Originally from Melbourne, artist, ceramicist and teacher Louise Kyriakou is now based in Bairnsdale in East Gippsland. Here, she teaches art at the local high school, and spends evenings and weekends immersed in her own creative practice.
We’re particularly fond of Louise’s distinctive handpainted ceramic faces, which will form part of a solo exhibition at Outre Gallery’s ‘The Small Wall Project’ gallery space later this year!
Louise Kyriakou has a thing about faces. She’s interested in how we recognise faces, how we see faces in inanimate objects, the symbolism of faces in a cross cultural context, and the way different facial features interplay to create each unique expression. The many manifestations of faces in art and design have been a constant presence in Louise’s work for many years – in fact, she even wrote a thesis on the subject in her university days.
Louise originally studied graphic design and illustration, before deciding to pursue a teaching career. Her passion for ceramics was ignited when she became a high school art teacher in 2013. Having to reaquaint herself with various art disciplines, Louise found herself experimenting with clay. She started making her distinctive ceramic faces in 2014, and last year began to sell them at a handful of Melbourne retail stockists.
In June, Louise’s ceramic faces and other works will be on show in a new solo exhibition at Outre Gallery’s ‘The Small Wall Project’ gallery space in Melbourne. For now, they’re available at a handful of Melbourne stockists including Outre Gallery, Modern Times and online through Iggy & LouLou.
Tell us a little bit about yourself – what is your background in and what path led you to what you’re doing today?
Since I was young there was never a doubt that I would be involved in some kind of artistry industry, but I have just let things develop naturally and enjoyed the moment. Post high school, I studied Graphic Design at RMIT and later on Illustration at NMIT.
During my studies, I worked in an art supply store and in hospitality, and did freelance work on the side. All this experience made me realise that I really wanted to be in a job where I could keep learning about and be involved with art every day.
It was while I doing the course at NMIT that I realised I wanted to become an art teacher, which is what I’ve been doing since 2013. I had known many art teachers though, that hadn’t continued their own practice, and so I made a promise to myself that this wouldn’t be the case for me. Funnily enough I’ve probably been more consistent than ever in making new work since I started teaching.
How did you originally become involved with ceramics, and what drew you to this craft initially?
When I was younger, my friend’s mother had a hobby ceramics business and we used to joke about how we were going to take over the business and develop it into a grand scale empire when we were older. I loved the idea that you could make a functional object in clay. I also loved the idea of painting on clay, and seeing how the colours came alive from dull matt tones to vibrant glossy finishes also fascinated me. I was always so excited to see the transformation of my art on a finished product. I suppose this is where my first interest in ceramics grew from.
It wasn’t until much later on, when I needed to teach ceramics, that I got interested in working with clay again. My first ceramic face design came from a ‘chat and play’ clay session with a ceramicist friend, and I just worked instinctively from there.
The idea of faces and their many interpretations and manifestations in art and design has been a constant presence in my work, and was the subject of a thesis I did at uni. Transferring these ideas into clay was not directly planned, yet it is really a natural progression in my work, and another way of exploring ideas that had been evolving over time.
How would you describe your work and what influences your style?
Drawing faces has been a constant in my work. There are so many reasons why faces are of interest to me: the way we recognise vast numbers of faces in the population, how we chose to present ourselves to the world, and even how we see faces in inanimate objects. It is as though we are searching for a way to reach out to the world around us, and there is no better way to relate to another than to connect face to face.
My background in illustration and design has had a direct influence on my work. Essentially I use clay as the drawing board, either building up or scratching in to the surface to create each design. The aesthetic I’ve created is uniquely my own and has developed over time, but the influence of all the artists whose work I admire is deeply infused within it and those who know their mid-century artists and designers would probably able to see this.
The major influences on my style include Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee, Alexander Girard, Richard McGuire, Dick Bruna, and Jean Debuffet (just to keep what could be a very long list, short!). Each of them are able to capture a sophisticated playfulness and simplicity in their work, but in a way that has integrity, and respects the intelligence of the audience.
Can you give us a little insight into your creative process?
I draw a lot, and make sketches which inform my ceramic faces, but it is rare that a drawn design is replicated directly onto the clay, as I tend to work instinctively, making decisions as I go.
To begin making my pieces, I roll slabs of clay, and cut out the overall shape, and then cut out the eyes and place them onto the surface. This alone will give me ideas for what kind of shape the nose should be, and the length and width of the mouth follow. Getting the right proportions is essential in giving the faces a pleasing and engaging personality.
