NeSpoon (Elżbieta Dymna) is a popular street artist from Warsaw, Poland. As a child she made ceramics and painted. Her art was influenced by the graffiti and street art of the 1950’s through recent time. She remembers specifically the bullet holes in the walls of Poland’s buildings from WWII and from the freedom fighters’ graffiti of the communist era. Since 2009, she has filled bullet holes and other scars with ceramic patches designed after historic patterns of lace in order to repair the wounds of the past: “I thought that they are rather below the surface of the skin of the building, as the skin is torn away over the time.”
Lacemaking was traditionally woman’s work. NeSpoon chooses historic lace patterns from the area in which she is working. She believes lace celebrates women and brings harmony to the space: “Lace patterns contain a basic code of the harmony, which is common for most of the people. It is a very ancient code, I think, it is older than the humanity. We can find it all around us in nature: in the shape of small sea creatures, flowers, snowflakes. The harmony and symmetry of lace patterns are biological, alive, not mathematical, machine generated.”
In 2009, she and Marcin Ruthiewicz, established the Outdoor Art Foundation, and they published an album titled Polish Outdoors, containing photographs of outdoor advertising, tagging, and political notices that were pasted on the facades of city buildings. They ruined the aesthetics of them. The album received the “Best Autumn Books 2009” award from the prestigious Raczyriski Library in Poznan, Poland. The second volume Polish Street Art (2010) received the prestigious Piero Fredry Award.
Since the beginning of her career as a street artist, Nespoon has as she stated “left several hundred ceramic objects on the streets of various cities around the globe.” The term street art originally referred to advertisements, political posters, spray paint tagging, and graffiti. However, street art became an accepted art form that has been included in officially sponsored murals and art festivals. Thirty street artists were represented at the No Limits Festival in Boras, Sweden. An advocate for street art that enhances the scene, NeSpoon states she “always considers the social and political context of the place where I work.” In order to design her project, NeSpoon consults her hosts and tries to find historic lace designs from the local area. If possible, she meets with local lace makers. “Then I look through the different patterns and designs, and when my heart starts beating faster, I know I found the right lace. I immediately know that this pattern will fit into the project and the place.”
Nespoon’s lace murals have decorated walls all over Europe since 2011. Beyond participating in street festivals, she receives numerous commissions. An independent cultural organization in Spain offered her the commission to restore eight buildings around the Plaza de San Nicola, in the town of Belorado (2019). The women of Belorado had played bolo beliforano, a local form of bowling practiced by women for hundreds of years. Getting to know the town and the people, NeSpoon discovered that many of the local lace designs were developed by the nuns at a nearby monastery. The women of the town welcomed and helped NeSpoon: “Every day, older women would come up to me as I was working, chatting about the project and their memories of the place. They’d bring me fruits and sweets and it became one of those times when I felt like I was doing something genuinely important for the local people.”
The mural project was a collaboration with artist Fernandez Regue. He painted the images of the women from historical photographs. After selecting the lace design, NeSpoon drew the design to scale and cut the stencils. It takes take about a week to create a 656 square-foot stencil. The Belorado project was completed in two weeks. The opening ceremony included a bowling tournament.
The small town of Belorado (population of 2000) was no stranger to tourists. The town is on the well-traveled pilgrimage route that was established in 814 CE to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where St James the Great is buried. He was the first disciple to be martyred and is the patron Saint of Spain. Santiago de Compostela was the most important destination on the pilgrimage route in the Middle Ages, and it is still a popular destination today for pilgrims and tourists.
From the beginning, NeSpoon worked with ceramics, but she expanded her choice of media to include the stencil paintings, embroidery, and crocheted works that span spaces between walls, trees branches, and rocks. “The techniques are just tools used to express my thoughts and ideas. Which ones I choose in a particular project is dependent on the subject, place, time and my mood. I am not sure whether I will always use the lace patterns.”
“Thoughts” is a porcelain ceramic project that NeSpoon started totally for herself in June 2012, and she intends to continue it until 2042. She makes 110 pounds of porcelain petals each year. The process of making the petals brings her “inner peace.” NeSpoon comments that the petals are “unconsciously formed by my fingers from the remnants of porcelain clay from other works. As weeks passed by modeling of the petals became ever more subtle, it required more and more attention and cautions to form them. During this monotonous, almost meditative work, the petals became more arranged and ‘calmed,’ at the same time organized my thoughts. It seemed as if they have materialized themselves by forming white, delicate discs.” As of 2016 she has made 32,000 petals.
In 2018, NeSpoon painted the facade of the Museum of Lace in Alencon, France, and in 2020, the facade of the Cite de la Dentelle (lace) et la Mode in Calais, France. These are the two museums in France dedicated to lace. In the late 19th Century, Calais became the refuge for lace manufacturers that left England to avoid patent laws. As a result, Calais became the center of lace manufacturing. The lace pattern NeSpoon chose dated from 1894. She recently completed a mural in the Art Walk Festival (2021) in Patras, Greece, and another for Festival Ecologique d’Arts Urbains (2021) in Callac, France. The Callac design was from needle lace (needle and thread only). NeSpoon painted free-hand the lace design on the façade in Callac. She worked for six days in inclement weather to finish the mural.
“I feel a strong bond with all my works, I like all of them. When I work, I always do the best I can, no matter if it is large-scale mural, installation, street ceramics or illegal stencil graffiti.”
Beverly Hall Smith was a professor of art history for 40 years. Since retiring with her husband Kurt to Chestertown six years ago, she has taught art history classes at WC-ALL and Chesapeake College’s Institute for Adult Learning. She is also an artist whose work is sometimes in exhibitions at Chestertown RiverArts and she paints sets for the Garfield Center for the Arts.