At home with Lucy Pratt

  • At home with Lucy Pratt
  • At home with Lucy Pratt
  • At home with Lucy Pratt
  • At home with Lucy Pratt
  • Paternal Love by Lucy Pratt
  • Sweet Tooth by Lucy Pratt
  • Gondola to San Giorgio, Venice by Lucy Pratt

Artist Lucy Pratt on her Asian odyssey, the pleasures of the Cotswold landscape, Zebra cake, passionate chefs and talking parrots

It’s a bright but brisk November day, and going by the denuded trees, autumn splendour is well on its way out. Yet happily I’m on my way to an oasis of colour in Hook Norton, where artist Lucy Pratt has taken up residence with her family.

From the moment you cross over the threshold, it’s clear that this is an artist’s home. Lucy’s paintings are displayed everywhere, arranged alongside collected works from other artists.

Their vivacious, thriving sense of colour and light – arranged with such confidence - is the bounty of her travels in places as exotic as India, Nepal, Sumatra and Thailand. Her work’s brightness and joy is deceptively sophisticated: it is Lucy’s masterful command of tone that infuses her scenes with such bold life.

‘I do have a fascination with colours,’ says Lucy as I marvel at the canvasses that encircle us. ‘I love to dig deep, find subtleties – seeing what they look like next to each other.’

After a visit to Lucy’s studio – where yet more works await the eye - we settle in the family kitchen, where a fabulous green parrot known as Cuthbert makes his presence known. From his perch on Lucy’s shoulder, he fixes me with a wary, inquisitive eye.

‘Cuthbert doesn’t like men, so I wouldn’t stroke him,’ advises Lucy. ‘He bit my father when I went upstairs, and I heard this tremendous scream – I told Dad to leave him alone!’

I have seldom seen an animal as colourful, and never one so clever: I am doubly astonished to learn that Cuthbert the parrot is over 40 years old (larger parrots can stay in the family for three generations), having passed from a friend’s stepmother to Lucy’s mother - and now he’s with Lucy.

Does he talk? ‘Oh yes. He says: “What are you doing?” when you get wine. He says: “I love you.” And when the kids were young he was always shouting “Mummy!”…But now he’s followed them into saying: “Get off! Get off!”’

This startlingly intelligent creature clearly functions as something of a muse: Cuthbert and his splendid plumage appear in several of Lucy’s paintings. But it is little wonder that Lucy – with her keen eye for colour – should be drawn to him.

Many of the objets d’art found here happen to be gifts from her variously artistic family. Her German grandmother was a potter who taught at Banbury, her great-uncle was a surrealist painter, and so too was Lucy’s antiques-dealer father, who began to paint while Lucy was in her late teens.

‘[Art] was always there as a way of living,’ says Lucy. ‘We all just did it – making each other laugh by drawing breasts on something…My mother was very, very creative, and we all gave handmade cards and presents. The value was in what other people made for you.

‘For us, creativity is about big spirits, generosity.’

Happily school life, too, proved as stimulating as home. ‘I had a very eccentric and varied education. I went to a little school in Bloxham until I was 11. There were only 18 people in the school. The reward for getting the work done early was that you’d be able to spend the rest of the day working with materials.

‘Later, when I went to secondary school, they really supported my passion. I was just given the keys to all the art rooms and the pottery studio so I could work there as long as I wanted, so long as I gave back the keys.’

Art school followed, but true artistic flourishing came later. Lucy secured board with an artist and a job at Oxford’s Museum of Modern Art ‘by cycling there each day and leaving post-it notes with my contact details on the desk’ – this she balanced with another job where she sold calculators and microscopes.

‘It kept me going, but then my friend turned up and said to me: you’re fat, you’re boring and you have to get a life. Come with me to India.’

Securing a commission to produce three paintings inspired by her journey, Lucy left on a travel odyssey that began in Bali. ‘It took two months to get used to that wonderful, brilliant light.’

