that I need to learn Swedish or find a local Swedish friend to read all the text for me lol

The publication is excellent, concentrating on all the retro designs in textiles, fashion, ceramics, furniture etc from the mid century era. Sooo perfect for me.

I’ve read that the bulldog may be your most favourite piece that you have designed. Is that still the case and are there any designs that given the time you would perhaps do differently or work up again ?

I always try to make new and better things. I am never happy with my own work, until possibly much later on. Like when I said that the Bulldog was my favourite, was some 40 years after I made it!

Like you, I have a very quirky style of my own and often draw images of dogs and cats etc for use on fabrics and other textile surfaces. Do you think that your strong sense of humour has played a part in the style of ceramics that you produce ? Was that quirky style unusual in Sweden in the time that you were first making designs ?

Humour is important. We had a dog poster in the children’s room and I decided to interpret the funniest breeds.
I have always had my own style. I do not study other people’s style. (Other people copy me.)

I lastly want to say a vote of thanks for the joy that your work has given me. I’ve a family of three lions who sit in front of me on my desk that really make me smile daily, and for that alone, your work is truly priceless to me.

Thank you for your kind words!

If you are interested in buying Lisa’s ceramics I can recommend either using Lisa’s own online shop here or for retro and more obscure items, I’ve purchased using paypal before, from the wonderful team of Anna and Nicklas at Mother Sweden’s Lisa Larson store. Two very dedicated Swedes who also share a passion for Lisa’s (and other artists) vintage Swedish ceramics.

I want to say a huge THANK YOU to Lisa for answering my questions with such great consideration and honesty. Also to Johanna, without whom this interview wouldn’t have happened and for her lovely pictures. Lastly to Viveca Carlsson for generously sending me a copy of the wonderful Retro Klassiker.

I’ve a feeling there’s room for more of Lisa’s ceramics to come : ) Watch this space. Please share this post with your friends, leave a comment and sign up for regular Fishinkblog posts too. I hope you’ve enjoyed this interview as much as I have in making it.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. Helen permalink
    October 16, 2017 11:44 am

    Excellent post. If you need any Swedish translating give me a shout. I’ll get my bro’ to sort things for you: https://www.translatorscafe.com/cafe/member71868.htm 🙂

    • October 16, 2017 1:03 pm

      Ahh thank you Helen. How did your bird doodlings go ?

  2. October 16, 2017 12:42 pm

    Great interview and showcase of Larson’s work.

  3. Ruth Rowell permalink
    October 16, 2017 2:46 pm

    Surely fabulous article/post. Thank you! I’ll be sharing with my textile guild as a number of members have related heritage and or are arts crazy.

    • October 16, 2017 3:15 pm

      Many thanks Ruth. Glad to hear you enjoyed reading it too.

  4. Deirdre O'Sullivan from Australia permalink
    October 18, 2017 5:56 am

    I really enjoy your enthusiasm for ceramics – there’s a severe deficiency of enthusiasm in this tired old world – Vitamin E, I call it!
    I think Lisa’s passion for her art keeps her young and productive – and I am besotted by her lion – his big face is just so perfect! I do envy you having a pride of them on your desk!

    • October 18, 2017 9:52 am

      Thank you Deidre. I studied ceramics at ‘A’ Level in school so I guess my love dates back to then. Lisa’s work is difficult not to like as it’s so friendly, welcoming and as she says herself.. humorous. More humour and enthusiasm in this world would be a great thing for certain 👍🏻

  5. October 18, 2017 1:55 pm

    Fantastic interview with one of my favourite artists – her work is full of quirky humour. So inspiring Thank You

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