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An Interview with Lucy Duke

Can you talk a bit about your background?

I grew up in Cameroon, West Africa, where my father was a doctor researching tropical diseases. We explored the bush looking for butterflies, and grew moonflowers so that we could watch them open at night. When I was older, I went to boarding school in England, and during the summer – Cameroon’s rainy season – we spent our holidays in Hampshire. So my childhood was spent wandering the dense African jungle and the footpaths through English fields… I still love walking. I studied painting at Camberwell in the 1980s where I learnt traditional drawing from the model as well as making large more abstract paintings in acrylic of the American Abstract Expressionism school. The artist Gary Wragg was a tutor then; I liked his dynamic approach to painting, being completely open to the present moment – the now – paying attention to the paintings’ surface, scale, space and colour.

How did you first become interested in art?

I was in awe of the beautiful flowers in Africa and wanted to record them, so I started painting at the age of nine or ten. Now I think it can be can defined as the search to catch something real and uplifting.

Where do your ideas for your paintings come from and what materials do you use?

I always work in situ and directly from life, taking time to find my spot for landscape. An idea can arise from even a glance over my shoulder. I try to distill the essence of what captures my attention through observation and my emotional response. Working with watercolour and pastel on paper has been my preferred medium for many years and sometimes I mix them together, or incorporate oil pastels. Drawing directly with colour gives an immediacy and freshness, and I work fast, often in a series, making two or three studies of the same landscape or still life.

Are you inspired by any particular artist?

Mainly painters of light and colour: Piero della Francesca, Giovanni Bellini and Giotto have always been firm favourites, De Kooning, Bonnard, Matisse, Morandi, Winifred Nicholson and also Odilon Redon. I love naive art like that of Alfred Wallace. Recently, I made a drawing inspired by Cezanne’s ‘Study of Trees’, an image I saw on Twitter.

Can you talk about your process of working?

Basically, it is a matter of concentration and finding the connection with the activity itself so the painting dictates where it is going. When I find that, it’s thrilling, but it doesn’t always happen. I like to work unobserved and freely, keeping my studio clear of other images.

Where do you exhibit your work?

I open my house to show my work, for open studios such as the Dulwich Open House and Lambeth Open. I have exhibited in group shows with the South London Women Artists, Royal Watercolour Society, RBA, Pastel Society. I have also had solo shows, most recently in the mountain town of Champery, near Geneva.

What do you like about living in south-east London?

My back garden! There are many hidden gems of nature to be found in South London, in a friend’s allotments or by the Thames. South London is full of surprises like the Orozco garden at the South London Art Gallery.

How long have you been involved in Artists’ Open House and what do you like about being part of it?

This is will be my ninth year. Chiefly it provides a platform to be able to show my work to the public in a favourable environment – my own home.

What are you showing at this year’s Artists’ Open House?

Large and small works on paper which I have mostly done in the last six months. I am trying to break through into new ground, giving greater consideration to colour and texture while investigating the possibility of a multiple sense of space within the same image.

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