Luci Maclaren depicts traditional sporting scenes in a vibrant, contemporary style. But how little paint can she use? By Janet Menzies
Luci Maclaren uses a unique, contemporary style to paint traditional sporting scenes. Having impressed her family and gone down a storm in the Shires, she is now the Belvoir Castle Shoot Artist and looking to stage a gallery show in London, as Janet Menzies discovers.
Some of the happiest and most nostalgic moments of a day’s shooting often don’t feature a bird at all. The sky may be about to turn black with partridges, pheasants could soon be screaming over your head but before the drive has even begun you already feel a warm glow as you look up and down the line at old friends, each instantly recognisable in waiting posture. This one, with a rather large corporation, has a habit of resting his gun on his belly. Another stands eagerly with one foot forward and the butt sitting on his thigh. Down the other end of the line your mate is talking to her dog, as usual. These are the images captured by Luci Maclaren in her impressionistic shooting oils, scenes stamped on her mind since earliest childhood growing up in Scotland.
“My dad and brother love shooting and as a family we have always done it. I’ve grown up standing next to my dad on the peg with my hands over my ears. My aunt has a shoot in Castle Douglas and my Christmas memories are bound up with being there and pheasants being plucked.”
That traditional British country scene contrasts starkly with Santa Monica, on the outskirts of Los Angeles, where Maclaren found herself after studying art. “Yes, I ended up so far away from that world but as a 20-something, where else would you want to be than California. And Los Angeles is amazing, it gives you the confidence to go and do what you want to do. I also had a lucky break because I was able to put on a big show at a gallery in Beverly Hills. In Los Angeles everything is shiny and light but after the exhibition I felt I had to go home. Of course, arriving back in Scotland and wanting to earn a living as an artist, everybody said, ‘You’re doomed!’ But I still had that American belief that anything is possible.
“I had an old video of us shooting and I started doing a painting of it, using my mother’s dresser as an easel. My family were walking past and loved it. They said it had something about it. I think coming straight from California, with all the contemporary art and all that light, with everything so clear and shiny, I was able to bring that into my painting.”
Maclaren successfully mixed a traditional subject with a lively, vivid approach. It went down a storm in the Shires. “I realised that apart from maybe cartoons, there had only been these very traditional shooting scenes, which could look rather old fashioned. Suddenly, I had something – and word of mouth spread very quickly.”
Maclaren was invited to do some paintings of the Belvoir Castle Shoot. She remembers: “I don’t think the Duchess [of Rutland] really knew what I was doing but when I turned up with the finished paintings she loved them and now I am the Belvoir Castle Shoot Artist. I love doing the shoot painting because as an artist you tend to spend a lot of time stuck in the studio, so it is wonderful to have a day outside and meet people.”
Even so, Maclaren is wary of becoming stuck in her niche, no matter how unusual. She explains: “With so many commissions there is a danger of becoming formulaic and you have to be careful because my style works when it is new and fresh – you have to keep finding that magic.” So Maclaren has taken the step of moving to London from the countryside and is already finding her work springing in new directions. “Being surrounded by all the stimulation and new ideas of London is great for me. I am working on linen now and I love the raw quality it is giving to my paintings. I’m playing, too, with being much more abstract – how abstract can you go? – it’s a question of how little paint can I use and still capture the essence of that person or that scene.”
Her work is getting bigger, with near-life-size canvases that have great immediacy, reminding the viewer of something glimpsed: a gumboot thrashing through bracken; a gleam of light off a gun barrel. Maclaren is pleased at this. “You mustn’t stay in your comfort zone or the flair will go.”
Her next objective is to stage a London gallery show. She has got into the spirit of this by using Instagram. “I’m not a natural at social media. It felt foreign putting my stuff out there but I’m enjoying it now.”
Once again, Maclaren is blending traditional and modern. Hairy tweeds on Instagram? Whatever next?
Call Luci Maclaren on 07811959394 or view her work at www.lucimaclaren.com. Or find her on Instagram, “lucimaclaren”, and Facebook