Meet the Artisan - Lucy Perry
PUBLISHED: 10:14 01 June 2016 | UPDATED: 12:04 14 June 2016
Tessa Allingham meets an artist inspired by the endless variety of the people and objects that surround her
Lucy loves quinces. “It’s their form, their colour, nothing to do with their taste or smell, although that is rather good too!” she says, handing me a golden-yellow glazed ceramic fruit. It’s lovely to hold, fits weightily in the palm, feels smooth in places, dimpled in others; it’s tactile, unmistakably quince-like. “I’m fascinated by them.”
A tray of naked ceramic quinces and giant seedpods – another passion – are drying on the table in Lucy’s new back-garden workplace, Pear Studio (she is almost as mad about pears as she is quince). They await a glaze and fierce raku firing. “I love raku; I can indulge my interests in alchemy and pyromania!” Lucy says, explaining how she fires the pieces to a whopping 1,000C before plunging them, glowing white hot, into a drum of sawdust. “I then clamp on a lid and the absence of oxygen triggers a reaction which creates the iridescence. It’s a very exciting process; you never know quite what is going to come out!” The quince are finished with an old rusty nail ‘stem’, a detail inspired by the abundance of old nails found round Lucy’s 18th century Thorpe Morieux home, and the work of fellow Suffolk ceramicist Hilary Mayo.
Quince (and pears) often appear as motifs in Lucy’s paintings too, maybe tucked next to a vase of spring anemones painted in her characteristically bold style, or under a vividly-colourful riot of blowsy summer blooms or bunch of scarlet, black-centred tulips.
Lucy’s work, in whatever medium, is about colour, pattern, natural form, and what she calls “aesthetic escapism”, a phrase she coined while studying art history at the University of Sussex. “It may seem odd, but I find domesticity to be an endlessly-rich source of ideas. I’m inspired by what’s immediately around me at home, fruit in the bowl, flowers in the garden, the cat curled up on a patterned cushion. At the same time I want my art to give the viewer a moment to escape the negativity that’s often around us, to enjoy what they are looking at just for the sake of it, for the colour or the form. Still life was traditionally considered the lowest genre of art, a place just to practise skills, but I see real significance in how it connects to our daily lives.”
Lucy spends as much time as she can in Pear Studio. “I love immersing myself in a piece of art. I don’t think of anything else; the action of putting paint on canvas is all-absorbing.” Around the room are clusters of objects that she might encourage students to use as a trigger for an idea: an old Chinese pincushion, a blue and white cup and saucer, a few stems of dried flowers. Art books fill shelves (“that’s only a fraction of the number I have!”), and the walls, of course, are filled with Lucy’s paintings, screen prints and collages. Racks of her mounted pieces are ready for the next exhibition alongside shelves displaying her popular stoneware mugs and cat-shaped screen print cushions and other textiles.
It’s a space she’d like to open up to visitors. She’s already part of the Suffolk Open Studios East of Bury St Edmunds trail, and welcomes home-schooled children up to A level standard to work on art projects here. She is also about to embark on a course to learn how to support troubled young people through art (her mother is a counsellor). “The idea is to offer a person a regular place to sit and draw and talk maybe, to form an association or even a bond with the teacher which can help them find a route through a difficult period in their lives. I see art as something that can counter the world we live in, help people make sense of events and deal with difficult situations,” Lucy explains. “It can make people realise what is good in the world, that we love and are loved and that we are lucky.”
The bulk of Lucy’s week is spent not in Pear Studio, however, but teaching at Thetford Grammar School – a post she leaves in July to concentrate on her own work and to teach more from her own studio, offering courses and classes for adults and children, including home schooled children up to A level. Working with 10-18-year-olds is clearly hugely stimulating. “One minute I’ll be exploring aboriginal art with the younger children, the next I’ll be discussing the theories behind modernist painting with A Level students or taking them to a gallery or practical workshop. The variety is fantastic.” A project on cats in Egyptian art led her to explore the role of the Egyptian cat queen, Bastet. “Cats have long been subjects in my work, and that school project ended up being very informing: it turns out Bastet is the goddess of protection and the keeper of women’s secrets, a perfect fit with my other work!” Lucy pulls out her vast sketchbook, shows me pages filled with her artistic, loose-flowing script, cuttings, sketches, ideas prompted by her Egyptian research.
Lucy thrives on interaction, being with people in a way that sparks ideas and reactions. She’s open, smiles a lot, is wrapped in colour (her trademark silk scarves are most often vibrant, flamboyant). She loves nothing better than to spend an afternoon in the company of other artists, maybe on a workshop, lecture or studio visit, so it’s no surprise to hear that she’s an engaged member of the Gainsborough House Printmakers group and an enthusiastic supporter of the Anglian Potters association. “I find these people so generous and ready to share their experience and expertise. It’s very rewarding to spend time with them.”
She’s also part of the March Hare Collective, and supporter of the recently-reopened Handmade Shop and Gallery in Bury St Edmunds. “They are the warmest, loveliest people, they have a real can-do attitude, a positive approach to overcoming obstacles. Doing the March Hare events is as much about the camaraderie and pleasure of being together as it is about selling art.”
Find out more about Lucy’s work at www.lucyperryart.co.uk. Visit her studio on the Suffolk Open Studios’ East of Bury St Edmunds trail June 25-26 www.suffolkopenstudios.org and the 100 Square Feet Exhibition, Halesworth Gallery August 20- September 7
Hanging out at my parents’ farm at Belchamp Walter on the Suffolk/Essex border is still one of my favourite things – it’s a very special place.
My Dad is still an ace pilot at 73. Growing up, I was always in his hangar where he would build light aircraft; I’d be sewing fabric onto wings or sorting through the tiny nails used to fix the wooden wing components. I used to do aerobatics with him in his vintage Tiger Moth and I feel very proud that he’s asked me to design the graphic for the tail on his latest build, a French-designed Menestrel.
If not messing about in planes, I used to while away hours watching Lovejoy being filmed in the village. Maybe that’s why I still can’t walk past an antique shop without popping in!
Mum is a huge supporter of both my art and my teaching. She has filled the farmhouse with my work and as a child let me paint walls and decorate rooms with murals – not many do that!
The Suffolk coast is our favourite destination for a day out. My husband Ed and I will take our daughters Millie and Eloise and the two black labs, Thombi and Thanda to Shingle Street, Felixstowe Ferry, Dunwich, Orford or Aldeburgh. Everyone loves the sea and the promise of chips in the salty air is essential whatever the weather!