For over twenty years Lucy Raverat has based herself in Southern France and her language as a painter is everywhere shot through with references to the congenial hilly topography of the vine-growing Herault region where she has made her home - never more so than in this, her sixth exhibition with Francis Kyle Gallery. Landscape, however, is not Raverat’s subject as such: rather, it provides a springboard for her ongoing enquiry into other, broader issues, closely linked in turn to her distinctive approach to the craft of painting. ‘I don’t look for my subjects,’ Raverat comments, ‘They find me. As I work to build up textures on my canvases, adding one transparent layer of paint upon another, motifs suggest themselves. Sometimes these will retreat while fresh ones take their place. Then there is a moment of discovery or recognition, almost as if I had made some important find in an archaeological dig.’
In much of Raverat’s earlier work interior subjects formed the basis of her compositions. It was in these works that one of her most characteristic motifs first appeared: figures or ‘presences’, suggested rather than delineated, sometimes even sculptural. From the beginning these presences always seemed benign – a memory of someone or a welcome visitor or simply the desire for company – rather in the spirit of the ‘strangers’ often to be found beside fireplaces in seventeenth and early eighteenth century interiors, placed there (some speculate) as a wished-for collocutor or a person to whom a soliloquy may be addressed.
Largely absent from Raverat’s middle period, when her paintings were strongly marked by travel experiences in Brazil and the Caribbean, the strangers now return in these newest, more landscape-oriented works, which draw more closely on her familiar home environment. But their role has evolved. Sometimes appearing in pairs or groups rather than singly, they occupy less space in compositions into which they are more integrated as onlookers, possibly on occasion to be identified with the artist herself.
Another recurring image is that of birds in flight, reinforcing a sense of the passage of the seasons and the inevitability of change. As always in Raverat’s work, in these new paintings it is the medium itself which carries the strongest underlying message. Working intuitively with brush, sponge, palette knife, masking stencil or even directly with her hands, Raverat has fashioned in her oils a medium which is constantly on the move, expressing the flow of an energy directed towards increasingly broad, universal issues. Such issues, however, are punctuated from time to time by quieter, lyrical compositions like Lady in red, Prospect Park: a reverie on the artist’s recent visit to Brooklyn on a summer’s day.
As a close friend from her early years of Lucy Raverat’s artist grandmother Gwen, Virginia Woolf once identified the defining Raverat traits as ‘All Cambridge, all Darwin, solidity, integrity, force and sense’. Lucy Raverat’s readiness to ask questions, to explore beneath the surfaces she herself creates, to generate surprise and good humour, all go to show that, in the best tradition of her distinguished artistic as well as philosophic forebears, she continues to probe new frontiers and to find in painting the most rewarding means of lifting the curtain, as well as being ‘an entirely normal way of passing one’s time.’
‘The best of the Darwin’s is that they are cut out of a rock and three taps is enough to convince one how immense is their solidity.’
VIRGINIA WOOLF (to Jacques Raverat, November 1924)
‘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.
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). A sequence of large-scale paintings by Lucy Raverat shown at the University, Montpellier in the international festival, L’Artiste (2014). One-person exhibitions with Francis Kyle Gallery 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2012 and 2014.
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