Lynda Draper

Celebrating the vast potential of the ceramic medium, the whimsical earthenware sculptures of Lynda Draper create a beguiling space where visuality mingles with tactility. Beneath their colourful surfaces, the works channel the Illawarra-based artist’s ongoing interest in the dualities of dreams and reality, the material and the metaphysical, mortality and memory.

You are currently Head of Ceramics at the National Art School (NAS), and you’ve been practising ceramics for more than thirty years. Where did it all begin?
Many of my childhood memories revolve around the pleasure and solace that came from making things, which has continued throughout my life. Straight after high school, in 1980, I studied an arts education degree at what is currently UNSW Art & Design in Sydney, majoring in ceramics. I was drawn to the tactile qualities of the ceramic medium, its ability to be adapted in so many different ways, the alchemy of the process and the surprises it can bring. Feeling the need to focus on a ceramics studio practice, I went on to study at The National Art School (NAS). It was at NAS that I learnt the importance of the transference of skills and knowledge, and the significance of mentorship – all of which have informed my career as an artist and an educator within the ceramics field.

Your earliest works, from the 1980s, feel so contemporary …
My ceramics from around 1985 are actually more in keeping with my most recent ceramics. They alluded to the flesh, the tactile fragility of clay and the sensuality of fresh paint. Some appear like they’re constructed from bubble gum, papier-mâché and wax, such as Big Charlie (1989). The technique of ‘pinching’ and the direct application by brush of coloured engobes, underglazes and glazes was, for me, a way of exploring the nexus between tradition and innovation.

You’ve made significant stylistic strides throughout your oeuvre. Can you talk about some turning points in your practice?
The style of my work has evolved in response to life’s circumstances. In the late 1980s the colour faded from my ceramics. It was around this time that I moved from Sydney into an old farmhouse in Thirroul – where I still live today. It was a deceased estate that had been in the same family since 1880. We bought the house with all its contents; it was chockers with stuff, layer upon layer of Australian history.

The domestic hardware of this house inspired a series of work, the first of which was a large floor installation consisting of scattered ceramic and wax objects inspired by metal washing basins, buckets and funnels from the old bathhouse. The next series was based on kitchen utensils, which came about by abstracting specific domestic objects then fusing them together to produce an object with an identity of its own. I’d wanted to make dreamlike ceramic sculptures with the visual fragility of paper or wax but the resilience and permanence of fired clay.

I’m interested in how your childhood home has influenced your art making over the last decade.
From 2007 to 2011 my work centred on themes of Australiana, nostalgia and suburbia in response to a group of souvenirs collected from my childhood home prior to its demolition. The artefacts from this 1950s suburban house re-emerged into my life as familiar yet strange, triggering an overwhelming nostalgia that crept into unease. I felt compelled to explore what would evolve working directly with moulded porcelaneous forms of these objects. On reflection, I think this work arose from an unconscious reaction to an insecurity in the present, to a feeling of alienation, to the passing of time and to an uncanny sense of death. I also based my MFA research on the emotional experiences of my encounter with the house and the psychological relationship humankind has with material culture.

It is fascinating to consider humanity’s enduring relationship with the material world.
From the impact my childhood objects had on me, I can understand how primitive cultures worshipped inanimate objects for their power of embodying the spirits of the departed. The belief that the soul survives physical death and is passed into inanimate objects is probably humanity’s oldest belief system. We dismiss ascribing life to inanimate things as being illogical, infantile and ‘primitive’ – but consider how often one finds oneself reacting to an inanimate object, such as experiencing a sense of loss when a favourite crockery ornament breaks or the uncanny feeling of being gazed at by an anthropomorphic object. My works from 2011 onwards responded to the domestic souvenirs I’d collected over many years and how they seemingly possessed a power to embody the spirits of the departed. At this time I returned to earlier ways of working; reintroducing colour and pinching and coiling the works. It was liberating to work this way. The first work in this series was Annette (2012), which evolved from a subconscious doodle in response to a souvenir owned by my sister.

Does ‘doodling’ play a preparatory role in your practice?
I sometimes work from preliminary sketches and draw potential future works if I don’t have access to clay. But my most successful works evolve organically, often from a state of subconscious reverie – musings leading to my hands to make marks, form clay structures or reassemble fired components. I’m a huge advocate of daydreaming. I’m interested in the relationship between the mind and material world and the related phenomenon of the metaphysical. Creating art is a way of attempting to bridge the gap between these worlds and of mastering reality through fantasy. I also like to work in a way where there can be options after the firing process. Often, I build works as separate components and attach them after firing. Sometimes I’ll put pieces away for a couple of months and revisit them with fresh eyes.

You’ve alluded to the uncanny – how do your sculptures explore this phenomenon?
This is a subjective thing. Some of my works have unfolded due to personal ‘uncanny’ experiences like returning to my childhood home. What was past, lost, forgotten or dead re-emerged in ghostlike fragments, evoking a response of contrary emotions that disrupted the present. Nostalgia and the uncanny share common ground as they both exist within our ambiguous relationship to the dualisms of remembering and forgetting; past and present; reality and fantasy; pleasure and pain. At the centre of this relationship is anxiety and a sense of loss. Confronting and exploring my relationship to objects from my past has raised my awareness and modified responses to that which I find distressing. It’s also given me an insight into the role played by souvenirs and my art practice in the mediation of loss and change.

What challenges you?
My introverted nature. The haunting fragility of life. Making the intangible tangible.

In recent works, skeletal constructions become anthropomorphic via motifs of eyes, mouths, hats and hair. Is this intended?
The skeletal ceramics evolve intuitively, like 3-D clay drawings. There’s a freedom in working with clay; the forms grow and unfold. Initially there’s no intention that they’ll become anthropomorphic. The collaging of coloured ceramic pieces onto the forms after firing seems to give them life. I’m fascinated with pareidolia and the phenomenon of universal mythologies linked to the spirit image. These works aim to invite the contemplation of some kind of other realm.

You’ve been invited to an artists’ residency in Versailles for three months this October to produce work for a solo exhibition at the Galerie Lefebvre & Fils in Paris. What are your expectations?
It’s an amazing opportunity and such a generous invitation! I’m looking forward to being inspired by my new surroundings and working with local materials. My plan is to immerse myself in the new environment and make, make, make.

Any advice for budding ceramicists?
Follow your heart and trust your instincts, open your mind to endless possibilities. Learn from your mistakes and disappointments. Don’t always expect success and acceptance of your work. Mentor and be generous to others. Always keep making, and when things are going wrong or you feel frustrated then play, take a risk, let go and the outcome may surprise you.   

This interview was originally published in Artist Profile, Issue 44, 2018

2019 Sidney Myer Fund Australian Ceramic Award (SMFACA)
22 June – 1 September 2019
Shepparton Art Museum, Vic


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