Artist Lydia Caprani – from wax crayons to large-scale public art

Disneyfied Dalmation, artist Lydia Caprani
This ‘Disneyfied Dalmation’ is the earliest piece of artwork Lydia still has, from when she was just 5 years old.

During lockdown, despite worries about not earning enough to pay their rent, many visual artists will have been delighting in having additional time to devote entirely to their artistic practice, working alone, without distractions.

Not all artists are alike, however.

“The thought of being alone in a studio making artwork to sell, or going to the whole gallery scene, I just thought it was absolute nonsense, it just didn’t fit me at all. One of my tutors pointed out that all of my projects are about people, and how they react to art. He opened my eyes up to participatory art, involving people in the process, and something just clicked for me. Involving people in the process gives the artwork value,” said Lydia Caprani.

Lydia is a community-led artist. She regularly delivers large-scale publicly-funded arts commissions.

Lydia Caprani, artist at work
Lydia at work on the Bilton Grange mural, a Back to Ours commission delivered by the Spray Creative in 2019. Photo: Jerome Whittingham @photomoments.

Producing the sort of community-led artwork that Lydia has a growing reputation for obviously presents difficulties and challenges during a pandemic and lockdown.

“My main source of work is summer-based, it’s people-based, and it’s outdoor. Commissions around public art and public engagement have dried up, dropped off, or been postponed, and money has been redirected. Because my art is so public, I get further work through that snowball effect, someone sees it, and then I get my next job,” said Lydia, indicating how many opportunities for artists seem to have come to a sudden halt.

Finding the balance between the urge to be creative and the obligation to pay bills is a challenge all artists are used to, but few will have been able to plan for the impacts of a global pandemic. Like many, Lydia has been looking again at her skill-set, and concentrating on solutions.

“In my head I have to put things in boxes,” said Lydia. “When I apply to an artist’s commission or funding I have a section of my website that’s work I want them to see – in line with my own values, the ideals I want to explore as an artist. I’m interested in folk art, pattern, how symbols are used to illustrate a culture. But then, the other side of my work which is more commercial, like my design portfolio, that’s not online – I’ll only send it to someone who’s interested.”

Lydia revealed how she’s obsessed with order, being clear about what is design, what is illustration, what is professional career, and what is artistic practice. She recalled how frustrated her tutors would get that she wanted to pursue only one distinct line of practice at a time, during her study at Leeds Met.

But then, with a hint of a giggle, she said: “My favourite thing was that melting-pot of skills, and how to use them cross-discipline. I’d see my friends that excelled at graphic design and I thought ‘I can do that’, and then I’d see my friends going down the illustration route and I’d think ‘I can do that too’. Whatever I saw people doing, I’d think ‘I want to do that too’. Three years of turmoil! Let’s just call it a journey!”

Mural, Bilton Grange estate, Hull
Mural celebrating Mick Ronson, on the Bilton Grange estate, Hull, a Back to Ours commission delivered by the Spray Creative in 2019. Photo: Jerome Whittingham @photomoments.

Lydia returned to the city, after completing her degree, in time for the beginning of Hull UK City of Culture 2017. Since then she’s found enough work to keep her engaged, though she acknowledges pursuing a full-time profession as a freelance artist has its insecurities and risks. “The more employability skills you have, the better,” she advises.

It’s interesting to find out what influences affect visual artists’ work. Lydia’s answer was surprising.

“I was quite naive when it came to how I got into art. And, in the first year of university, I’d never look at other people’s work because I thought that was cheating. That’s absolutely ridiculous looking back! But then there’s stuff I started to look at in my second year.

“I really like, and find a lot of inspiration, from the sculptural and architectural, especially people that do installations outdoors. Morag Myerscough, graphic artist, does a lot of outdoor installations. I really admire artists that can involve the outside world, and people, while still maintaining what they consider their look or ethos to be. It’s really, really hard.

“Grayson Perry is a huge inspiration, lots of his themes are historic and cultural references. Then generally, I love primitive and folk art. The further I look back, the more inspired I am.

Self-portrait at 5 years old, artist Lydia Caprani
Self-portrait at 5 years old, artist Lydia Caprani.

“When I was younger, drawing was all I did. I’d get looked after by my nana, when my mum was at work. She’d sit us at the table, with a box of crayons. I can still remember the smell, when you’d crank the lid off, and there were loads of old crayons, and I’d just sit there for hours, yeah, drawing,” she said. The drawing of the ‘Disneyfied’ Dalmatian, at the tope of this article, is the earliest piece of artwork Lydia still has, from when she was just 5 years old.

Lydia’s listens to, and responds with, the communities, neighbourhoods, and people with whom she collaborates. Often, her artwork even changes a locality.

She said: “I think it’s just sad how bland our cities and buildings are. I know some people prefer minimalist, but for me, I would not be bored if every single surface was patterned or coloured and stimulating. I want to be constantly in awe of beauty.”

Lydia has completed a couple of commissions for Back to Ours, including a mural celebrating Mick Ronson on Hull’s Bilton Grange estate, and a soon-to-be-released activity book.

This week, on Friday, she’s doing an ‘artists’ takeover’ of Back to Ours’ social media accounts.

“It should be fun. I’m excited to share what I’ve been working on with everyone,” Lydia concluded.

Website: Lydia Caprani

Follow Lydia’s takeover of Back to Ours’ social media accounts on Friday 5th June: facebook: Back to Ours.

[Jerome Whittingham – editor HULL IS THIS]