Lena Papadaki: Ancient Techniques for Unique Ceramics

Lena Papadaki

Lena PapadakiWeeks of meticulous work and a complex technique that only few artists in the world use: this is the basis of Lena Papadaki’s masterpieces. The Greek-born master of ceramics practices the ancient and unique technique of metallic luster to create one-of-a-kind ceramic objects.

Her work, featured on Capolavori, an online portal of Italy’s top craftsmen, has become more than a desired gift, but rather a precious and rare keepsake made in Italy. We sit down with Lena to uncover the source of her passion.

How did this passion for ceramics come about? What are your first memories experimenting with ceramics?

I was ten years old when I read “la giara” by Luigi Pirandello. I thought, one day I have to make a jar just like that! I’d hide myself in there and maybe even sleep in it too!

I remember my first attempt very well. I had found a little clay and I just modeled some small objects. Then I put them in the sun to dry out, but it actually rained and they ended up turning into mud. I understood then that it wasn’t so simple to work with clay, but I was nonetheless hooked, as they say, and fascinated by it.

I studied architectural design in Thessaloniki in Greece, and right after, I enrolled in a school for ceramics. I finished my studies in Greece and then arrived in Italy to complete my training.

What is the intuition that drives you to have the inspiration for a unique piece?

The necessity, but also the curiosity to know, watch and study the world of art both past and present leads me to identify the developments of the mainstream and artists that are close to my thoughts. All art forms and expressions are stimuli for me, from dance to theater to cinema to literature to music. The intuition is the golden section of the mind, the imagination and the feeling. It’s a feeling of inner excitement that pushes you to give shape to a thought, to give life to a piece of work.

Can you explain a little bit your creative process fro the working of the clay to the final product?

I begin with the first firing. The first phase is that of the plastic. It is used to make the desired shape and then left to dry. Then it’s put in the oven where it becomes clay.

The second phase is the glazing. The glazes are glass, colored or not, that make the object waterproof. After glazing the piece, it’s put in the oven again. When it comes out of the oven the second time, I proceed with the decoration. The materials used are oxides, minerals, gold, silver and mother of pearl.    

This third round of cooking is the reduction process. It basically eliminates the oxygen in the firing chamber of the oven, so that the oxides, minerals, gold, silver and mother of pearl previously used, reduce and become metals. And so the surfaces of the pieces become iridescent, as you can see is characteristic of my work.

How long does it take to make a piece?

I really can’t say, it depends on several factors: the dimensions, the type of decoration and drying times. However, from the time I begin the piece until I finish it completely, it takes many weeks.

How did you make the transition from ceramics to jewelry? Is there one you prefer more than the other?

I’ve always loved jewelry and have always designed my own. For some years, I also designed for some Greek goldsmiths. I began by thinking about creating jewelry that women could wear any time of day; lightweight and poetic with the preciousness of gold and platinum and with a splash of color. For every woman, her favorite color.

Ceramics and jewelry are two different schools of thought; ceramics are a work of self exploration, while jewelry is a search for beauty and joy. That being said, I really love both of these expressions.

What is the future of your work? Do you have ideas for new techniques, ideas, etc?

The future of my work? It’s the work itself. I’ve worked with many materials and I’ve experimented with many techniques. For me, the king of the ceramic techniques is the technique of metallic luster, the one that I use. There’s very few people in this world who use it because it’s quite difficult: it’s the most complex and the most difficult but the most expressive.   

Lena’s work is one that sets itself apart in the ceramics world, and for those passionate about the art, she offers them a one-of-a-kind gift straight from the heart of Italy.