Once all the pieces are set out, I’ll decide whether another decorative element is needed to balance out or create more interest in the composition.
I generally make a few faces at a time so that I can make one piece while the last is drying out, and becoming leather hard, ready to be decorated. Once I have a number of designs completed, the pieces go through the drying, firing, and glazing process, and then they’re ready to head off to their new homes via my suppliers.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
My day starts early, as I work as an art teacher at the local secondary college. I teach a range of art disciplines, including drawing, painting, printmaking and ceramics. If I’m teaching juniors my lessons are fairly structured and instructional, as they’re still learning about materials and techniques. The senior students develop their own design process, so they work more independently, and I’m there mainly to help guide them in developing their own ideas. I really enjoy the brainstorming of ideas we do in class, and it’s often through some of the conversations I have with students that I’ll stumble upon an idea for my own work. My day is usually spent in the company of teenagers, so there’s never a dull moment!
I generally need a couple of hours when I get home to unwind before I plan for the next day. My creative energy is always heightened towards the later hours of the evening, so I take advantage of this by drawing in my sketchbook and writing ideas down.
I spend afternoons on the weekend working on my ceramic pieces, as this is when I’m most relaxed, and experience has shown that the faces in my work are often a reflection of my own moods.
Which other Australian designers, artists or creative people are you loving at the moment?
Dean Bowen: Dean Bowen’s artworks are so accessible to all ages, and are filled with charming characters that bring joy and happiness to every space they fill. I buy his etchings from Port Jackson Press but my dream is to one day own one of his sculptures.
Irene Grishin Selzer: Aside from her work with Iggy & Lou Lou, Irene’s ceramic paintings are like discoveries of excavated artifacts. Her use of colour, texture and surface detail is rich and beautiful.
Ellie Malin: I love a good mix of pattern and shape, and Ellie’s prints are so beautifully composed, with perfect colour combinations and exquisite textures.
Can you list for us a few of your favourite resources, across any media, that you turn to when you’re in a need of creative inspiration?
Instagram: It sneakily but helpfully knows what you like, and it shows you more of it.
Art & Australia magazine: The format and content are my favourite of this genre.
Any secondhand bookstore: I like the charm of yellowing paper and illustrations from mid-century designers, and I’ve found some beautiful and rare gems from stores around the whole state.
My bookshelves: I have a book storage problem, but every time I’ve tried to cull my collection I can’t because I really do refer to them all!
Galleries: Seeing the work of other artists makes me get excited about getting back to the studio myself.
What has been your proudest career achievement to date?
I’m proud that I’ve continued to make art and to keep changing and exploring new mediums over the years. Seeing my work evolve, and looking back to where it all started, brings reassurance that I’m continuing to develop as an artist.
It’s also a real buzz to have a collection of work be shown at an exhibition, where all the ideas I’ve been working on throughout the year come together and have their moment to shine. It’s that odd mix of nerves and excitement as what you’ve been working on in private goes on display, to be critiqued by a wider audience. But seeing it displayed and hearing feedback from an audience is really gratifying.
I’ve also has a number of people tell me that my paintings or ceramics are the first original artworks they’ve ever purchased, and I love hearing that!
What would be your dream creative project?
What are you looking forward to?
I’m very much looking forward to making more new work for a solo show I’ll be having in late June at Outre Gallery’s ‘The Small Wall Project’ gallery space in Melbourne. There will be lots of ceramic faces, but I’m also developing some other ideas, and can’t wait to exhibit these pieces at a gallery I’ve loved for so long. Some of my favourite designers and illustrators have their work for sale there, so it’s a wonderful privilege and opportunity to be in their great company and have a whole space to showcase my work. Insert smiley face!
EAST GIPPSLAND QUESTIONS
What and where was the best meal you recently had in East Gippsland?
A short drive out of town in Maffra is a great little picturesque winery called Blue Gables Vineyard. It’s a perfect environment to enjoy a wood fired pizza and a glass of wine.
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
I like going to one of the local farmers markets or taking in the fresh air and lakeside views at one of the nearby towns, such as Metung or Paynesville.
East Gippslands’s best kept secret?
The Foundry showcases and promotes local artists from a quiet side street in town. The folk who run it are enthusiastic about developing talent in the area, but also run events that celebrate art and food through community events such a (F)routville, which is a food and art festival held here in East Gippsland.