Robert Lucy

Robert Lucy lives in New York City, in Manhattan and says he has been making art his whole life but more consciously from 20, therefore making art for 23 years. You can catch his website here


What interests you have other than art?

I guess that my interest in photography is worthy of mention because it feeds into my art. I also enjoy reading novels, going to movies, travelling and doing yoga.

What are the main medium/s you work in…

I am primarily a painter. I paint with oils and paint on linen. I also do coloured pencil drawings, usually on coloured paper.


Does your work have social, political, cultural and or personal messages?

I consider my work to be extremely personal which is my way of having social, political and cultural messages. I also feel that the more personal the work, the more universal it will be.

What are you currently working on?

I recently finished 8 paintings that are doll portraits and 8 coloured pencil drawings that are portraits of dolls and animal toys. All of them have brightly coloured, flat backgrounds that are rays or stripes.


What fascinates you?

The offbeat, the eccentric, the exception, the freak, the outrageous, the rarity, the unexpected, the hidden.

Can you give us a more descriptive outline on your current works.

My current sources are dolls and doll heads and animal toys. There are oil paintings and coloured pencil drawings. The subjects are almost obsessively worked up and hyper-real and three dimensional against colourful, flat, pop-y backgrounds. The effect is that the subjects are almost popping out of the picture.


Why are you an artist?

Making art is the most compelling thing I can imagine trying to do.

How did you get into art?

I guess I’ve always been in it. I’ve been drawing since I was a child, I played the cello and acted and have always been drawn to looking at and creating art.


How important is art for you?

It is what makes life worth living, art and other people, and dogs.

What is it about Visual Art you find compelling?

It’s like music to the eyes.


Your art education was…?

I had a great teacher in high school named Joanna Collins who was a big influence. I then studied with the great Imagist artist Ed Paschke when I was at Northwestern U. before I transferred to The School of the Art Institute of Chicago where I received a B.F.A. and an M.F.A. My education continued with Dennis Adrian, and the many great artists and collectors and museum people I met through him after I graduated.

Was your education, a help, or a hindrance?

My education was a help, especially in allowing me to establish working habits. It was also helpful to have feedback from artists that I respected. Ultimately, though, you can’t learn to be an artist, you can just be encouraged to develop what is already in you.


Is there any one thing that has given you a big buzz in your art career so far?

Working on my new website and then seeing it done for the first time.

What is your earliest memory of art?

I remember being 3 years old watching my mother’s friend painting daisies on the front of our wardrobe.


Do you remember your first painting or artwork?

No, but I do have early memories of Vincent price movies with portraits that bleed and portraits which have the eyes cut out with someone watching from behind.

Was art a “thing” that was encouraged in your family?

Yes. We were taken to museums. And when I was little my mother made the stairs to the basement into a gallery for our drawings.


What or who inspires your art?

Other artists inspire me, I often feel inspired when I go to museums and galleries. I can also get inspired by something that I see in a magazine or on the computer or on the street, I’m always looking.

What caused you to choose the medium you currently work in?

I started painting in oil when I was in school and it just suited me. I started using coloured pencils about 7 years ago. I like the control that I have with them and the ability to create layers.


Has your work changed much since your early efforts?

A great deal. Painting is a very difficult media to master, it takes many years. I was in my mid thirties before my technical abilities were able to match my vision.

Have your artistic influences altered over time (e.g. artists.)

Yes, they are always changing. When I was in school I was very influenced by the collection at The Art Institute of Chicago which is very strong in French 19th century as well as surrealism. The surrealist influence is obvious in my early work, artists like Magritte and de Chirico and Ernst, but I have always loved the French painters like Degas, Cezanne and Van Gogh and earlier painters like Ingre, which might be less obvious. I was also mad for Marsden Hartley, Beckman, Balthus as well as the Chicago imagists like Jim Nutt and Ed Paschke. Robert Barnes and Cliff Westerman were also favorites. Later I became interested in and influenced by Indian painting. Most recently I am enjoying Dana Schutz, Mathew Barney, John Currin, Lisa Yuskavge, George Condo and other contemporary artists.

You know you are successful in Visual Arts when…

You are still making art and loving it.

Does the “creative process” happen easily for you?

