Meet Lynda Draper, Head of Ceramics
Since studying at NAS from 1985 -1987, Lynda Draper has worked as a ceramicist for more than 30 years, recognised as one of Australia’s finest and most revolutionary practitioners. She has been NAS’s Head of Ceramics since 2016, and last month won one of Australia’s major art awards, the 2019 Sidney Myer Fund Australian Ceramic Prize.
Her prize-winning work, Somnambulism 2019, is on show at Shepparton Art Museum alongside pieces by fellow NAS alumna Juz Kitson, Julie Bartholomew and lecturer Stephen Bird, who were finalists in the award. Lynda talks about her work and NAS’s position as a leader in Australian ceramics practice.
Somnambulism 2019 was inspired by a residency near the palace at Versailles in France, how did that come about?
I was invited by Galerie Lefebvre & Fils in Paris to create a body of work in their associated artist residency, located in the old music pavilion of Madame Elisabeth, sister of King Louis XVI, in Versailles. I made the work over three months and it was exhibited in the gallery in January.
The inspiration for these sculptures emerged from daily walks and contemplations of the wintery parklands, gardens and decorative phenomena of the Palace of Versailles. This surreal, haunting, strangely familiar landscape prompted me to consider my European heritage and question the complex character of early European cultural settlement within the Australian natural landscape.
I have become aware of how on a subconscious level my world view and art practice has been informed by being raised on European rituals, history, myths and legends. Tales of kings, queens, princes and princesses, dark forests and snowy Christmas scenes so alien to the Australian environment.
These sculptures evolved from a state of reverie shaped by fragmented images of my new environment: wintery forests, topiary, white marble, covered statues, faces on urns, ironwork, confectionery and ghosts from the past.
Where and when were the pieces created and what was the biggest challenge?
I created most of the works in my studio in Wollongong and a couple of the larger works at NAS. I worked consistently over the past year building the sculptures, working on a few at the same time. Constructed with clay coils, they evolve organically, each coil adding to the whole – often it is a surprise what finally evolves. I like to work in a way where there can be options after the firing process, and allow any mishaps to inform the outcome. My biggest challenge is time, not having enough hours in the day.
Why did you choose this work to enter the award?
The SMFACA is one of the most prestigious awards in the visual arts in Australia, with a uniquely ceramic focus. It is an arts forum where risks and alternative visions working with the ceramic medium can be realised within a supportive environment.
You have won many awards, what stands out about this one?
I feel so honoured to have received the award and so privileged to have the opportunity to exhibit at SAM where so many significant contemporary artists have shown their ceramic works. The award is an acknowledgement that new directions in my work have found an audience and context that provides an impetus to continue to explore and experiment. I found the experience empowering and liberating and look forward to the impact that receiving the award will have on my art practice and future creative opportunities.
Four out of six of the finalists are NAS alumni, why do you think that is?
I believe NAS alumni have such a strong presence partly because of the school’s unique teaching model. The studio-based practice model of learning, the small class sizes and focus on technical skills forms the foundation of knowledge, and gives students scope to experiment and push the boundaries of ceramic practice. While embracing the traditions of ceramics, students are encouraged to foster a diverse contemporary dialogue between all aspects of arts practice.
How has the Australian ceramics landscape changed since you studied at NAS?
When I was a student the ceramics department felt isolated from the rest of the school, today it feels different. It’s exciting to see how many interesting artists have branched out and begun introducing ceramics into their art practice. It is wonderful observing a diverse range of artists from varied backgrounds working in the field, bringing their different sensibilities and approaches to the material.