I’ve managed to keep hold of my grandpa’s old coffee table for almost a year now without somehow losing it or setting it on fire. I thought that was pretty impressive. Imagine how insignificant I felt when reading that the Percy family, have managed to keep an entire house in their family for 900 years! Harrumph. Just 899 to go…
And just to rub it in, it’s not any old house: this is the historical jewel of the South Downs, Petworth House and Park. Inspired by the Baroque palaces of Europe, and with rolling, landscaped gardens designed by the original Alan Titchmarsh, “Capability” Brown, it also houses one of the finest art collections in the care of the National Trust. This includes the likes of Gainsborough, Blake, Bosch, Titian, van Dyck, and Teniers, as well as a collection of landscapes by Turner, many featuring the grounds themselves, as he was a frequent visitor to the house.
Following in such illustrious footsteps, and echoing the likes of Turner in her own distinctive, dynamic style, is multi award-winning, Brighton-based landscape artist, Lucy Marks. Her brand-new exhibition, Dawn to Dusk, is unveiled at Petworth House on 3rd July, and runs to 19th September. The 50 paintings capture the energy and movement of the Park as seen at different times of the day, enabling visitors to enjoy reinterpretations of landscapes they may be familiar with, and to see them as new once more.
As Lucy prepares to unveil this spectacular new exhibition, in an equally stunning setting, she kindly found time to talk to BN1.
How would you describe your paintings?
I start all of my paintings on location: I paint outside “en plein air” in both watercolour and oils to catch that moment in time. Nothing replaces observation in the landscape and the challenge of painting the changing weather! Each medium creates its own different representation of the place and time.
My works are a response to the landscapes around us in all weathers. I paint loose interpretations of the environment rather than getting hung up on details. I want the viewer to connect to that immediacy within themselves. They don’t need to know the landscape, just be able to respond emotionally to it.
What drew you to paint Petworth Park?
I grew up in Sussex and Petworth Park has been a destination for me for my whole life. Whether picnics or painting there, the Park and gardens are glorious. And the Park is just so big! With 700 acres, there is always something different to see and paint as the seasons change.
How do you produce your paintings – do you paint the finished article on site, or do you do sketches to work from back in the studio? Do you mainly use watercolour, oils, acrylic?
I only paint in oils and watercolours – I’m a bit of a stickler for the traditional mediums as there is so much challenge and joy in them. Nothing beats oil when it’s dry.
I paint plein air and often these will be finished paintings in themselves. I do also sketch outside a lot and use all this work back in the studio as reference for my larger studio pieces. These pieces can be up to 2m, so having sketches and the plein air works keeps me close to the original field experience. I never work from a photo.
How would a day at Petworth Park be spent: do you spend the whole day there? Would you focus on one or multiple scenes?
The show is called Dawn to Dusk. My aim was to paint the whole cycle of the day in the park: from dawn to dusk. As a result, I went to paint in the park at different times and with specific ideas in mind. Of course, there are some iconic scenes I wanted to get the feel for, for example the lake from both the house looking towards the deer park, and back towards the house from across the lake. I had to consider where the sun was going to be on various scenes and since I started my work in early Spring, the weather was certainly not always predictable!
The Pleasure Gardens give different subjects including the Arcadian buildings and the peace of the Spring flowers set a very different subject to the wildness of the Park itself. Whilst I was never there from dawn to dusk in one go – my flask is not big enough – I was there for several hours each time, sometimes as the gates opened and sometimes running to beat the gates being closed! Together, I was able to capture changing light and viewpoints, repeating visits as the season and weather changed.
Do you naturally see the potential for a painting when you see the right setting, or do you have to put your artist’s hat on and work out how best to interpret the scene?
That’s a difficult question to answer, really. I rarely see a landscape scene I don’t want to paint. There are things to look for in composition perhaps, but I’m not so hung up on that as getting the “energy” of the place down. This is partly because I do not aim to capture an exact representation – we all have cameras for that – but the essence of the place allows me more freedom in terms of composition and content.
What else do you paint, or do you plan to paint in the future?
I’m a landscape painter first and foremost. We are so blessed to have both the South Downs and the sea, so I don’t have far to go to be inspired!
Before Petworth invited me to paint their house and gardens I was actually just starting to paint for my next exhibition – Constable’s Walks – which was an idea I had from reading about Constable. Constable spent several years in Brighton and had the habit of walking three routes out into the countryside, drawing and painting as he went. I aim to walk these walks and paint my own interpretation of those routes and views.
Did you always want to be an artist?
I was very lucky to grow up in an incredibly creative family. My mother was a hugely talented painter and often exhibited in London, so art was always around me and in my bones. Growing up with something around you is like doing an apprenticeship really.
Who are your artistic inspirations?
So many to choose from! We are blessed to have a huge history of monumental landscape painting in the UK. So obviously all the big hitters, landscape and other, such as Turner and Constable and Sargent. I also draw inspiration from lots of current modern arts who are around today not necessarily in landscape – Fred Cumming is a current giant. Recently I went to see Hockey’s latest exhibition – even though he now paints with an iPad, I am inspired by how he sees the landscape and the joy in the natural world.
If you could hang out for a week with any artist throughout history, who would you choose and why?
That would have to be Turner for his mastery of light. Just to experience him painting and see the world through his eyes would be wonderful.
Earning an MA in Fine Art from Brighton University, how did attending there shape your artistic approach and style?
Doing an MA in Fine Art is such an invaluable learning. It teaches you not to just make lots of random pretty paintings with no meaning but to dig deep and really understand what you are painting and why you are painting it. As a result, I feel my work is thought through and always has a deep narrative running through it. You learn to know what you want to say and how to say it; an MA gives you that.
Have you always lived in Brighton? If not, what brought you to the city?
I’ve always lived in Sussex. It is part of my life. A few forays to London for university. But I grew up as a child in both Arundel and Central Brighton and know the area well. I’m its biggest fan!
What are your favourite things about living in Brighton?
There is no doubt that Brighton has a huge freedom about it. Maybe it’s because it’s on the coast but I suspect it’s all the vibrant people who live in Brighton that makes it a hugely fun, accepting and free town to be in. It really shaped me growing up. You can be whoever you want to be in Brighton and it’s always celebrated.
How have you managed in the last 18 months with all the lockdowns?
I’ve really thrown myself into my painting. I paint from around 7am until after lunch almost every day. I am lucky to have a lovely studio space at home. Before working on my Petworth show I worked on my online show Quiet, Beauty & Space. This comprised over 60 paintings based on five National Trust sites in Sussex that I was able to visit within the “rules” for my initial sketches and plein air work, before spending a lot of time in my studio.
I’ve worked out I’ve painted over 155 paintings since the first lockdown… Phewee!
What are you hoping visitors will take away from seeing your paintings at Petworth?
My main hope is that my paintings give the visitors as much joy looking at them as I have had painting them! I’m a real believer in art giving joy and connecting to that place in all of us that is a moment of uplift.
Finally, what’s next? Do you have any other exhibitions planned?
I will return to painting my Constable’s Walks series next. After that, next year, possibly a coastal show of seascapes – maybe going out of Sussex and down to Cornwall, we shall see. I’ll grab my easel and paintbrushes and set off into the landscape!
Dawn to Dusk runs from Saturday 3 July – Sunday 19 September 2021, 10:30am-4:30pm. For more information and to book tickets, visit the National Trust website
To see more of Lucy’s work and learn about other upcoming exhibitions, please visit her website