It does now. Early in my career it sometimes was a struggle, not knowing where I wanted to go with my images and not feeling secure in my technical abilities. Now I feel like my work flows out of me like a tap, that I know where I want to go and how to get there.

Do you get creative glimpses of urges happening and how do you work with these?

I often start to get glimpses of what is coming next when I am nearing the end of a work. Or, like right now, I am starting to get a glimpse of a new group of work as I have just finished a large body of work.

How important is the clarity of concept to you, prior to starting an artwork?

I often start with a set idea. Sometimes it comes out just as I had imagined it, and sometimes it goes through radical changes. I feel like I am in a dialogue with the work I am making, and I respond to its needs, even if they are radically different from what I had originally intended.

Do you have a personal description of “Art”?

Truth x Beauty. But beauty can sometimes be horrific.

Have you had any commissions?

I have had a number of commissions in my career, but not lately. I don’t think I would accept them now unless they were very broad and open and along the lines of what I am already doing. Commissions can be like breaking a stream of thought and can sometimes seam forced or uninspired. Though I do believe that the right commission can push you into an exciting direction and give you permission to do something outside of your usual habits and allow you to find something new.

How important do you think craftsmanship is to artistic creation?

For me it is very important. If you want to express yourself in words, you need to know a language. If you want to express yourself visually, you need a language to express yourself in. That doesn’t mean that everyone needs to paint like an old master, but you need to develop a language that is authentic and is yours.

Does the sale of your work support you? If no what else do you do to support your art (job)?

It has, at the moment it is not, but I have hopes it will again.

Creative streaks do they come in waves for you?

Not so much. The waves are more about time available to devote to work.

Do you get to other artists exhibitions, openings etc?

I try to, but not as much as I would like. One of the greatest things about living in New York city is the ability to go to the galleries knowing I will see something inspiring.

Do you have much contact with other artists?

In my life in Chicago I was around artists more, going to shows, socializing, going to studios. Now I see the artists who work in my studio building, but most of my friends are in the theatre world. I hope that my circle of visual artist friends will grow the longer I stay here.

Any upcoming or completely new projects you want to talk about?

I am going to be the subject of a documentary that will be finished this spring.

Working towards an exhibition, is it a daunting task?

It is a daunting task I would very much like to take on. I am currently looking for representation.

Some say the lifespan of an “artist” post educationally is about five years, any thoughts on that?

If that, most people aren’t able to continue making art without the support and structure of school. Also if you start working full time right away, it’s very hard to find the time and energy to paint. I think it is a major challenge to most people, but very important to keep some of the art making momentum that one builds up in school after you graduate.

Tell us about your connection to your subject matter, way of working, concepts etc?

Lately I tend to work in series. I get an idea for a painting or drawing, usually based on some sort of source that excites me or inspires me or cracks me up, then as I am doing that I get an idea for a variation and then want to do a bigger variation and so on until I’ve used up that strain of thought.

If you could have any piece of artwork in your personal collection, what would it be and why?

I guess my first thought is a portrait by Ingres. I saw a show of his portraits at the National Gallery in London years ago that knocked my socks off. His portraits are penetrating psychological studies painted by an astounding technician and beautiful colourist. His portraits have everything I could ask for in a work of art, they are emotionally sensitive, technically brilliant, deeply humane and personal.

Can you name a favourite artist or three… and why?

Balthus, Ingres, Cezanne. These are just the first that come to mind, there are many more. And when I look at work by these artists, as well as any of my very favorite artists , something deep within me is touched. When I look at great works of art, I feel still, at peace and glad to be alive. I feel like my favorite artists are my friends, seeing great art makes me feel less alone in the world and it is therefore a great comfort.

Have you had any “big breaks” in your career?

I think I’m about to have one.

All artists seem to have struggles, tell us about any you have had.

I find it very easy to get to the studio and work. I don’t have trouble with inspiration. I struggle mostly with self-promotion, sharing my work and making money from it. It’s a matter of discovering my own self worth and it is something that I am working on.

Do you keep an Art Journal or Visual Diary of some kind?

I consider every thing I make to be part of an ongoing visual diary.

What happens to works that “don’t work out”?

I always force things through to some resolution, even if they turn out totally different from their original conception.

What sort of research and or reference material do you do for current works and has that changed over time?

Lately I have been working from my own photographic sources. I used to work mostly from life, whether that be a still life or a figure. I would also steal things from books, a detail from a painting, old postcard and old photos.

