Our Reception Selection is a seasonally rotating selection of works on view at our reception space at 17 Carlton House Terrace, curated by Depa Miah. The latest exhibition displays the work of still life and portrait painter Lucy McKie ROI.
Lucy McKie has been a member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters since 2011 and has won several awards for her works exhibited at Mall Galleries over the years. We spoke to Lucy about her artistic upbringing, her fascination with painting still lifes and her longstanding relationship with the gallery.
Lucy McKie ROI, Seville Oranges in July Light, 51 x 56 cm, Oil - £2,400
Your website says that you were born into an artistic family. Can you tell me a bit about that and how it influenced you becoming an artist?
My dad was an illustrator and my mum a writer. Because I grew up around illustration, I spent a lot of time drawing and was always interested in observing and capturing detail. I began painting quite late as I was happy drawing and working in pencil initially. I think that led me to develop a “tight” style of painting that focuses on my attempt to record what I see. At first I wondered if I should try to loosen up my work, but eventually it dawned on me that it’s better to paint with your own natural style, whatever that is.
Before I start a painting, I always plan compositions carefully, spending time drawing and working through ideas and looking for interesting details. Sometimes people who have collected my paintings have said that they enjoy noticing new little elements over the years as they live with them, which I love.
Lucy McKie ROI, Early Light, 36 x 36 cm, Oil - £1,650
For those unfamiliar with your work, what are your main influences and how do you approach your subject matter and colour palette?
When painting still life I’m influenced by the subjects themselves. Quite often I’ll notice something that I’ve had for years in a particular light and realise that it would be great to paint. I also like finding random objects when I’m out that can end up being the perfect beginning for a painting. It’s funny how something can really grow in interest the more you look at it – a weird and wonderful item you find unexpectedly can end up transforming a composition.
My palette changes over time, but it’s always pretty limited. I tend to use a lot of grey tones within my paintings, especially in the background and foreground to contrast against the brighter focal points of the composition. When possible I try to use quite a chilly light as I think this helps me to attempt capturing quiet and stillness.
What attracts you to the genre of still life in particular? What do you hope to capture and convey in these paintings?
I spent many years working on commissioned portraits so developing an interest in still life has been a suprising but fascinating change of direction. Initially, I started to paint still life just now and then, but slowly it has become my main focus, although I still love portraiture.
I really enjoy painting everyday items and paying attention to small aspects that are beautiful but often go unnoticed. I’ve grown to appreciate this more and more over the years. There is a calm simplicity to that kind of focus, and I wonder if that’s part of what appeals to people who enjoy and buy still life art. The sense of time being almost “paused” is also interesting to try and paint.
Lucy McKie ROI, Peonies, Early June, 36 x 36 cm, Oil - £2,350
You first began exhibiting at Mall Galleries in 2005. What attracted you to the gallery and what role has it played in the development of your work and artistic career?
I was in my late teens when I first became aware of the Mall Galleries and started to make trips from Yorkshire. I would visit a few times a year and always looked forward to seeing what people were creating. In those pre-social media days, it was the main chance for me to see a mix of painters all in one place. I think things would have been very different for me without the Mall Galleries and all its exhibitions - it has had a huge impact on me.
When I eventually started to submit paintings I was lucky enough to get a few accepted and also won some awards. The member artists I spoke to at the previews were very friendly and encouraging. This helped me to feel less intimidated by the process of submitting paintings generally, which I think can be quite daunting for many people at first.
As the years have gone on, getting to know lots of artists through Mall Galleries and the Federation of British Artists (FBA) and all the friendships have been lovely. It’s great to spend time with other painters who are a really broad range of ages and career stages, but share the similar experiences of being an artist. I think Mall Galleries is pretty unique in the way it acts as a focal point for art and a community of artists.
Lucy McKie ROI, Stoneware Jar with Irises, 46 x 46 cm, Oil - £2,150
You exhibit often and have won many awards. How do such accolades impact your practice?
Awards can be very encouraging, and this is particularly true when you are starting out. It’s not always easy to maintain focus and belief, especially in the early days (and when you are getting plenty of rejections!) If you are lucky enough to receive an award, it can really help and knowing that other artists support your work means a lot and spurs you on. I think prizes aimed specifically at young artists are vital for this reason. All of us can remember how it felt to begin our careers as painters and the associated challenges, so the awards can be very positive.
How did you find creating new works for the Reception Selection?
I thoroughly enjoyed it. Luckily for me, I was working on the paintings throughout summer so I tried to bring in a lot of the light and colour that I was seeing at the time.