A conversation with Lucy Mc Elroy
I was lucky to discover an artist and teacher Lucy Mc Elroy (Instagram) and visit her studio in Acomb, York.
She is a fabulous portrait artist and is skillful at drawing and painting children. Her children are often featured in her work and I love the way she captures their sense of freedom. I commissioned Lucy to do portraits of my three girls which I love... she has got their essence and their beauty and looking at them is as if she has arrested time.
We had a chat about her work and inspiration ahead of her first exhibition at Art and York which opens this Friday.
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How did you start being an artist?
Making things has always been what I enjoy most. Three of my grandparents were artists and so I grew up in a creative environment and my mother taught me how to sew and do lots of other handcrafts. Art was my favourite subject at school but it wasn’t until my Art Foundation course when I was eighteen that I realised that figurative drawing and painting was my thing. I was lucky to have a tutor who valued traditional academic art skills and I discovered my love of observational work. Then I went to study Fine Art at the University of Leeds where unfortunately drawing and painting weren’t encouraged, it was all about conceptual art, so when I graduated I didn’t have an art practice that I valued. I trained to be a secondary school Art teacher and spent several happy years teaching, working with amazing, creative students. My own skills and knowledge developed massively over this time, teaching others is such a great way of learning yourself but after about ten years I started to feel frustrated that I didn’t have time for my own work. I also started to feel like a bit of a fraud, teaching something I wasn’t practicing myself. So, during my maternity leave with my second child I started to dedicate time to my own work and it has grown from there. Now I teach two days a week and the rest of the time, around being a mother, I spend time in my studio. It feels like a very good balance.
Why do you make the type of Art that you do?
I am a portrait artist at heart, faces fascinate me and I find the challenge of capturing a recognisable likeness entirely engaging. Also, drawing is a meditative process, I love becoming completely lost in the observation and recording process. And, of course the satisfaction of producing something I am proud of is very addictive, it’s such a great feeling.
How do you see your work developing?
I feel like I am just starting to find my own practice, I’ve enjoyed producing commissioned portraits but now it’s time to take my work to the next stage. I’m beginning to explore my own visual language and to develop my own style. Having the courage to do this is not easy, expressing your own creativity is very exciting but it can also make you feel vulnerable. When you put so much of yourself into your work it is a bit scary showing that to other people, it feels like you are exposing yourself. I have been very lucky to have been part of the art& Raw Talent scheme this year which has meant that I have had the support of a wonderful mentor, Victoria, who has given me the confidence to make the kind of work I really want to. I’ve come to realise that the most important thing for me is that the work I make is authentic, as in true to my own creative vision rather than allowing myself to become distracted with concerns about producing something marketable. This realisation has been immensely liberating and has enabled me to begin to experiment and explore in a way I hadn’t before. It’s led to practical work which I am very proud of, largely because it is a true reflection of where I am in my creative journey.
What would you say your work is about?
Central to my work is the idea of capturing and preserving a vision of a person in a particular moment. I’ve long been aware of the value of mindfulness. Slowing down, just watching, taking the time to see the beauty in a place, in a moment, in a person. I spend a lot of time just looking. My work is about selecting a moment which particularly resonates with me and finding a way to record and convey the beauty of it. I guess it’s natural that I find children to be the perfect muses, especially my own. I love to watch them in natural, unselfconscious motion, seeing them lost in their own moments, thoughts, experiences, just enjoying being alive with the pure innocence of childhood. It’s the most simple thing, but so easily overlooked, especially in our busy lives so distracted by digital devices and social media.
Which artists have influenced your practice?
Some of my favourite artists are those who draw our attention to the quiet moments. In my teens I discovered the work of Vilhelm Hammershoi and his beautiful, still, quietly inhabited interiors spoke volumes to me.
Vilhelm Hammershoi’s “Interior in Strandgade, Sunlight on the Floor” (1901).
Joaquin Sorrella is a much more recent discovery for me, I cried when I saw the beauty of his paintings in the recent exhibition of his work in the National Gallery. He is known as the Spanish master of light and I was blown away by the exquisite beauty of his compositions, the Mediterranean light and his exceptional handling of paint. I do get quite ridiculously excited about the way artists use paint, how the paint sits on the canvas, the visibility and direction and energy of their brushstrokes.
Fisherman in Valencia
For this reason the contemporary painter Jenny Saville is another great inspiration. I’m in awe of the way she works the surface of her paintings and her bold use of brush strokes which when viewed in isolation are almost abstract but which contribute to such a convincing visual illusion of three dimensional form.