Musical influences?

I love music. When I am working I am always listening to music. I like new music and enjoy staying current with what is happening now. My nephew Alex is great for feeding me new music and turning me onto new bands.

What sort of depth or meaning is there behind the work you do?

I think every image has multiple layers of meaning. My paintings are not, however, puzzles where, once you find the key, can be “solved”. They are rather like visual poems and the symbols are really like notes of feeling. The meaning of any particular work of art is totally subjective.

Do you hope the viewer will “get” what you are trying to communicate or do you feel compelled to spell it out to them?

I think what the viewer “gets” is completely subjective. At the same time, though, I do feel that what goes into the work comes out whether or not we are able to agree about which words to use.

How important is it to you that your work communicates something to the viewer?

It’s very important to me that my work communicates something, but what that is, is different for every person and out of my control.

What can you say about your work which might not be evident to the viewer?

I think sometimes people don’t see the humour in my work. Much of my work ends up with a sort of dark, brooding quality which belies the humour that was it’s inspiration. For instance, I might see a jellyfish that looks like a nightcap and find that funny, but in the picture of the woman with the jellyfish on her head isn’t necessarily funny.

Has being involved in the arts proven to be a millstone or a point of elation?

I cannot say that it has ever felt like a millstone, though it is frequently challenging and sometimes frustrating in the way that anything that you feel passionately about is. And because I feel passionately about my work, it can at times be a point of elation.

Respond to the notion “Art is a device for exploring the human condition”…

I feel like making art for me is creating a mirror for my unconscious self. I make art not only to express myself, but to get to know who I am.

Significant moments in your life, the sort of things that changed things for you forever… Who how why what and where…?

When I was a sophomore in college, I was sitting in my bedroom looking out my window when I suddenly realized I was going to be a painter. It really felt like an epiphany, like my life changed from one moment to the next.

What discourages you from doing art?

Sometimes the necessities of life keep me from producing, but I don’t think that is the same as being discouraged.

Is motivation to work an issue for you and how do you overcome it?

I’m pretty motivated, but there are only so many hours in a day, and one needs to shop for groceries, and do the laundry.

Do you have a challenge knowing when a work is finished?

Not any more. It used to be harder when I felt that my technical abilities were dragging behind my vision.

What about the role of titles with your work, some hate them others revel in them, what about you?

I enjoy making titles and think they can play a significant role in leading the viewer into some sort of poetic interpretation of the work.

You know you have “made it as an artist” when…

I don’t know. “Making it as an artist” seems to refer to some kind of commercial success. Commercial success does not always come to great artists and often does come to people who are more interested in self-promotion and business than art. I would very much like to succeed financially with my work, but whether or not I do, I will feel like I have “made it” because I have produced the best work that I can as much as has been possible.

The value of Visual Arts to you is…

The value to me is based on how much joy it gives me or the extent that it allows me to see something new or something from a new perspective.

Your first “decent” gallery representation, how did it come about?

The Sonia Zaks Gallery in Chicago. I was with her for about ten years and had three one person shows with her. I got connected to her through Dennis Adrian who was a teacher, collector and friend of mine.

Your first show at a “gallery” you thought was of value, how was the whole thing for you?

It was very exciting. When I look back I can’t believe I was able to paint all of those large paintings in one year. I painted much faster then. I’m still proud of the work from that show.

The business or marketing side of Art can be a challenge to some, what are your thoughts?

I find it very challenging. It is challenging to make something for personal and spiritual reasons and then turn it into a commercial “product”. I am trying very hard to face those challenges, though, it is absolutely necessary to do if I want to share my work, and to continue to do what I love most to do.

Have you had much connection post sale with purchasers of your works?

Sometimes, not always. Many of my collectors are also my friends. I do sometimes wonder about works of mine that are living with strangers and are part of their lives in the way that works of art are. I wonder what my works have meant to them, what living with them has been like.

Is your art, “art for art sake…” or a matter of “art for commercial viability?”

I think one has to make art for art’s sake because the best art you can make is the work you feel most passionately about. When you start to make work based on what you guess might be commercially viable, you make work, which is flat or derivative.

If you have been working as an artist for a while, how do you feel about earlier works that are in people’s collections / ownership?

