A Q&A with Paddy Hartley ahead of his residency at The Lowry

Paddy Hartley headshot1

Internationally acclaimed London based artist Paddy Hartley will be working inside a specially made studio in The Lowry’s gallery from Sat 1 April – Sun 14 May. Born in Dewsbury West Yorkshire, Hartley studied ceramics and sculpture at Cardiff University.

Alongside his work in the studio, Hartley will present a mini-retrospective of his artwork since 2002. Including ‘Papaver Rhoeas,’ eight botanically accurate poppies created entirely from lamb’s heart tissue.

In this Q&A we find out what he’ll be creating whilst at The Lowry, as well as what he thinks about BBC’s Pottery Throw Down and who he’s inspired by.

When people come to visit you at The Lowry, what will they find in the gallery?

The gallery will have a selection of all the work I’ve created since 2002 inspired by events and personal stories rooted in the First World War and living with the consequences of battle. Much of my work focus’ on the development of facial surgery in during this period and personal histories of recovery and living with this pioneering surgery. The exhibition will also feature my most recent work looking at contemporary attitudes of memorialisation and the culture of remembrance. The work itself ranges from digitally embroidered uniforms, to a wall based signalling flag installation, alongside the Poppies I created using lambs heart tissue together the film about the making of the Poppies. The new work I’m making for this exhibition will be in response to stories of the kinds of personal artefacts exhumed from rarely opened WW1 archeological sites and will be made entirely in the gallery studio. The work expands on themes of memory and this idea of allowing the past to slip from memory, so the work will be made entirely from clay slurry taken from an archeological trench set up in the gallery where once the work is made, it will be set back in the trench on a daily basis to disintegrate back into the slurry, only existing as a memory in the minds of those who experienced seeing the work.

As artist who originally trained in ceramics, what do you make of the BBC’s Pottery Throw Down?

I’m a huge fan of the show and it has come at a time when I’m returning to work with clay for the first time in nearly 20 years. Clay is such an enormously versatile material with so many building techniques and infinite variations of glaze and finish, but it can also be an incredibly challenging material to work with. Usually you’ll find established ceramic artists have a very particular creative process they’ve refined over many years whereas on Pottery Throw Down, the potters are required to be good or at least competent in a very diverse range of techniques and processes AND working within a time limit, which is a very tough ask. Ive nothing but admiration for all the potters on the show and they all come across as really lovely people whose sense of camaraderie is a great illustration of type of people who take up the challenge of working in clay.
Who are you inspired by?
Over the years Ive returned again and again to researching the stories of WW1 servicemen who underwent pioneering facial reconstructive surgery at the hand of Sir Harold Gillies. The initial fascination of the surgery developed into an intense interest in to post operative lives of the men who lived with these horrific injuries and were so incredibly brave to undergo surgery which was still in its infancy. Meeting the families of Gillies patients and discovering that many led very ordinary lives is as inspiring as those who lived extraordinary lives.
What advice would you give to young people starting off a career in the arts today?
Be versatile, determined and self directed. Have an attention to detail and build quality. Experiment, explore, be inquisitive, be professional and above all, don’t expect to be discovered. Let the world know you exist, but in the right way. Always be respectful and courteous.
With the rise of artists like Grayson Perry celebrating clay, do you think we’ll see a return to the craftsmanship of yesterday?
Craftsmanship is constantly evolving and refining and occasionally, in partnership with technology, means that the kinds of work made in particular in ceramic exhibit almost unbelievable, breathtaking  and frankly outrageous forms! Between the 1970s and late 1990s, British studio ceramics in particular experienced a Golden Era of creativity, innovation and expression and the quality of the work made in those decades propelled ceramics to another level of diverse aesthetic and technical refinement. Popularising ceramics with shows such as Pottery Throw Down, showing viewers what it takes to make good ceramics, will I hope inspire a new generation of makers to experience just how amazing working in clay can be.

And why have you chosen to focus on using clay while at The Lowry?
In its unfired state, clay will erode and disintegrate once placed in a particular environment and serves as a perfect metaphor for a fleeting existence and the passing of memory which is a central theme of the residency. To acknowledge the past but to not be shackled nor held back by history so to speak.  Creating objects inspired by memories of personal items lost on the front line by the fallen or kept as a memory of home, but created here to only have a temporary existence feels entirely appropriate.
Alongside your residency, all of the poppies from ‘Papaver Rhoeas’ will be displayed together for the first time at The Lowry. How significant will it be to see them all together like this?
During the course of the exhibition, each of the poppies with transform differently at different rates, some will break down, some will cloud the fluid in which they are immersed, some will remain relatively intact. As memory and the power of recollection varies from one individual to another, this variation of preservation, decay, decomposition and disintegration will serve as a great metaphor for the broader themes of remembrance inherent in the residency. The poppies will not last forever and will eventually only exist in the memories of the people who saw them.
You’ve asked for Manchester/Salford residents to share their WW1 stories and artefacts with you, how will they be used on the residency?
The focus of the residency is to interpret personal stories relating to WW1 and living in the trenches not widely known outside individual families. To create a sense of shared experience and to understand the way in which those living in the trenches tried to maintain a sense of remembered normality, with the objects they took or were sent by relatives. Its interesting to note that many WW1 battlefield sites are I believe rightly, unexcavated as many are the site of unrecovered fallen soldiers. We gain glimpses of trench life when excavations are only absolutely necessary. What I’m hoping to do is for families to share stories of live in the trenches and objects kept by those who experienced this existence. My hope is to recreate objects related in these stories and return the object to the in gallery slurry trench to allow its disintegration, a symbol gesture of recognition, but also of passing memory. As with the passage of time, so these memories will disappear.


To share a WW1 story or artefact with Paddy Hartley contact him on twitter @patrickihartley or by email paddyhartley@mac.com. Alternatively meet him in person at The Lowry Sat 1 April – Sun 14 May. For more information visit thelowry.com/exhibitions

Clay provided for EDIT 01: Paddy Hartley has been kindly donated by Michelmersh Brick Holdings PLC.