‘London’s streets are paved with gold’, or so the saying goes. For aspiring creative minds, how much truth does that tongue-in-cheek promise once made to Dick Whittington still hold?
We’re trying to find out. In the latest interview in this series, illuminating the world of London’s emerging creatives and explaining how they got there, Lottie Leseberg Smith meets Lucy Donovan, an ‘art influencer’.
Introducing Lucy Donovan, aka Girl and Gallery.
I wanted to snobbishly look down, wave a fist in the air in defence of the sanctity of art, at the death of pure artistic form, at the fact artworks – these pieces of history, glimpses into the soul – are now mere backgrounds for someone’s Instagram grid. But, in a rare cultural phenomenon, I was wrong. And how wrong I was.
The art world can seem somewhat impenetrable to passers by. It takes a lot for someone to come in and just enjoy art. Not over-intellectualise, not talk about the canon, not talk about its worth, its latest auction price, but just enjoy it.
Lucy Donovan, however, is here to speak about the joy of art. With 32.4 million views on Tik Tok, there’s clearly an appetite for it, and Lucy’s videos have brought the impenetrable art world to people’s pockets.
@girlandgallery This is what it’s like to visit Frieze Art Fair in London 🎨 #frieze #artfair #london #regentspark #friezeartfair #traceyemin #girlandgallery #londonartgallery ♬ CUFF IT – Beyoncé
We meet up during Frieze London, outside Hauser and Wirth, in between a flurry of events and too many women in fur coats. Before we reach the first painting, I learn that Lucy moved to London from Boston when she was 19 years old to continue modelling, which started at 16. One of her first jobs was a catwalk at 180, which is now 180 studios, where Lucy recently attended an event under her new title ‘art influencer’.
Lucy towers above me, wears cardigans under coats, talks a mile a minute and seems to be the happiest person in the room. It shines out of her. The reason, I imagine, is because even in this setting, she’s dismissed the stuffy pretence of behaving cool, calm and collected that is often assumed a must in a gallery.
She points to the gallery across from the one we stand in, and says: “That exhibition is like avocado and chocolate, it shouldn’t work but it does.” She is referring to Horses and Freud. She’s charmed me already and I’m curious about how she forged a career in the obscure niche of art-influencing.
“I didn’t study art history and I didn’t grow up around a lot of art. I only really started when I came to London.” It’s the opposite of many people, myself included, where a passion for art seems almost hereditary. “I just love it,” Lucy continues.
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“How do you prepare for days like these?” I ask, “Do you research the exhibitions beforehand?”
“There is a lot of stuffy language and a lot of jargon. It’s quite rapid and I don’t understand it a lot of the time. So I do get overwhelmed, secretly googling things whilst someone speaks to me. It’s a tricky one, though, because I find it ridiculous to overcomplicate things, but I also have an obsession with wanting to understand. When you get the reference it is the most magical thing in the world.” Lucy adds: “I do really like to experience the art first, and then learn from it. The work should stand alone.”
I’m beginning to see Lucy’s role is clarity. She is a translator. She gets herself into these rooms where art is spoken about in complex, amazing, confusing, tiresome and brilliant ways, and then takes this information and presents it in a way that her followers can understand.
I put this to her and she jokes: “It’s literally just paint, dude. I’ve always liked art. Art class was my favourite, and english and history, because of the stories. Then Michael Craig Martin was a huge inspiration for me, and really pushed my curiosity of picking things apart to understand them.”
And what about the decision to become an influencer?
“I have no idea,” she laughs. “I guess storytelling. I’m not a teacher, this is just my view. I never want to feel like I’m preaching, just that I am passing on the message.”
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We skip off to a few other galleries that evening, my personal tour guide Lucy informing me on each artist, from Chantal Joffe to the curator Katy Hessel.
For an influencer that has a niche, and so many followers, I ask what the key to her success is.
‘Honesty. You have to be honest, people see straight through it otherwise’.
There is a lot to be said for influencers and, like Camille Charriere, reclaiming the title ‘influencer’ in a stance against its vapid misconceptions, and an association with low ‘feed me now’ culture.
I rate it. Look, is what Lucy does something I blindly co-sign to? No, I still have my hang-ups about it, but all-in-all I think it’s brilliant, and in an almost ingenious move, is a chink in the art world armour that is certainly letting light and understanding in.
Will it still make me cringe when I see someone standing for a photo in front of a masterpiece? Without a doubt. But I’ve begun to realise after spending an evening running from event to event, however someone decides to interact with an artwork is interesting, fair and valid for them.