There was a time when I would look at early work and feel uncomfortable about the lower level of technical skill. But now I feel excited to see work again that I haven’t seen for years and to see the seeds of ideas that are still present in my work.

Name a book or books, which may have inspired your work as an artist?

I think that the children’s book “The Lonely Doll” has been an influence on my present group of work.

What can you tell u s about your studio environment?

I feel very grateful for the studio I have at the moment, but my ideal studio would be larger, with more storage and natural light.

Is your work process fast or slow?

My process is very slow. The more I paint, the more I know and the more I have to bring to the next painting, so my process seems to become slower and slower. This is why I have come to enjoy drawing more, because I am able to bring images to life more rapidly.

Otto Dix the German artist said (in part)… “All art is exorcism…” Is that the case for you? If so how…I agree with that statement.

When I have an idea for a work, it feels like something that needs to come out of me, and it feels urgent. When it is finished I don’t feel like I ever have to express that particular thing again because it has been said.

Art as a therapeutic device; do you think it is useful for this purpose and is your work in this category somehow?

Yes, certainly. When I am working I am alert and relaxed, in a meditative state. A very therapeutic state to be in.

Do the seasons affect your work or work habits?

They affect the clothes I choose to wear to the studio.

Some say a measure of an artwork is the ability for it to hold a persons attention or cause the viewer to come back after an initial glance and become captivated by the work, is that so for your works or an intention of yours?

One of my teachers in college was Ed Paschke. He is a very interesting artist. He once talked about the stopwatch test. He said that when you look at an image, start the stop watch. How long does that image hold your attention? I often think of that. I think that it is one way to judge the success of a picture. I do want people to come back and become captivated. There is nothing like living with works of art, though. When you live with a work of art you form a relationship with it, and look at it when you are not consciously looking at it and it seeps into your unconscious and sort of becomes part of you.

Do you have a connectedness to other art forms?

I love reading novels and listening to music and looking at photography, going to the theatre, and watching movies and music videos.

Some artists are more “at home” isolated in their creative process, while others revel in being part of a group to bounce “ideas off” how about you?

I suppose I am isolated in my creative process. I do gain inspiration from other people places and things, but I don’t really “bounce ideas” off of people. I might say what I am planning to do or thinking of doing, but that is more of an announcement than looking for feedback.

Which is more important to you, the subject of your painting, or the way it is executed?

I think they are equally important. I think the way the subject is executed has everything to do with the meaning of the picture.

Do you prefer a perfect smooth technique or a more energetic expressive technique and why?

I use a perfect, smooth technique, not because that is what I prefer, but because it’s what naturally comes out of me. I love to look at a deKooning “woman” painting and appreciate it as a great work of art and also know that that kind of delicious, drippy paint handling is just not what comes out of me.

What is more important to you in your work, content or technique, concept or product?

I want a work of art to be shocking in some way, shockingly beautiful in some way hopefully. And I loved to be astounded by an artist’s technique. I find it boring when the success of a work is too dependent upon understanding the concept or intention. I feel like a work of art should be able to stand on its own, without explanation.

From your early beginnings at art school to now, how have things altered for you?

I like to think I know myself better now, and have more self-acceptance. I also have more technical skill. But whatever it is that makes me want to make a painting is the same.

Is the making of art all it was “cracked up to be”?

Yes and more, but it has taken persistence and dedication and tenacity to discover that.

How do you think art can change people or their perceptions?

We are all always changing. We change every time we see something new.

Are you the sort of artist who seeks out promotional opportunities or one that shuns the limelight?

I guess I have shunned the limelight in the past out of a lack of confidence, but I would like to walk into it now.

Technology (websites and social networking sites to name a few) has become an important marketing tool for many industries and individuals, what are your thoughts from a “You Inc” perspective and your art sensibility.

I think the web is a great way to share work. I love having a website and I am also on an artist’s website called culture hall which I also think is great. I want to have a blog as well. I celebrate the new technology and the increased ability to share work and make connections. If there is a danger, it is that people will stop feeling the need to see work in person, there is no substitute for seeing the actual work if you are able.

Do you work from life, or from photographs or from imagination or some other method?

For the last couple of years, I have been working from my own photographs. Before that, I worked from a combination of things. I would often set up a still life, or have a model and then use other photo-based source material as well. For instance, I might make a painting of a still life in front of a wall with pictures hanging on it and a window revealing landscape, and everything except the still life would come from photos and books.

