About two months ago, I received a call on my Escarpment Press phone line. The caller was a woman. Here’s a summary of our brief conversation, which went something like this:
Had I not taken that phone call, I would never have had the pleasure of introducing today’s guest, Lucelle Raad, author of Accidental Artist: Memoirs of a Flawed & Ignorant Traveller. If you are not familiar with her name, I can assure you that you have seen her work. She is best known for her subject matter, which, in almost every instance is children. I had many questions for this most talented artist, but I’ll start by answering the one that came to my mind when I initially heard her accented voice: Where is she from? Well, she is from England—London, to be precise. And now, here is my interview with artist—and new author—Lucelle Raad. I think, like me, you’ll find getting to know her very refreshing.
Joe—“As I have discovered, Lucelle, the subjects of almost all your paintings are children. Is there a special reason that you have chosen to paint children?”
Lucelle—“Call me Lucy, please. I much prefer it. I’m only sorry I didn’t use that name when I first became a professional painter.”
Joe—“Oh, really. Why is that?”
Lucelle—“Well, Joe, people trying to find me over the years would have found me so much easier had they been searching for the name ‘Lucy.’ As to why I paint children and continually do so is told in my new book. But, simply, I’ve always loved the arts, and I painted quite a few Bantu people while I was in Cape Town, which translated into painting children when I came to this wonderful country [USA]. I learned to love painting the figure, particularly small children, and decided to hone my skills doing just that. I considered myself a lucky ‘blighter’ at the time to have found my niche so early in my painting career, and I still do.”
Joe—“I would absolutely have to agree. Perhaps that’s why your work is so popular. After all, everyone loves children. So, these children that you paint, are they models, or do you just paint children that you know?”
Lucelle—“No, they’re definitely not ‘models.’ I’ve never paid anyone to sit for me. When I began painting, I could never afford it anyway. Thirty years ago, most artists were painting landscapes, flowers, and still life. Photography was not acceptable as an art form then. Now, it’s considered even more important than actual painting, and abstracts are ubiquitous. But to return to your question, I started off painting children at somebody’s request, and since I was cleaning houses at the time, I considered it a step up. When they were acceptable I was requested to paint more of the same, so I photographed my own children playing my guitar or drawing on the pavement. That was considered rather unusual at the time, so I continued in that vein.
I invested in a better camera (I had an instamatic or something similar at the time) and I purchased a telephoto lens, so I could sneak up on the kids when I decided to branch out. I would wait for hours to get that ‘perfect’ pose, whether they would be sitting or standing. Then, I would make up ‘stories’ by placing children together, either two, three, or as many as six. That’s how I got ‘Beach Party’ together as a painting, for example. People think I find the children playing ‘just so,’ but it’s a lot of work trying to get a grouping together. Many a photographer has asked me how I get it ‘just right’ .”
Joe—“And I get that. Nothing great ever just happens by chance. But have your children always been willing to be painted, or have you had to offer them ‘inducements’ or, for lack of a better term, bribes?”
Lucelle—“No, they were good kids. [Lucy has two childrenl] I would just ask them to do something—sit, write on sidewalks or walls, and they would be only too happy to do it. However, when we would be at a show, like Greenwich Village, they knew exactly when to approach me—like, for example, if I had a large painting in my hands. They would sidle up to me and request five dollars—crafty imps!”
Joe—“That’s very funny. Just one more reason to paint children, I guess. Now I know from reading your manuscript that you’ve moved around quite a bit. Where are some of the places you’ve lived, and where do live now?”
Lucelle—“Let’s just say I started out in London and ended up in Sarasota, Florida.”
Joe—“Well, I know there’s a lot more to it than just that, but for now, is there one place you’ve lived that’s a favorite?”
Lucelle—“That’s an easy one. I would have to say that my favorite country was South Africa. It was a haven. If it hadn’t been for Apartheid, I would still be there. I loved Cape Town.”
