Maryann Lucas is a primarily self-taught artist living in Sag Harbor. This week’s cover art was inspired by her many trips Otter Pond in the village, feeding the fowl. “If we got too close,” she said, “they would retreat back into the pond. I always thought their exit was delightful and funny, with all the quacking and slapping of big webbed feet just before they hit the water.” Thus art was born.
You describe your work as expressive realism. What makes it so?
My work falls into the category of realism because I paint what I see and my inspiration is drawn from direct observation of nature and the natural world. I consider form, tone and color when I work, knowing that each plays a role in the effectiveness of my being able to translate a three-dimensional object onto a two–dimensional canvas. I say it is “expressive,” because I stop shy of rendering the subject to such a degree that it looks photographic. I do this primarily because I want the viewer to have a way into my work, to be able to partake in the observation that was my delight in making the work. When I admire a painting that is rendered in a hyper-realistic fashion, my attention goes first and foremost to the accuracy and skill of the artist, and hardly to what the subject is expressing. I feel shut out of the painting. When a painting has a bit of mystery, lost and found edges, poignant notes of color against neutrals and a sense of atmosphere, I think it provides an experience for the viewer.
Why is it important for an artist to evolve in their craft?
I can only speak for myself, but I think most artists would agree, that the natural predator of creativity is stagnation. For years, I had a nice little niche going for myself doing commissioned portraits of children. That was during a time when I was home with my own young children, and never knew when I’d get free time in the studio. It was necessary, therefore, to work from photographs. I had a winning formula for sure, but there was also a restlessness within that I couldn’t ignore. Emmet Fox refers to it as “divine disturbance,” the moment when the caterpillar longs to be a butterfly. So, once I had more time in the studio, I made the decision to work primarily from life. It was painful at first, because I was out of my comfort zone and the ego hates that; but the rewards, specifically the growth in my work, have been immense. In addition, this desire to paint from life, led me to study with, and paint alongside, some of the most important classically trained contemporary artists of the day, including Ben Fenske, Ramiro Sanchez, Michael Klein and Dennis Perrin.
Who are some local artists—painters or otherwise—whose work you admire?
The local artist who is inspiring me the most these days is my daughter, Edwina Lucas. She is currently working on a series of woodland paintings for a show she’ll be having this September at ILLEArts in Amagansett. In retrospect, I am forever grateful to the late Jack Riggio of Southampton for his expertise and manner. He was the first artist to critique my work back in the ’90s and was so gentle, nurturing and generous with his time and attention to my work. I admire so many working artists on the East End right now, many whom I’ve known for years, like Dinah Maxwell Smith, Dan Rizzie, Terry Elkins and John Alexander. There is an influx of painters that come every summer to show at Grenning Gallery, including Melissa Franklin Sanchez, Ramiro Sanchez, and Ben Fenske; I admire them all as painters and people. Just this past fall, Ben Fenske brought a contingent of Russian painters with him to Sag Harbor as part of an exchange program. I was invited to join them as they painted scenes around the village. I speak no Russian, and they, very little English, but we communicated beautifully in the language of art.
Is there one piece of advice or wisdom you’ve received from another artist that you’ve always remembered?
When I was just starting to paint en plein air, I was it easier to find excuses to stay in the studio instead of the courage to face the great big world. Artist Roos Schuring told me: “Just take your easel out for a walk.” She made it sound so easy. I think of her words all the time.
Do you have any of your own advice for aspiring painters?
Paint every day. If you can’t get the paints out on any given day, grab a pencil and draw.
Where can our readers find your work?
My work can be seen at Grenning Gallery in Sag Harbor. I’ll have a new exhibition opening there Saturday, April 8 and showing for about a month. I also have the honor and distinct pleasure of making the cover art for the Sag Harbor American Music Festival and have done so since its inception in 2011. The artwork features participating local musicians posed at important architectural landmarks in the village.
To see more work from Maryann Lucas visit maryannlucas.com.