When you create your work is it somehow an emotional relief as you do it or at the end?

It is emotionally gratifying to me to be making work, the end is usually a little sad.

Do you aim to make “masterpieces” with the aim of being seen in the future as an artist that really made their mark in art history?

It is my aim to make whatever I am making as best as I possibly can, the rest is out of my control.

What is your working routine? Do you listen to music while you work, or stay up late for instance?

I tend to approach my work like a regular job, I tend to keep pretty regular hours. I start in the late morning and work in to the late afternoon. I work without many breaks, except for lunch and I almost always listen to music.

What do you love/hate about being an artist?

I love living a life which is about doing what I most love to do, what I feel most passionate about and about expressing and discovering who I am. As I said, I find the marketing of myself and my work a challenge, but I can’t say that I hate it, I just find it hard. I think there is a lot to discover about ourselves in the places where we find resistance.

Have you ever made an artistic pilgrimage? If so, where did you go and why?

I have travelled a fair amount. I travelled a lot in my late 20’s and early 30’s. I always want to see the great museums in any city and have been fortunate to have seen many. I love the National Gallery in London and the Prado. I now live in New York, which is one of the greatest museum cities in the world.


16 Responses to “Robert Lucy”

  1. Stefan Maguran on February 9th, 2009 12:21 pm

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts – very interesting – good luck!

  2. Lyn and John Wells on February 10th, 2009 7:48 am

    interesting comments from a very talented artist.

  3. John and Dorianne Venator on February 10th, 2009 8:36 am

    WOW! What a truly great indepth interview of a very talented artist. Ww wish he was still back here in Chicago.

  4. Lindy Thompson on February 10th, 2009 11:19 am

    You seem to have “all the right stuff” – technique, ideas and most of all an attitude that just shouts success! How lucky is a person who has a passion and can take that passion and make it so much fun and thereby so successful. Your website is a gorgeous collection of work. Thank you for sharing – it is really amazing!

  5. Denise on February 11th, 2009 9:36 am

    what can i are the best..

  6. John Lucy on February 11th, 2009 12:39 pm

    What a great guy and artist, I wish he was my brother…oh yea he is.

  7. John Venator on February 12th, 2009 8:00 am

    Since you are wondering where some of your artwork is now – The colored pencil work you did in July 2002 is hanging on the opposite wall of my office and I am looking at it now – each and every day.

  8. Elizabeth Neuse on February 15th, 2009 3:39 am

    This is so great. I feel privelaged to learn more about Bobby and inspired by his fortitiude as an artist.

  9. Meredith Knight on February 15th, 2009 9:08 am

    I love the Robert Lucy paintings and drawings in my home and office. They continuously provide surprise to me. I will take in a new detail, a lush color, a new question. I am grateful to be able to live with them.

  10. kelly Ponzi on February 21st, 2009 4:20 am

    Robert I’m so impressed! You are more articulate than I ever knew about your process and what you love about your life. I feel honored and grateful to be your friend….



  11. Open Studio : Art Re-Source on March 3rd, 2009 8:17 am

    […] you want. below is the invite that I posted on facebook. My studio is on the 3rd floor, #309. best, Robert Lucy My studio building, Crane Street Studios is having a one day open house in conjunction with The […]

  12. Amanda van Gils on April 13th, 2009 12:15 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this interview. Such an open and positive attitude. Terrific work. Just a really good read. I was compelled to visit Robert’s website to learn more and was not disappointed. So glad to ‘discover’ an artist I had not previously heard of.

  13. Danni Bennett on November 18th, 2009 9:30 am

    So this is what you’ve been up too…? I was so pleased to read this interview and know you are well and working hard. I do miss you Robbie. As always, I love you’re work and can’t wait to see what your new body of work has to offer. XOXO

  14. Ronald Forbes on December 18th, 2009 1:46 am

    A really interesting interview. I have known Robert Lucy’s work for many years, and it gets better and better all the time. It has assurance and fine judgement and consistently reminds us of the visual wonder of our surroundings, and the complexity of the human imagination.

  15. johnny on March 16th, 2011 11:45 am

    Nice one my friend, well put.

  16. Robert Lucy - The Secret City on November 2nd, 2013 5:34 am