After a six-month trek through India, Lucy separated from her friend on a trip to see ‘where the Dalai Llama lived.’ There, she spent a whole month painting the views. It was at this time that she devised a novel solution to her artwork transportation needs – commissioning another backpacker to carry her work home to send on to her mother.

‘Once back in England, I took the paintings around the galleries in a black bin bag. Nobody was interested – “Asia never sells.” But when I took them to John Davies he offered me a show. And that, really, was the start of everything. Since then, I’ve been with Sharon Wheaton at the Fosse Gallery in Stow-on-the-Wold. I’ve had 4 or 5 one-man shows there. They’ve been a large part of my history.'

Lucy’s travels are evidently an abundant wellspring of inspiration (when I visit, her studio is bustling with sensuous depictions of Venice) but she takes equal pleasure from the Cotswold landscape.

‘I just feel so, so lucky [to be here] – not only do I live here, but it really is my source of inspiration. My heart is in the country. I get such joy just from dropping the kids at school each day.’

She describes painting in the wild as ‘like hunting, or gathering mushrooms – you come back with a booty.’

‘Equally, you’ve got to be prepared to come back empty-handed. But I often get this real sense of serendipity and luck…Cows will wander into just the right place, for instance.’

Does painting satisfy a need, an urge? ‘It’s an inner drive – you can’t be content until it’s settled, until things are put down. Without painting I get very grumpy. Even if it’s just a weekend when I’m not painting, I can’t wait for Monday.’

What else inspires Lucy? Several of her paintings that I can see are kitchen scenes. What appeals to her about the hustle bustle of the catering world?

‘I like chefs. I like the tension of the timing, the pressure, and I recognise their intensity and passion. Except their creations end up eaten – gone!

Many of Lucy’s paintings are based on observation, sketchbook reproductions of witnessed scenes, drawn on location. But, in paintings like Sweet Tooth – where a shark cruises an aquarium tank set in the far wall of a kitchen – whimsical narratives and suggestive relationships begin to emerge.

‘The two waitresses look like they’re talking about the chef’s tight bottom – and he knows it. Another chef at the table is the sort who’ll let the others handle the work.’ An eye-catching striped cake turns out to a real cake that Lucy discovered – the aptly named Zebra Cake.

Lucy is full of admiration for her peers and heroes (she talks excitedly about encounters with Andrew Logan and Mick Rooney) but her vision is her own – it’s clear that a restless impulse to make, to create, to observe, to experience is the foundation of the uniquely vivid world that she unfurls before the rest of us.

View Lucy’s work at www.lucypratt.com

Sharon Wheaton at the Fosse Gallery in Stow on the Wold reflects on her long-lasting association with artist Lucy Pratt in the Cotswolds:

"When I first met Lucy, around 17 years ago, she was already conquering the art scene – both in the Cotswolds and in London. I, on the other hand, was only just beginning my apprenticeship in the art world, and was something of a Girl Friday here at the Fosse Gallery in Stow.

Lucy’s early travels in India, Nepal and Thailand were her inspiration – but I feel that here in the UK is where she really began to refine her style and subject. The communities and landscapes of Devon and Cornwall (and her memories of times spent there) are as much to thank for her distinctive signature style as any exotic location.

Her gregarious nature and life-affirming attitude shines through on canvas through her masterful brushstrokes - but this no mere seduction, or an attempt to lead the beholder down the garden path of fluffy confection. Instead her work expresses a rare, vital and pertinent message, too often overlooked in troubled times: aren’t we lucky to be alive?

Lucy’s passion, singular determination and appetite for life makes me very proud to be representing her here in the Cotswolds (of course, she’s often exhibited in London, including many selections at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition) but I am truly delighted to have such a close and long-lasting partnership with Lucy here, where she lives and works every day. I can only thank The Fosse for bringing us together, all those years ago."

www.fossegallery.com