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Interview with Lucy du Sautoy

Lucy du Sautoy is an artist living and working in South East London. She graduated from The Art Academy in 2015 with a First class diploma and the same year she had her painting ‘Daydreaming’ on show at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.

When did your interest in art start?

I’ve always loved painting. I did Art A-Level at school and was always looking for an excuse to escape to the art room. But I ended up doing History of Art at University, and then went on to work in professional services marketing. It was not until I was married and I was at home with our young children I thought this could be my opportunity to start to painting again. When I could I did short courses at Camberwell and Chelsea, which I loved. I ended up studying for a diploma in Fine Art at a private college in London Bridge, called The Art Academy. At that time I had just found out that I was pregnant with my fourth child, but the college were very supportive and I was able to do the course on a flexible basis over six years. That was perfect. Inevitably there were times when I felt that juggling a young family with my art was too much but I was always encouraged and I managed to keep going.

Where does your work come from?

One day I was going home from college on the train. I was staring out of the window on the train and I was trying to work out what that moment is when you don’t feel any emotion. It’s almost meditative, or an in-between state where the mind wanders and you often become focused on tiny details, which for me at that moment, were tiny raindrops travelling on the window. I decided to paint a window with raindrops on it, and since that time much of my work has been based around the theme of everyday views created from a spirit of daydreaming and distraction. I’m not interested in telling my story or making an argument. I would rather give people a painting of something that can connect with them on a fundamental level and perhaps trigger recognition of an experience that is personal to them.

Describe the way you work and how you create your images?

I have always worked from photos. I don’t want to make something photo-realistic but photos give me the information I need to make a painting. People often say that my work is photo-realistic but I don’t think it is. I try not to be enslaved to photographs but they are almost always my first point of reference.

I manipulate photos in Photoshop, by cropping, blurring bits out, and altering colour saturations. It is relatively easy and it gives me a good sense of the composition, and whether what I have in mind can work as a painting. Sometimes I’ll combine different photos, or take stills from a video.

I try to paint what our eyes might see when we are daydreaming or distracted. I deliberately blur out areas and try to bring other details forward. Even though I use photographs to make the painting, I don’t want my paintings to look like a photograph. Surface is quite important to me. I want people to be able to enjoy the medium as much as I do – where in some areas brushmarks are visible, and layers of glazes are obvious.

Which artists have inspired your work?

I love Gerhard Richter. He’s my hero. I went to the huge retrospective exhibition, Panorama, at Tate Modern back in 2012 a number of times. I was absolutely blown away. There was so much in the show – from photo realistic work to squeegee paintings, fat paint, thin paint, colour and tonal paintings, all painted over fifty years from varying subjects on wildly different scales. What I came away with, more than anything, was that above all else he has a huge passion for painting and the remarkable skill and freedom to explore and manipulate. There are limitless possibilities. I think many artists feel they have to put themselves into a recognisable box – “Oh yes Lucy du Sautoy – she paints daydreaming , mostly views from window, blah, blah…” We could all learn from Gerhard Richter!

How do you know when your painting is finished?

It’s very difficult. But I think it is essentially down to gut feel. I recently created a series of four paintings of doodles drawn on a foggy condensation–covered window. I built the paintings up in layers using stand oil. I was working across all four, painting in rotation so that I always had a painting which was dry and ready for another layer. It was quite difficult to know they were ‘finished,’ because inevitably one or two paintings would seem to have an advantage over the others. They had to work as a series but each also had to be successful in its own right. There were times when I thought I might just keep going round and round all four paintings in a cycle and never be finished! In the end I felt they came together. However, I’m sometimes guilty of over-working and there are always paintings you are never entirely happy with because deep down you know you overdid it.

I find it helps to take photos at the end of a painting session so I can track the progress of the work. I have learnt that there is often a pattern to how I feel about my paintings. At the end of the first day I usually feel great, because by that stage I’ve already spent a lot of time thinking about the composition. I have put all the information down on to the canvas very quickly and loosely. At that point I’m usually quite pleased with myself and optimistic about the outcome of the painting. Then I can start to play. Sometimes I take it too far though. I can become so focused on one area of the painting that I stop seeing it as a whole image, and I am in danger of losing the essence of the thing. I like things to look bit too neat which is frustrating because I think it can inhibit me. Taking photos of the work as I go keeps me focused on whether it works as a coherent whole. I find I can usually spot pretty quickly which areas I need to push back and which parts need a bit more attention.

There are times when the only way to see what a painting needs is just to walk away for a while. For this reason I try to have three different paintings ‘on the go’ in the studio at any one time.

Inevitably there will always be one or two works consigned to the “paint over me” shelf. It can feel disappointing at the time but you always learn from the experience and every unsuccessful painting will inform the next good one.

What do you like about showing your work in the Dulwich Festival?

This will be my fourth year doing Artists’ Open House. I first did it in 2012. It was the first time I had ever shown my work to anyone outside college. It was as good as bearing my soul, and I was terrified, but I was amazed and delighted at the positive feedback I received. Showing your art is incredibly nerve racking and exposes the core of you as an artist on a very personal level. But I would encourage anyone who enjoys making art to show their work. After all, all art is made to seen – and sharing what you love with others who might appreciate and get benefit from it themselves is a very special thing indeed.

I will be showing my work alongside four other artists this year, showing paintings, prints, ceramics and jewellery. The spirit of the open house is that artists of all persuasions and at different stages on their own artistic journeys can come together. The Dulwich Open House allows us to show our work free from the constraints of galleries and commissioning agents, in an atmosphere of support and appreciation. Long may it continue!

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