One of the very first artisans to collaborate with Casa Cabana, Zsuzsanna Nyul shares images from her beautiful studio in Hungary's Lake Balaton, and reflects on the evolution of her practice and the joy of collaboration.
BY SARA PIERDONÀ | ART & CULTURE | 5 FEBRUARY 2024
Zsuzsanna Nyul's studio in Hungary © Zsuzsanna Nyul
Since launching Casa Cabana in 2018, Cabana has collaborated with talented artists and craftspeople around the world, each sharing their unique skills to produce works designed by, or in collaboration with, Cabana. One of the most meaningful of these collaborations is surely with Hungarian artist, Zsuzsanna Nyul, who - first discovered by Editor-in-Chief, Martina Mondadori - has been working with Casa Cabana since its earliest days, and the launch of her own ceramics studio.
"It was a magical, talent scout moment," Martina recalls. "Cabana's homewares [were just] beginning and the first collection of plates we produced with Zsuzsanna, which we called Tribal and Floral, looked like something completely new."
Zsuzsanna's Fleur plates for Casa Cabana © Zsuzsanna Nyul
Zsuzsanna remembers the thrill of receiving Martina's first message, an unexpected surprise from a successful magazine editor who was nonetheless a stranger proposing to meet. "At the time, my husband and I were still living in England, in a small village in the Cotswolds with a fantastic view of the rolling hills. When I heard Martina was coming to visit, we turned the house upside down. I had a patterned roller, the first example of what was to become a collection, and I used it on the walls of the entrance hall and even around the fireplace."
When the pair met, they quickly found a common language and opportunities to collaborate, bonding over their shared love of ceramics and textiles. "Martina asked if I could produce some plates for Cabana as they were considering launching a tableware collection as a new [direction for the brand]. That was the beginning, but then we shared many other creative ideas: for example, our Damask plates are directly inspired by Ashley Hicks' frescoes at Martina's house in Milan."
Despite the success Zsuzsanna has enjoyed since launching her ceramics studio, the Hungarian-born artist's career path was not always clear. She first came to England to study Fine Art at Oxford, and work as an artist, an apprenticeship she remembers as, "a time of absolute freedom: I was making videos, taking photographs, making paintings and sculptures." Some of these were purchased by the late Michael Stanley, director of Modern Art Oxford, and her focus soon shifted to clay sculptures. It was some time before Zsuzsanna began creating plates.
"When I was in England, my works often had themes such as identity, the sense of belonging, the questioning of space. I used art to question my roots...in fact, homesickness was always around the corner." After 15 years living in England, Zsuzsanna returned to Hungary to raise her son close to his grandparents. The family live "in a small personal paradise we created for ourselves in the Lake Balaton area”: a popular summer destination, just 90 minutes from Budapest.
A corner of Zsuzsanna's textile-filled studio © Zsuzsanna Nyul
Their historic house, a showcase of Hungarian vernacular architecture, serves as a workshop for both Zsuzsanna and her husband, a carpenter. Scattered across the studio are hundreds of paint-stained rollers, serving as both decorative objects and authentic working tools. "The first one was a gift from my father," Zsuzsanna says.
"I hunted down the others, as I am an avid collector. They are beautiful, and versatile. I use them to paint walls, fabrics, ceramics, anything. The stamp they leave has something very textural and delicate at the same time, which enchants me."
Handicrafts are a complex affair in Hungary, a glorious tradition with refined and specific local variations. Hungarians, both individually and within family histories, possess great knowledge and awareness of their rich cultural heritage. Zsuzsanna, for example, was first inspired to create by her family's hollóházi porcelán.
Zsuzsanna's studio © Zsuzsanna Nyul
Sadly, communism swept away many of Hungary's cultural traditions; production ceased and many heritage crafts were lost. Today, if you want to buy embroidery or hand-painted ceramics, you have to get in touch with old ladies who live in remote villages and still keep a few dusty trunks in the attic, full of treasures.
Zsuzsanna's dream? "Now my studio is next to my house, the feeling of 'being with the family' is beautiful. However, I have started to accept that I will soon have to expand, and so I would like a studio that is open to visitors all year round, perhaps with a small shop set up in a corner. Who knows, maybe I'll manage it in time for next summer”.
Artist Zsuzsanna Nyul, photographed at her studio in Hungary's Lake Balaton