Spotlight Contemporary Artist Lucy Smallbone

Championed by Davina Barber
The Wick - Pink Courtyard, 160 x 125cm, Oil on canvas, 2023, by Lucy Smallbone
Above  Pink Courtyard, 160 x 125cm, Oil on canvas, 2023, by Lucy Smallbone
The Wick - Portrait of Lucy Smallbone
Above  Portrait of Lucy Smallbone
19 April 2023
19 April 2023
Through her colourful, fantastical oil paintings, London-based artist Lucy Smallbone looks to interrogate how reliably we remember places visited in the past. How accurate are the pictures held in the mind’s eye, or shown in a rose-tinted photograph captured through a lens we, ourselves, pointed? At her studio in Brixton, she creates works that blur the boundaries between real and fictional spaces, reminding the viewer how stories told and retold can distort reality.
She explains: “I am inspired by memories and trying to capture them. For this I tend to focus on holiday images. Nothing in our lives except big milestones are documented as much as holidays. Photos, film and other people’s narratives often distort them. So memories become this ever changing truth, peppered with strong feelings and senses. You probably can’t remember the whole of a view, but you remember the sunlight being so bright you had to shield your eyes, or the smell and colour of rain on hot terracotta. I play with this in the works by over saturating colour or distorting marks to try and stir memories.”

Davina Barber says: “I came across Lucy’s work in the depths of a wintry lockdown, thanks to the brilliant ACC Collective (Art for Charity Collective). With my colourist tendency her palette immediately appealed.”

Davina adds that while Lucy’s works can initially appear recognisable and nostalgic in their subject matter, “look a little deeper and you’re drawn into a quasi-fantasy world. Reality is heightened or tinted. At my latest exhibition (where her paintings sold out), someone described Lucy’s work as having that Baz Luhrmann feel. While some paintings offer a retro vibe, others are deliciously exotic. All are painted with great energy and aptitude. Her watercolour studies (a favourite) are more fluid and gentle, the oils, in contrast, offer short bursts of Matisse-like brushstrokes in rich and vivid colours.”

About the champion

The Wick - Portrait of Davina Barber

Davina Barber works with emerging and established artists to sell their work at exhibitions and art fairs. An Art History graduate with a passion for the Modern British era, she splits her time between Norfolk, where she is an Ambassador to the Sainsbury Centre and runs the pop-up exhibition series Norfolk by Design, and London, where she’s a prominent figure within the art fair scene.

“There is a beauty in trying to remember something and paint it, because at some point paint and the art of painting takes over – so like the memory things slip and change.”

Place of Birth

Los Angeles, USA


Masters in Painting from Slade School of Fine Art, 2015.

Awards, Accolades

I was awarded the David Balladie travel prize in 2009 and the Haworth trust grant in 2011, but my biggest achievement work wise was to win and then go to Chernobyl in 2016 with ‘The Duveen Travel Prize’. I travelled across Germany, Poland and then Ukraine by train, staying in Kiev and dipping in and out of ‘The Zone’ in Chernobyl. It was an amazing site to see, and spending a month painting and drawing from one source was great. It meant I got to push the work a little further, to a slightly more unreal place where it took on a life of its own.

Current exhibitions

You’ll find my work at some pop-up exhibitions with ArtforCharityCollective. My work was recently part of the group show A Splash of Blue at Gerald Moore Gallery, and in 2021, my solo show Wish You Were Here ran at Fiumano Clase.

Spiritual guides, Mentors

I’m a big lover of paint applications so I often lean more to abstract and colour-focused artists, such as the abstract expressionist painter Helen Frankenthaler. I love the way she pours, drags and layers paint. The monumental scale of her pieces is something I would love to do myself.

For thinking about feeling and memory in paint, I love Sargy Mann, who manages to get a sensual feeling into his work. My favourite pieces are his later holiday paintings, where his loss of sight amplified his use of simple pure colour, creating a stunning, dreamlike effect.

I also love writers and prose for tipping my mind into different states. My favourites are Maggie Nelson, Rebecca Solnit and Deborah Levy.


With the pressure to put everything we do online, it can feel like every mark must be perfect, so with that in mind, keep one part of your practice that is just for yourself. For me, it’s my sketchbooks – only lucky studio visitors get to see them. Which means I don’t have to care if they are good or bad; they are just about me being me.

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