How Lucy Eglington Creates Beauty in Art

Ginny Fisher visits artist Lucy Eglington and discovers a fantastical world


Lucy Eglington at home in her studio. Picture / Babiche Martens

There’s a Renaissance revival going on in artist Lucy Eglington’s Sandringham home studio. But a quirky version. Her Botticelli-like women may be pale and fleshy, but they’re surrounded by enormous mice and giant owls. She paints polar bears, roaring butterflies and hummingbirds. In another scene a youthful beauty balances a crown of candles on her head while holding a grey crane. All her works leave the viewer asking “what’s going on here?”.

Half the time, even their creator isn’t sure. And for Lucy, that adds to the enjoyment of painting these scenes. If she’s pushed to explain these fantastical compositions, she ponders, rests her head on her paint-flecked hands and says in her rounded English accent, “well I suppose they’re psychological portraits.

I am interested in the idea that we are the result of the choices we make in life. We are all the ghosts of possible futures and often we wear our choices on the inside”.

Perhaps, says Lucy, they are fables or fairy tales with a modern twist. She represents these life decisions (usually from a female perspective) sometimes with butterflies. In an early series she painted a swarm of butterflies pinned to the female form, representing a series of fleeting moments in a woman’s life — like the butterfly’s life cycle — that when considered together result in the person we become.

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Other times, Lucy uses animals to symbolise thoughts or feelings. In the work titled Alice and Wonderland and The Pool of Tears, a beautiful nude is surrounded by a human-sized mouse and an even larger owl. The scene is a reflection on motherhood and how consuming it can be.

The owl represents the nurturing aspect of motherhood, but it’s also a predator who can swoop down and grab the mouse, the symbol of playfulness. The mouse also represents a voracious time in life, a phase any mother will come to know well.

Also a consideration of motherhood is the young woman wearing the halo of candles on her head and holding the crane, which also has a natural halo of feathers.

“It fits perfectly with the idea of motherhood and how we sanctify it. As mothers, we carry our motherhood [or our unconditional love] around like a talisman. But we make a conscious decision to say this is beautiful and sacred, even when sometimes it is difficult. Perhaps, to get us through the hard times.”

Alice and Wonderland and The Pool of Tears.

Lucy likes to create duality and ambiguity in her work because she believes every viewer will interpret her work differently.

“I just hope someone will feel something when they look at my paintings. Renaissance art is deeply unfashionable,” she laughs, “but it evokes feelings. I want people to fall in love with my work. To feel something.”

This idea that art should evoke feelings, rather than come from an academic standpoint is a concept close to Lucy’s heart.

“I love the neoclassical ideal of unashamed romantic sentiment, there’s something kitsch about it. I love beauty in art. Just because a painting is beautiful doesn’t mean it has no purpose.”

She’s referring to the art world idea that art needs to be more than beautiful to be important. That it must have deep meaning over beauty.

“Cynicism is so art world. I don’t feel I need to be cynical.”

Lucy’s paintings have a luminous quality, the result of building up many thin layers in oil paint to create depth. When you look closely you can see delicate brush work, her colours are soft and hazy, the nudes have pale milky skin and seem to be in some sort of otherworldly environment.

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She explains she is very much influenced by the Renaissance style that was marked by romantic ideals of beauty. In this period, artists often painted allegorical scenes that told mythological stories; there was keen attention to light, perspective and the realistic portrayal of anatomy.

In Lucy’s work, it’s clear she makes use of sfumato, a term coined by Leonardo da Vinci, whereby the artist blurs and softens sharp outlines by subtle and gradual blending of one tone into another through the use of thin glazes, thus giving the illusion of depth or three-dimensionality.

When she isn’t painting, you may well find Lucy searching for vintage frames on eBay. A late-night eBay addict, she says she sources most of her frames from the United States and has them shipped to her brother’s home in San Francisco.

Exhale.

She shows me her extensive collection, hidden under a window seat. There are at least 30 stashed there — gold gilded, metal, carved, wooden and a few weird and wonderful frames.

“Look at this one, it has little carved gargoyle heads and little doors. It’s wonderfully Gothic!”

The frames often suggest possibilities for subject matter, and obviously always for scale. Currently she’s searching for vintage brooch frames to create a series of small works that will focus on dislocated body parts — perhaps an eye or a hand.

The idea was spawned by the once popular “Lover’s Eye” miniature paintings in vogue in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. A rendering or painting of the eye of the giver was presented to the loved one.

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“So they could look into their lover’s eyes whenever they pleased,” says Lucy, laughing.

A London native, she has been resident in New Zealand for 15 years and has had several sold-out shows, including a recent one at 50 Works Gallery in Lyttleton. Her art education began in the UK, where she had “a bully of a teacher,” who almost sent her off the artistic path.

She picked up her art studies in New Zealand and recently completed a two-year intensive painting program at the Matthew Browne School of Art in Grey Lynn. Browne, whom Lucy describes as a “wonderful human being,” who lets his students develop their own personal style of art making.

Lucy also teaches, she offers popular art classes — the MakeSpace for children during in the holidays, and she also runs an art course for women.

“I think people often have the tendency to think they are not creative, I’m a firm believer in the idea we are all inherently creative, it’s just a case of tapping it in the right way.”

And in her own quirky way, that’s just what Lucy does.

• Visit lucyeglington.com

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