Exhibited at Casa Rocca Piccola in Valletta, Lucille Cranwell’s watercolours are a mesmerising blend of dancing lines and luminosity.

This exhibition presents a vision of intense colour and stark geometries. Cranwell’s eye captures the conspiratorial murmur of cafe conversations and wandering passers-by, all engulfed in endless baroque balustrades and dizzy city streets.

Cranwell studied fine art at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, and immediately began a career as an art teacher. After her first solo exhibition in 1980, she spent the next few years in the UK and Italy honing her skills, developing a keen sense for classical technique. “The baroque style made a huge impression on me. I spent three months in Florence simply looking at the art there; I had found my muse in Italy.”

Cranwell records people, compositions and places

Settling in London (“for practical reasons, not climactic”) Cranwell was introduced to Nicholas de Piro, and her connection with Malta has strengthened ever since.

“I was exhibiting some paintings in a cafe in the mid-1980s, and Nicholas walked in for breakfast. He saw the pictures and commissioned me to do some paintings of Malta. Some of them hang in Cafe Cordina now.”

Describing the life of a painter, Cranwell is reminded of something Howard Hodgkin said: “A painter’s life is difficult – it is emotional despair and economic despair.

“The latter for me was very real for a long time, but happily that is now the past.”

Cranwell’s artistic style offers something altogether unique, drawn from the inspiration of artists whose work resonates closely with her sensibilities. “I love Matisse, Goya and Ronald Searle for line, and Sargent and Tiepolo for technique and colour,” she says.

Asked about her medium of choice (as if there were any doubt), she immediately pinpoints watercolour. “Mainly because of its luminous, airy quality, a certain freedom and fun. I enjoy the total concentration, the nervous energy. It’s a form of anxiety that results in huge satisfaction when the painting is a success. And the paper itself is very satisfying to work with.”

Always carrying a small sketch book with her, Cranwell records people, compositions and places. Her mind is most active in places full of people, railways stations and airports and cafes.

“But I do not paint outside; I find it overwhelming. The light, sound, atmospheres. In my studio I can work on a number of paintings at once; some take longer, others just fall off the brush. I can never tell how they will turn out.”

Addressing the direction of fine art in Europe, Cranwell says that each generation has a different eye, in fact remarkably different from what came before.

“England is about shocking the public. With conceptual exhibitions, I find the literature that supports the work rather incomprehensible. Why is it necessary? They all seem unresolved. At the end, I admire beauty and energy in a work of art.”

Cranwell’s artistic centre is this fascination with the power of pictures on an emotional and intuitive level. Her work intrigues; it draws a viewer in with its own special logic.

This journey for individuality is the kind of advice Cranwell offers young artists, and the sort of life they can expect to lead if they want to hone their talents.

“Learn discipline, develop courage and keep your curiosity. Look, read, talk, make art. Go to art school, visit galleries, do as much as possible. You’ve got to acquire a visual education. Drawing is important because, somehow, it enhances the understanding of what you see. And you really must be practical.”

Ultimately, artists paint because there’s no other way they know to release their creative impulse, to leave an impression on the world and to offer a perspective that resonates with others.

Cranwell’s work does this in an interesting way by building up frozen moments in time that are slightly off-kilter, unexpected in their delivery. The deeper in you go, the larger the worlds she creates seem to become. “Don’t have any regrets when it comes to art,” she says.”

The exhibition runs until tomorrow at Casa Rocca Piccola, Valletta.


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