There are some souls you haven't met yet somehow you feel connected to. For this new journal feature, I have the pleasure of sharing a bit more about Niela Lis, an artist, photographer, and art director based in Warsaw, Poland. I hope you will find Niela’s work as beautifully minimalist and poetic as I do.
Can you tell us a little about your background and journey?
Having harboured a passion for art since childhood, I naturally found myself working within creative fields. I initially wanted to be a published author when I grew up, but my love for different mediums led me to film. After graduation I found myself assisting on a full-scale film set; it felt surreal - it was the middle of the second lockdown and I found myself in this brimming, intense environment. Utterly fascinated, I couldn’t wait to be back on set - the dynamic and atmosphere were spellbound. As much as I loved the collaborative aspect of working on a full-feature film, the pace and overstimulated environment were exhausting long term. I needed more silence, freedom and independence. I work as a freelance photographer and art director, looking for my own rhythm.
What does a working day look like for you? Do you have any rituals? How do you structure your day/week?
I usually wake up naturally without an alarm with the gentle light pouring through my thin linen curtains. I work mostly in the evenings as I cherish my slow mornings. I enjoy slowly-sipped green tea and sitting in the sun. Silence brings a lot of comfort to me.
As for rituals, I try to read a couple of pages of a book (I usually read multiple books at a time) before I leave for my morning classes or alternatively transform my home into a studio and turn my focus towards an ongoing project. I try to incorporate senses into my daily life - it could be as simple as lighting an incense stick. Of all the senses, the sense of smell is the most fleeting and subtle, yet also holds a prominent power. Emotion, memory and scent are interconnected within a limbic system; even a subtle sensory experience linked with our emotions leaves a mysterious trail and holds the power to conjure a rush of memories often long past (or seemingly forgotten).
What’s your favourite scent?
I find comfort within velvety, smoky, woody scents with spicy undertones. Kodo – The Way Of Incense is considered as one of the three traditional Japanese arts of refinement, along with Sado for the tea ceremony and Kado for the Ikebana flower arrangement. I find it so interesting that it's not phrased as smelling in Japanese, but rather ‘listening’ to incense or fragrant wood, refining your mind, and harmonising with your surroundings through the senses.
Where do you get inspiration from?
I am inspired by anything that has that ability to touch the deeper, core part of myself. I’ve found that whenever I’m moved by a work of art it's because an artist expresses a very richly nuanced, unique and personal vision.
I have recently grown more and more fascinated with architecture. I am trying to learn a lot more about it and analyse how I could carry the dialogue of space and light into my own visual works. Design is not only a visual thing - it is a thought process, a skill, the question of essence and deliberate choices to leave only the necessary without stripping off the poetry.
What do you enjoy most during your photography process?
I love every step of the way. I tend to lose myself in shooting on set, especially when I’m working alone. I also enjoy the post-production process as that’s where the images obtain their unique flavour and atmosphere which I strive to achieve.
Where is your favourite place to shoot?
Open and vast spaces at dusk. I love working with increasing levels of light. Empty landscapes with an eerie quality to them. One of my biggest dreams is to travel through Northern Europe. I wish to photograph the Glaciers of Svalbard, volcanic landscapes of Iceland… There is something about these spaces that entices me. The area carries a specific light, which falls in ways unlike anywhere else.
Any favourite books, artists, words you would like to share with us?
As of recently, I find myself really influenced by listening to the artists talking about their journeys, internal struggles and inspirations. When I’m really fond of an artist, the first thing I research is what influenced and shaped their vision and what references and inspirations fuel their work. Surprisingly, it's almost never the field they’re presently working in.
I love listening to podcasts whenever I'm in transit - it's my little ritual. I recommend Dior Talks on Spotify — especially the interview with Julia Hetta and Viviane Sassen, one of my favourite modern day fashion photographers. Recently I read and was deeply moved by the Biography of Joan Didion. I also love watching all sorts of documentaries. The first that came to mind were Chaos and Creation, Notebook on Cities and Clothes and Salt of the Earth.
How do you reconnect with yourself or your practice when life gets too full or overwhelming?
I seek chaos of unrestrained expression. Intuitive movement or free style dance. Ania Catherine, a performance artist I adore, once said “movement is my mother language - it's yours too”. It truly is comforting. I realised dance and movement create a space where you can engage with your emotions in a really profound way. The human body stores emotions, and movement helps to free it.
Otherwise I grab a brush, I dip it in black, velvet liquor and let it dance on paper. What I love about calligraphy is that what is done cannot be reversed. You empty your mind, as too much thinking can be disruptive for honest expression to emerge. The spontaneous, unrestrained moments of improvisation are freeing. This feeling is then translated to other areas of my life and I feel a lot calmer. With ink works nothing can be reversed, everything is perfectly where it's supposed to be — because the only purpose of creating was not to impress, but to express. It's a perfect record of the moment and the emotions that passed.
Any advice for fellow artists?
Trust that your love for what you are creating will connect you with the right people and the right moments to take you further.