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In the Hands of the Potter

Lydia is an artist who works across the fields of art and design. Her recent artistic focus has been on creating pots in a range of forms and designs, including some inspired by ancient Cypriot pottery. Outside of work, Lydia has also dabbled in creating her own Mycenaean Psi-style figures for friends. As an artist educator and qualified teacher, she has undertaken educational projects with many galleries including the Royal Academy of Arts, Whitechapel Gallery & Camden Arts Centre.

Can you tell us about yourself and the art you create? How did you first get started in ceramics?

Whilst studying sculpture at art college, I had the opportunity to spend a month in another department. I chose ceramics, and after a week of working with clay I decided to switch courses! I later studied for a master's degree at the Royal College of Art in London, specialising in ceramics. My ceramic practice spans across the fields of art and design, from functional tableware through to abstract sculptural works. Currently I am making a lot of pots, which I find to be wonderfully ubiquitous and fundamental human made forms.

Your work appears to have a wide variety of influences from all across the globe. Are there any particular shapes, designs or time periods that you find yourself gravitating towards?

I take inspiration from handmade objects produced in many different places and times. I am often drawn to patterns and motifs found within indigenous craft objects and textiles, made by communities that attribute great expressive power to visual things. My research into artefacts can be quite specific: from nnaam wood carvings made throughout the Kuba Kingdom, to sculptures produced on Aitutaki, one of the Cook Islands in the South Pacific. I never replicate objects and patterns, rather I amalgamate what I have learnt from these making traditions with influences from contemporary European art and design.

Your stoneware pot with the inlaid white lines is a wonderful call-back to ancient Cypriot pottery, as are your Psi-style figures to the ancient Mycenaeans. What drew you to these particular ancient pottery pieces?

There is evidence that the ancient Cypriots created pottery with incised decoration from as early as 5000 BCE. They would build a form using coarse clay, paint the entire object with iron-stained slip (liquid clay), and incise repeated lines into the surface to create a pattern. They would then put white lime into the incisions to emphasise the decoration. Visiting various museums across Europe, I have found that this technique has in fact been used by many ancient cultures around the world. As a maker I am interested in this fact - there must be something very intuitive about making marks in this way, and so I thought that I should try the technique myself. Likewise, with the Psi figures, there is something immediate and instinctive about the way that they have been made and decorated. The brush-stroked lines are often irregular and playful, which seems to follow a feeling rather than formality. This is something that I aim for in my own work, but it requires a lot of confidence and freedom! I read that some experts believe that the figures were often used as toys for children, so in the spirit of playfulness, last year I made some small Psi-figure ceramic decorations to give to friends.

From top left: Inlaid stoneware pot inspired by ancient Cypriot ware, Lydia Hardwick; Cypriot clay tulip-shaped bowl of Red Polished I-II Ware 2300-2100 BCE, Gods, Myths & Mortals Collection; Cypriot clay bowl 1450-1200 BCE, Gods, Myths & Mortals Collection; Mycenaean Female Figurine of Phi (Φ) Type 14th-13th c. BCE, Gods, Myths & Mortals Collection; Psi-type Mycenaean terracotta decorations, Lydia Hardwick

Alongside creating your own ceramics, you work as an artist educator in museums and galleries. What do you think is the added value of holding art classes in museums?

Museums provide an opportunity for us to engage with ideas, cultures and human expression. I believe that we learn best through experimenting, playing and making. Art opens our minds to meaningful connections, stimulates our imaginations and curiosity, and is accessible to everyone. Most importantly, it makes us stop and look. Because of this, I think art classes should be integral to any museum’s educational programme.


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