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Cambridge Open Studios 2023: As artists open their doors, we talk to chair Sarah Lucy Lee about her work

Oil painter Sarah Lucy Lee is inspired by memories of growing up in Windermere and aims to recreate in her art the happiness she felt catching the ferry over the lake to visit her grandmother.

The 55-year-old, who spent her childhood visiting her grandmother’s home, now scours flea markets for objects that take her back to that time and place so she can feature them in her paintings.

Artist Sarah Lucy Lee
Artist Sarah Lucy Lee

“I love to recreate an image of beauty and I delve deep into who I am as an individual and I go back to my childhood in the Lake District where I was surrounded by beauty from the environment. I loved my grandmother's home that was filled with beautiful things and vases filled with roses. That's my happy place. And so I suppose in a chaotic world, surrounded by trauma and brokenness, I dig deep into the inner world of beauty from memories and I use beautiful objects to recreate an energetic relationship within the objects that reflect light and colour and energy.

“I want my art to have a sense of bringing order. You know, we all live chaotic lives. And I suppose with my paintings I can be in control to a certain degree. It’s a therapeutic escape into a beautiful place.

“It was peaceful and calm. Orderly and it was filled with love and happy moments. She was a very creative lady. She taught me how to sew and do needlepoint and she was always in the garden and flower arranging was a very strong part of the summer months.

“I would cycle to the lake and then take the ferry over to the other side o visit granny. I felt a bit like a little Red Riding Hood with a basket on my bicycle filled with cookies. It was all very delightful, really.

Sarah Lucy Lee’s work, Silver Coffee Pot with Fruit
Sarah Lucy Lee’s work, Silver Coffee Pot with Fruit

“My dad's still up there so I can visit him often, which is good. It is a long way away though. The flatness of Cambridgeshire has been a bit of a challenge. But, you can find beauty everywhere if you look.”

Her husband Ralph often helps with buying unusual vintage finds for Sarah to paint, including a copper kettle which features prominently in one of her works, to help her find her way into the more nostalgic works.

As her day job, Sarah drives children with special needs to school and she is inspired by the surrounding countryside.

She says: “My son has had learning difficulties, so I I feel I can empathise and be supportive. And the mums hand over their precious children to me and trust me to get them to school. Those journeys are quite key to my art too because the job gets me out of Cambridge and I love driving across the countryside and seeing the seasons changing. And so when I'm not painting still life, particularly when the weather's good, I go outdoors and I paint around Cambridge, so I have sketches of the colleges and the backs and that kind of thing.”

She first started painting while living in Ethiopia and working for the church. Her children had just started school and she found an art course nearby.

“We went out as church workers and were involved with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and we still are. My husband is a theologian, specialising in Orthodox studies here in Britain. We lived there for 14 years and I began learning to draw and paint at a local art school just down the road from us.

“The light in Ethiopia is amazing and the way that you see colour is completely different. The atmosphere is very special because you're at high altitude, unusually, in the capital city, Addis Ababa. It is hovering just under 9,000 feet above sea level. The city is on the mountain side and you are not far from the equator. So, the the vibrancy of the colours affected the way I saw and looked at everything I was painting.”

Copper kettle with vine
Copper kettle with vine

Sarah will be demonstrating her talent by painting a still life while people visit her home to see her work. She plans to hang her paintings in her living room “because my little garden studio is too small”.

“I hope people will ask me questions because unless you are an artist it can seem quite baffling how painting can create a 3D image oin a flat surface. I will show people my process and hopefully offer a bit of insight,” she says.

Sarah Lucy Lee is chair of Cambridge Open Studios. She will exhibit at her home on Saxon Road, Cambridge. For details of all the studios open on July 1-2, 8-9. 15-16 and 22-23, visit camopenstudios.org.

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