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Portraits connecting people: an interview with Lady Lucy

Artist Lady Lucy spent two months at the beginning of our City Now City Future season painting watercolour portraits of museum visitors. Each of them agreed to pay for their portrait with a favour, done for someone else. Lucy explains how she hopes to create a network of generosity spreading across the city.

Lucy Woollett

Artist Lady Lucy

29 September 2017

Picture from Lady Lucy project.

Could you introduce yourself and tell us about your portrait painting project?

Hi, my name is Lucy Woollett and as an artist I call myself Lady Lucy.

In Portraits for Services, Gifts and Favours I have embarked upon a series of exchanges with a network of people sitting for a portrait. In exchange for a watercolour painting, each of these people was willing to offer a service, gift or favour - from language lessons to homemade cake.

Through the process of exchange, the value of the portrait painting is questioned. Is the value in the goods offered for exchange, or in the moment of interaction and engagement during the process of painting itself? The emphasis is placed on the personal interaction and offer of exchange, suggesting alternative value systems other than those of the commercial marketplace

The journey has taken me from London, to Dancing Ledge, Berlin and the Isle of Mull. I've built relationships with the individuals through the process of painting and the exchange. Each painted work or object rests within the discursive and social realm of its happening.

How long have you been painting these portraits? What was different about your exhibition at the Museum of London?

I have been doing this project for 3 and a half years. So far I've painted 25 portraits which have been exchanged for portraits, services, gifts and favours. At the museum, I expanded this notion to create an Interchange. I invited visitors to get their portrait painted, but rather than giving me a service, gift or favour, I asked them to pass that reward on to another visitor.

A woman with the portrait of her produced by the Lady Lucy project.

What was the inspiration behind this project?

At first the project was about expanding the social nature of portraiture. To see what people would offer, and how that might be useful for us both. It was a chance to connect and spend time with people too. For the Interchange project at the Museum the aim is to widen that circle, to offer the gifts on to somebody else.

What impact do you see the gifts and favours having, both on those who give and receive them?

I am interested in ideas of artwork as gift and alternative economies. I think these are important things to think about presently. I absolutely believe artists should be paid for their work, but the idea of this project is to highlight and think about the social connection and the use of the exchanges. The exchanges will be unique for every person who takes part. It will be what they get from the meeting or receiving of the favour that will be important.

Two men on a bed with a portrait of them painted by the Lady Lucy project.

Two sitters from the Lady Lucy portrait project

Offers in the Lady Lucy gifts and services project.

What are some of the most interesting favours that have been offered?

Every offer is unique in it's own way and reflects the person that has offered it. There are activities or lessons for people to do: driving, bakery, patchwork quilt making, there are gifts for people to receive in the post, a hand drawing postcard sent from India, a poem in a box for example.

How can people take part and claim one of the favours for themselves?

You can come to the Festival of Radical Fun where I will be holding a stall for the exchanges. Come and talk to me about the project!

Do you think these portraits can make a positive change to the city? How would you like to see London change?

I think the portraits and their exchanges will create moments of connection between people, and conversations around gift exchange and alternative economies. These are the conversations and feedback I have received from the good people involved who have sat for their portrait and are offering something for someone else. I am thrilled to take part in the City Now City Future season, which is starting a conversation between so many people and involving so many projects from across the city.

London has massive inequality within it, I would like to see that inequality addressed properly and the housing crisis sorted out. London should be a place where everyone feels welcome for that is the key to its survival.