For Lucy Raverat the pursuit of painting – an activity she has always seen as instinctive, natural, as essential as ‘walking the dog’ - is still anchored in the rhythms and rituals of her everyday life in southern France. Over the past three years, however, her sense of place as a point of departure has undergone a subtle, distinct transformation. In this, her fifth exhibition with Francis Kyle Gallery, Raverat’s sympathetic identification with the congenial topography of the Hérault with its valleys, vineyards, streams and small villages, has given way to a new and more interior approach to landscape in which can also be glimpsed echoes of a wider range of experience, resulting in visions (or statements) of a more meditative, philosophic nature.
Simultaneously with this more ‘fractal’ vision, where elements sometimes infinitely small in scale, as if viewed under a microscope, can appear alongside familiar objects from the quotidian world (as with the child’s boat in Rock Pool), there is in Raverat’s new painting a richer blossoming of colour well suited to the deeper dimension in the work. ‘I need an impulse to set me off,’ comments Raverat, ‘which will probably come from the most ordinary circumstance. That is just the firelighter and then the painting evolves on its own.’ The further process is a kind of concentration, with thoughts and planning suspended: ‘I see what I do as a “bringing down”, like a sculpture that is released from a slab of stone or wood.’
A major aspect of Lucy Raverat’s working approach reveals itself here: it is an exploratory, almost archaeological way of proceeding, calling for an ongoing process of constructing as well as destroying. At the heart of this method is a sensuous pleasure in the handling of the painted surface on which the images appear, sometimes to disappear soon under a fresh assault by palette knife, sponge, vigorous brushwork, only to be rediscovered later on as part of a new pattern or configuration. So it is that the painter is immersed in this elemental undertaking but also, no less importantly, able to stand at times outside it. Such a dual perspective may help to explain the human figure (or figures), often only on a small scale, which appear within many compositions. Perhaps they are the heirs to those friendly presences which haunted the artist’s earlier work. Where before these presences hovered tentatively in doorways or on the edge of landscapes, now they have become projections of the painter herself, a part of the vision. In Siesta in the Grass, for instance, the loosely-defined, polka dot form reclining in the middle distance seems to embrace (or generate) this whole breathless, springtime scene. The vision may also take the form of myth, as it does so powerfully in many of Ovid’s tales of Metamorphoses, where the interplay between forces of nature is translated into the whimsical behaviour of capricious divinities. A tree glowing with golden blossom (Royal Tree) becomes a canopy shading an exotic, regal presence flanked by shadowy figures, holding court in a landscape of molten lava, an Oedipus as imagined by Pasolini.
At ease with certain influences lightly absorbed from a variety of cultures and times – from the Chinese Shih-T’ao, prolific master of the tremulous landscape, to the delicate romanticism of Victor Pasmore – Lucy Raverat continues to cultivate a fresh path of her own characterised by an infectious lightness of spirit and a sense of fun and fulfilment, given direction by a sustained pursuit of harmony.
‘It is from my own life, real as well as imaginary, that I have drawn my subjects, though I no longer conjure up an image in my mind before putting it down in paint: I prefer now to look for a way to discover an image already hiding somewhere on the canvas. For twenty-five years I have been building up textures on my canvases by using many transparent layers of paint and particularly in the last two or three years I have also been working on rubbing these surfaces away to arrive at the effect I want: more of a found image or one that is revealed than one that is laid down with brush marks.’
‘Painting isn’t an aesthetic operation: it’s a form of magic designed as a mediator between this strange hostile world and us.’
‘Nature can afford to be prodigal in everything, the artist must be frugal down to the last detail.’
Lucy Raverat was born in Cambridge in 1948 into an academic and bohemian family. Her father was a don at Trinity College, Cambridge, her mother Sophie, the daughter of Gwen Raverat, painter, wood engraver and author of the classic PERIOD PIECE: A CAMBRIDGE CHILDHOOD. Gwen, granddaughter of Charles Darwin, married the French painter Jacques Raverat, and Lucy’s mother and her sister spent their early childhood in St. Paul de Vence. Among their circle were André Gide, Rupert Brooke, Samuel Spencer, Eric Gill and Leonard and Virginia Woolf, who stayed with them in France and with whom Jacques Raverat conducted an extended correspondence (VIRGINIA WOOLF AND THE RAVERATS, London 2004). This Bloomsbury connection, along with a deep sense of a family community engendered by the large Darwin clan, has sustained itself into Lucy’s generation. ‘Painting,’ Lucy recalls, ‘was what grown-ups did and an entirely normal way of passing one’s time.’
In the 1960s Lucy Raverat studied briefly at Hornsey College of Art, then travelled to India, returning to live for some three years in an isolated cottage on the moors near Lancaster. Now married and with children already, she was able to make painting her main pursuit once more. With the encouragement of Richard Demarco in Edinburgh she participated in several exhibitions, before moving in the early 1990s to live in southern France. Represented by Francis Kyle Gallery since 2001, Lucy Raverat has participated in many of the gallery’s theme exhibitions, including Roma (2003), Lair of The Leopard: Twenty artists go in search of Lampedusa’s Sicily (2005), Родина: Contemporary painters from the West winter in Russia (2008) and This twittering world: Contemporary painters celebrate TS Eliot’s Four Quartets (2011). One-person exhibitions with Francis Kyle Gallery 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2012.
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