PUBLISHED: 15:49 18 June 2014 | UPDATED: 13:19 30 August 2017



An exhibition by artist Lucie Bray has become a celebration of the St Ives arts community and its history of inspiring young talent

A long planned exhibition by artist Lucie Bray (1974 – 2014) has become a celebration of the St Ives arts community and its history of inspiring young talent, as MERCEDES SMITH discovers

In January of this year, talented St Ives artist and Porthmeor Studios resident Lucie Bray died unexpectedly at the age of 39. Apart from the sorrowful loss felt by her family and friends, her death is considered by many to be a significant loss to the arts community of St Ives and to the historic tradition of land and seascape painting in West Cornwall.

One of Cornwall’s most dedicated plein air’ painters, Lucie’s practice of working in the outdoors directly onto board is part of a long history of plein air and seascape painting associated with the area since the rise of the St Ives and Newlyn art colonies at the turn of the 20th century. Her bright white painting tent was a regular feature on Porthmeor Beach, a place where Lucie spent many hours observing, sketching and painting West Cornwall’s turbulently beautiful coastline and sweeping skies.

“What mattered to Lucie was the immediacy of being out in the landscape. Observing what was happening directly in front of her was crucial to the way she made her work” explains Morag Robertson, Lucie’s long-time partner. “She spent a great amount of time sitting and watching, and would then paint relatively swiftly. There was never any reworking of her paintings, they were always left exactly as they had been painted outdoors. She would simply go through them later, selecting pieces she felt were good enough and discarding others.”

Shortly before her death, Lucie was preparing for her regular solo exhibition at St Ives’ historic New Craftsman Gallery, where she has held sell-out exhibitions for the last four years, and on 24th May 2014, in collaboration with Lucie’s estate, New Craftsman are going ahead with her exhibition as planned. Made up of both new and recent works, the exhibition is billed as a celebration of Lucie’s talent and passion for the Cornish land and seascape and will now include handwritten contributions from key members of the St Ives arts community. These individual pieces of writing will be exhibited alongside Lucie’s paintings and will celebrate the subjects which inspired Lucie and her working practice. Among those who have been invited to write for the show are Anthony Frost, Emma Jeffryes, Neil Davies, Colin Orchard, Felicity Mara, Keith Bennett, Louise Thompson, Alice Mumford and Laura McCrossan.

“Lucie was extremely proud to have been part of the arts community of St Ives” explains New Craftsman Director Ylenia Haase, who has shown her work regularly since 2008, “and this exhibition will be a community led celebration of everything wonderful about Cornwall that inspired Lucie and many artist before her. We hope to give St Ives an opportunity to celebrate Lucie’s work and celebrate the town’s own wonderful history of inspiring and nurturing young talent. We are very grateful to all those who have agreed to contribute their thoughts and time to this really unique event.”

In 2012 Lucie was awarded a working space at the prestigious Porthmeor Studios on Back Road West, where luminaries of British art such as Patrick Heron, Ben Nicholson and Wilhelmina Barns-Graham worked before her, and where highly respected contemporary artists including Sax Impey, Clare Wardman, Ian Robertson and Richard Nott work today.

“I noticed Lucie the moment she began showing in Cornwall”, says friend and celebrated Porthmeor Studios artist Naomi Frears. “Her paintings were small and dark then, but very beautiful. I used to see her in her tent on the beach, out in all weathers”. adding that later, after first borrowing Naomi’s studio for a week to experiment with larger works, Lucie “was very happy to be given a place at Porthmeor Studios. I think it confirmed her as an artist of merit in this area and gave her a sense of recognition, and that’s a lovely feeling.”

Morag Robertson, who was hugely supportive of Lucie’s career and encouraged her to apply for a place at Porthmeor tells me “Lucie hadn’t worked in a studio since leaving Wimbledon School of Art, and this wasn’t about moving her practice indoors. It was much more to do with making larger works, and Porthmeor Studios is right on the beach so she could refer directly to the outdoors. In the studio she was able to extend and explore her technique, use bigger brushes and more generous strokes, but still have that connection to the beach. It was perfect.”

It is this fresh, real time quality to Lucie’s work that has earned her the respect of the arts community and proved so popular with buyers and collectors. Her spontaneous, high energy paintings say much about the unique beauty of West Cornwall and despite Lucie’s absence, will remain part of St Ives’ internationally respected artistic heritage.

A Celebration of the Work of Lucie Bray’ is on show to 5July at New Craftsman Gallery, 24 Fore St, St Ives, Cornwall, TR26 1HE

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