Lucy Culliton

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Lucy’s love of Australian Landscape is apparent through her vibrant art …

Your upcoming exhibition (16th Feb – 29th April) at NERAM is titled Caution Wet Paint. What does this title say about how you make art?

Lucy Culliton: The marks I make with paint on the canvas are fast and fresh. The paint dries with lumps and troughs and can still look wet long after the paint has dried.

Rachael Parsons: The subjects in this exhibition include landscapes and garden scenes, birds and farm yard animals, collections of repetitious objects, including knitted dolls.

What draws you to your subjects, and how do you choose what to paint next?

LC: I am a collector and rescuer of objects, animals and plants. The subjects I have painted are all related to my own personal collections. I like to show the viewer how important, individual or great looking my animals are, or how proud I am of my gardening antics. I have collections of seashells from one grandmother, tea cups from the other, toys (plastic horses) from my childhood, lead farm animals from my parents ..

I have gone in a few circles painting certain subjects, coming up with new ways to show them in compositions. Currently I am painting my garden. It seems timely, as the garden has changed a lot from the paintings I made nearly 10 years ago.

Key elements of your paintings include vivacious colour, bold, confident, gestural brushstrokes, and repetition. How do you approach composition when making your work?  

Mixing the right color is very important. I want the viewer to know if I am painting sauce on hot chips, whether it is tomato or barbecue. I paint with natural light and when my paintings are lit with spotlights, the paintings seem a lot brighter and stronger in colour.

Negative space is very important in a composition, looking at how objects relate to each other in space.

An aspect of your practice has involved painting the landscape en plein air. How is the experience of working outside immersed in the landscape different from working in the context of the studio?

Painting outside has all the hazards of weather – light changing, too hot, too cold, wind … the challenge is to paint quickly, unlike the luxury of a still life in the studio. Painting outside keeps you on your toes.

I, of course, love your portraits of animals. They are charming and full of personality and varied expression, and they never fail to make me smile. How do you approach painting quite formal portraits of animals; I imagine they would make troublesome sitters?

I love the portrait paintings of Rupert Bunny, John Singer Sargent and am influenced by their work when I paint people portraits. The same ideas are carried forward into my animal paintings. I want the viewer to see the animal as an equal.

Animals don’t make good sitters. Greyhounds are good, because they spend a lot of time lying around. I do quick drawings, all my animals are very tame and friendly, take photos and work from them.

You mentioned that Rupert Bunny and John Singer Sargent have influenced your portraits. What other artists inspire you?

I am inspired by my painter friends. When I see an exhibition of work by Euan Mcloud, Elizabeth Cummings, Mclean Edwards, Ben Quilty, I want to get back to my studio and get painting.

Talking, or on the rare occasion actually painting with other artists is so important to inspire me. Other artists I look at are Margaret Preston still lifes, Fred Williams everything, Maynard Dixen big skys, French impressionist American expressionism and German Expressionists … I look at lots of stuff.

You live and work in Bibbenluke, and your life there seems imbedded in your artwork. How do the immediate surroundings of your home inform your process for making art?

My day at Bibbenluke starts early. I feed everyone, then do a turn about my ever-expanding garden with the dogs. I am in the studio by nine and busy painting. My surroundings influence my painting, and the animals and garden are a healthy break from painting. I go all day and crash at night exhausted by my day, but excited by ideas carried forward for the next.

You are the first woman to be hung in the Archibald, Wynn and Sulman Prizes. What role do such art prizes play in the careers of Australian artists, and do they impact how you approach your work? 

To be hung in art prizes is so important for a practising artist. People who would not usually go to a commercial gallery see your work. Paintings are hung along with other artists’ work, which changes how paintings look compared to a solo show.

Have you ever been to the New England region before?

A while back I used to go to country music.  I had work for a couple of years in Reg Lynch’s Guiar Shaped Word. I listen, sing along to country music while I paint. I went on a road trip many years ago around the New England region.

On your road trip you must have noticed the truly exceptional landscape here in New England, which has inspired many artists. Are there other areas in Australia beyond your own local landscape that you have or would like to paint?

I moved to Bibbenluke ten years ago. Before Bibbenluke, I was hungry to travel and paint in many different places – desert, rural, bush. Now I have so many ideas based around my own little world, I find it hard to drive out the front gate.

I am looking forward to seeing New England again. We have a very similar climate. I want to see what people are up to in their gardens. I will pack my paint box and hopefully be inspired to make some work visiting the beautiful country of New England.

Thanks Lucy. Interview contributed by Rachael Parsons, NERAM.

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