Joe—“Well, that’s quite interesting. And I guess folks can read about the other places you’ve lived in the book. Okay, moving on, the title of your book suggests that you didn’t always intend to be an artist. What was it that steered you in that direction?
Lucelle—“Joe, I never said I DIDN’T intend to be an artist.”
Joe—“Okay, I guess that’s true, but—”
Lucelle—“What I said was I never thought it was manageable. I lucked into it. I honestly believe it was God’s wish.”
Joe—“Well, if it was, I would have to say that it was also God’s gift—to all of us.”
Joe—“Okay, okay. You know, Lucy, I’m sure my readers would like to know a lot more about you than what we’ve touched on here, so is there anything else you tell us about yourself—without giving away TOO much of your book?
Lucelle—“That’s a difficult question, Joe. Even though I am a very optimistic, sociable, and slightly gregarious individual, I am a bit of a contradiction in that I am a very private person. I suppose spending numerous hours at the easel for months on end, over thirty years, has turned me into a bit of a hermit. I have never approached galleries, nor visited art centers here [USA], but I so miss the company of other artists. At times, I feel like a square peg in a round hole. If it hadn’t been for Amal, my daughter, this story would never have been written. I would advise many people to write their story, although doing so can be a shock—it was to me. I have never kept a diary, so I had a lot of thinking to do.”
Joe—“I can only imagine. You know, after our first phone call, I confess that I immediately Googled you to see if I could recognize your work. And, of course, I did—right away. But what amazed me was how much of your work I was able to find online. Do you have any idea how many paintings you have done over the course of your career?”
Lucelle—“Good heavens, no, Joe, I didn’t start out painting just to count how many I did! I haven’t the foggiest idea. All I know is that I paint daily and have NEVER finished a painting in a day, as do a lot of ‘daily painters.’ Lord knows how they do it, or why. I ALWAYS have to think about it first.”
Joe—“Well, I can tell you myself that’s it’s A LOT of paintings. But seriously, I would imagine that, by now, you might be somewhat tired of painting. How much longer do you plan to work?” [I should have known better than to ask this one]
Lucelle—“Joe! How can you ask such a question. It’s like when Dr. Samuel Johnson once said, ‘If you’re tired of London, you’re tired of life.’ Painting’s not work, it’s a life. Anyone in the arts can attest to the fact that tiring of a lifetime of your chosen profession is unheard of. I love painting as much as I ever did—more so! I don’t know what I would do without it. Think of all the retirees out there who do nothing but twiddle their thumbs all day. I’ve lived such a fortunate life.
Joe—“Of course you have, Lucy. I didn’t mean to suggest that you could ever be tired of painting.”
Lucelle—“Oh, love, I’m sure you didn’t.”
Joe—“Whew. Okay, so now that we’ve published your book, and revealed ALL there is to know about you in it, what’s next on your agenda?”
Lucelle—“I’ll hide my head and hope that no one throws tomatoes at me—and continue painting.”
Joe—“Seriously, I doubt there’s any chance of anyone throwing anything at you. I know you’ve said that you are a fairly private person, but there must be a way for people to contact you with more questions of their own. How can they reach you?”
Lucelle—“Well, now that I’m an ‘author’ and an ‘open book,’ I would really love to hear from your readers. They can email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll do my best to respond as promptly as I can.”
Joe—“That’s great, Lucy. As your editor, I can certainly attest to the fact that you’ve led a very interesting life, and I thank you for taking the time to share some of its highlights with us. But I know there is a lot more that readers can learn about you by reading your book, so . . . drum roll, please . . . where can they find it? ”
Lucelle—“Oh, that’s easy. Amazon, Amazon, Amazon. Right now, it’s available for pre-order for Kindle, but on Dec. 17th it will be available in print as well. Oh, and it will also be on my website, which is www.lucelleraad.etsy.com. And then there are also Facebook, Instagram, and word of mouth.”
Joe—Thank you so much, Lucy. It’s truly been a delight.”
Lucelle—“Thank you, Joseph. It was a pleasure working with you.”