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An Interview with Lucy Giles

Can you talk a bit about your artistic background?

I grew up in a small village, and ever since I can remember I have drawn, painted or made ‘things’. My parents were always very encouraging and hugely supportive of my creativity. My older brothers, however, were never that impressed. I would mostly give these ‘creations’ as Christmas presents and to this day they describe them as my ‘homemade rubbish’, or ‘could do better’. Of course, this tough love just spurred me on to prove them wrong!

I always remember my Mum (who was fantastic at tapping into our passions) sending me to the local college after school when I was 15 to attend life drawing classes. I had no idea the model would be naked. I remember feeling I’d entered another world and although I was by far the youngest in the class, I was determined to keep up with my adult contemporaries. I went religiously every week, and was completely hooked. No more ‘homemade rubbish’ for me, I was going to be an ARTIST!

How did you first become interested in art?

I had a fantastic teacher in sixth form. Mr Miles had built an incredibly well-equipped art department for a state school. His encouragement and enthusiasm were infectious. He was strict and a big character. He would exclaim ‘Hells bells Miss Giles’ whenever I showed him my latest drawing, painting or sculpture. He pushed me to apply to the Slade. My wonderful Dad drove me – with a life-sized sculpture in tow on his trailer – for the interview.

I had also applied to Glasgow School of Art. It was just after Jenny Saville had graduated; it was a very figurative school in the 90s. I travelled by train up and back in a day for my interview. And I just knew it was where I wanted to be. Glasgow offered a four-year degree in fine art: Drawing and Painting. And as I had been put back a year at school for my dyslexia, I was keen to ‘get on’!

At Glasgow, the traditional methods were taught in a very painterly school. My studio space was in the Charles Rennie Mackintosh building; only now – after the devastating fire last year – do I realise how privileged I was.

We had exceptional tutors, including the former Turner prize winner Richard Wright. He was a huge influence on me, and gave me some of his paint brushes – which I still have – as I was broke. Other tutors included Callum Innes, Cathy Wilkes and Alison Harper.

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

The ideas for my paintings come from numerous sketches and drawings made on location; these I refer to, looking for shapes, line and colour to build a composition into a painting. I do also tap into my thoughts, feelings and emotions, sometimes without realising it. Back in 1997, I did an exchange to The Victoria College of the Arts, Melbourne. We did a month’s trip to the outback and Aboriginal communities. This has had a lasting effect on me. It was a turning point discovering the discarded rubbish and shapes in the vast desert.

Are you inspired by any particular artist?

I try not to look at other artists too much because I find that without realising it you can subconsciously end up painting like them. However, I absolutely love: Rose Wylie, Danny Fox, Patrick Heron, Roger Hilton, Joan Mitchell, Cy Twombly, Tracey Emin, Elizabeth Frink, Pierre Bonnard, Henri Matisse, Picasso… to name but a few.

Can you talk about your process of working?

My process of working has developed over the last 20 years growing increasingly more abstract. Carrying a sketchbook with me, I always draw and paint on location. I make shapes and marks, loving colour. It’s not always exactly what’s there; I try to build the energy and spontaneity. This I will then take back to the studio. Working on board or canvas I will build a composition into a painting, with a lot of speed and energy and often numerous layers of oil paint. I won’t leave a painting until I know it’s finished. Sometimes revisiting it over many months or years.

Where do you exhibit your work?

I have exhibited at Jeannie Avent, Jane Newbury, Open studios, and The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. I have also just been shortlisted for the Jerwood Gallery online exhibition #MyArtistsTelescope.

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

My home and studio space are really high up so I can enjoy the expanse of space; watching the ever-changing seasons and weather. On bonfire night, friends come over to watch the awesome Crystal Palace fireworks in the warm and dry.

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

Being an artist can be a very solitary practice, which I love and need in order to create. Opening your studio can be nerve wracking, as your work is always an extension of oneself. As an artist you need self-belief, drive, focus and determination. But you also need people. Their feedback is essential to the making.

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

I am showing predominantly abstract works in oil on canvas, plywood, paper and card. From very small to very large. I once traded a couple of paintings to fix a leaky roof!

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