On the Couch with Ilona Topolcsanyi

Cone-11-Ilona-Topolcsanyi-with-Colin-Hopkins-photo-by-Kristoffer-PaulsenWho is Ilona Topolcsanyi?
A maker and problem solver. The title artist doesn’t sit well even though we create artworks. I approach creativity from a problem-solving point of view, so I’m more of a potter/problem solver.

What would you do differently from what you do now?
If I couldn’t be a potter, I’d probably become a jeweler. It has the same hands-on approach but the preciousness of the material I am really attracted to, and the smalless. I love the compactness of being a jeweler. The fine details.

Who inspires you and why?
On a local level, the former Abbotsford Convent, CEO Maggie McGuire, who did amazing things at the Convent forging a path for artists, especially women. In general, I’m inspired by strong female leaders, for example, Patricia O’Donnell and her sister, Mietta who founded Mietta’s Restaurant. Both were very strong and amazing women in hospitality. These leaders and entrepreneurs have left such a legacy.

What would you do to make a difference in the world?
In 2008 we launched The Good Plate, a collaboration between Bendigo Pottery and our studio making tableware. We donate funds to organisations who help people through food. At the moment, we work with Scarf, who train refugees in hospitality skills to help with find work. That project has raised $20,000 so far. We’re always looking for ways to give back to the community and we’re expanding our Abbotsford studio to increase traineeships in ceramics, as well as mentoring so we can pass on what we have been taught.

At the heart, The Good Plate is about bring people together, whether by celebrating the everyday ritual of dining, or by giving a portion of our profits to causes that foster inclusion through food – it’s important to us that everyone has a seat at the table.

Favourite holiday destination and why?
Colin and I have a tradition of weird island holidays, like Norfolk, French and King Island. I like the fact that the islands’ isolation make the people more resourceful. It’s less touristy, and not so luxurious but still really amazing and interesting places to go. The fact they are less developed I find people who live there are very respectful of each other, and there are more small family businesses to support.

When friends come to town, what attraction would you take them to, and why?
The NGV always. It’s such an amazing building, the permanent collections are fantastic and the exhibitions are so wonderful. We drag our nieces and nephews all the time.

What are you currently reading?
Currently, the third book in a series, although I haven’t read the first two – The Time We Have Taken by Steven Carroll. Really enjoying this book, it’s a little poetic and explores the interconnectedness of everyday people.

What are you currently listening to?
I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts in the studio, ones that follow true stories in particular such as BBC Sounds podcast, Americast – which is the BBC News take on current US politics. It’s quite balanced. The Lazarist Heist, about North Korean hacking following the shady world of bank heists and hacking. And finally, I’m Not A Monster, about three young British teenagers who went to Syria and were sold off as brides, ending up in the Caliphate.

Happiness is?
Family. My sister has just been diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer. I’ve been sitting and drinking tea with her in hospital, and we have been really getting to know each other better. I’m happiest when surrounded by my family. It’s part of the story of why I make functional work – we always had big family events and my grandmother always brought out her best china, so you knew it was special.

What does the future hold for you?
Grow The Good Plate range and reach into the homes and restaurant around Australia. Since the pandemic, our desire for more locally made craft has increased and there is a need for distinctly Australian tableware cast by practiced hands of local potters, from locally source clay and fired to stoneware temperatures – crafted pieces that have integrity and design.

Australia has a unique culinary melting pot, and we want to recognise and respond to that. In short, we want to connect and support Australian communities (hospitality, craft people, artists, refugees and asylum seekers, youth looking for work and training) by crafting high quality, locally sourced, designed and made tableware. Really excited by the potential for all that.

Ilona is the founder (with Colin Hopkins) of Cone 11 Ceramics – who will present Gather, a ceramic exhibition and workshop series at the Abbotsford Convent: 31 August – 17 September 2023. For more information, visit: www.abbotsfordconvent.com.au for details.

Image: Ilona Topolcsanyi with Colin Hopkins – photo by Kristoffer Paulsen