Lucie de Moyencourt is an artist best known for her many exhibitions of suburbs in and around Cape Town. As a former architect, Lucie loves drawing the city, observing people going about their daily lives. Lucie has spent many years backstage, watching her mother perform as a dancer in various productions and is thrilled to be back in the wings to draw over 60 projections for the play Happy New Year (A Play With Songs) at The Fugard Theatre. The play coincides with a solo exhibition at the Voorkamer Gallery at Chandler House, of 300 Cape Town sketches painted over the summer of 2018/2019. Both the play and the exhibition celebrate Cape Town and the people who live and pass through it.
Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in the arts?
I grew up in the arts. My dad is an artist but he is now an antique dealer and my mom was a ballet dancer, so my brother and I grew up in the theatre at Artscape. We were often in plays holding a flag walking across the stage, keeping our toys backstage, going straight from school to the play waiting for mom for hours. All our family and friends are in the creative sphere but it was just kind of a natural fit. My brother, for example, went into accounting and finance which was a polarisation of my family and all our friends but I have always been creative and am very busy as a creative person. I spend most of my day making new things. I don’t like the admin of running and selling my own stuff but I create a lot. People say I’m very productive but I’ve been productive on many different spheres. I worked in the film industry, I thought I wanted to be a set designer, I studied architecture at UCT. I worked a lot in the film industry again [and] throughout all of that, I’ve always been painting and drawing. I can’t pinpoint one thing. I think you either have it or you don’t have it but I’ve had the desire to create quite strongly forever. I’ve always been making my own toys and my own things, making my own costumes, picking up sequins backstage, making outfits. It’s just there without trying.
Do you remember a moment when you realised that you could draw or that you had this natural artistic ability?
I don’t believe that some people are more talented than others. I think the more important thing is a desire to draw. I think anyone can draw. It’s like playing the piano. You can practice yourself into being pretty good and play a concert if you really practice and if you really enjoy playing it but maybe the talent is that you really want to do it and put those hours in. I think it’s about how much time you put into it and eventually, it refines itself and it’s without you trying. I don’t think I have a special gift. I think that it’s all those hours. Every morning before going to work as an architect, I’d spend two hours drawing. I really love the action of drawing. I think that’s maybe the talent, the desire rather than being gifted. I’ve never thought that I’m gifted, I still don’t think I’m gifted. I’m trying to draw better every day and every now and then a drawing that I do impresses me. For me, it’s an addictive thing rather than a special thing. I don’t think everything I do is that marvellous but I do now think that I have an original voice and I want to put stuff out there and share it.
I found it so interesting to read on your website that you haven’t received any formal artistic training.
I haven’t. I actually dreamed of going to Michaelis but my dad said, “If you want to be an artist, you will be an artist. Here’s a pen and paper. Be an artist. You don’t need to go to Michaelis.” Because both my parents were artists, they really wanted me to study something serious. I went into architecture because I was very good at maths and a very hard worker at school and it seemed to make sense to study architecture and I truly enjoyed it. I love cities and spaces and as you can see, all my work is about people in cities, people in spaces, how they engage with their context. It’s about life. Having that architecture background helps to recognise spaces that we go through every day and that’s what I draw from. I have had some really amazing art teachers that really did unlock things and inspire me. The most important one to me was Lindy Waterkeyn who taught me how to paint and she has taught many South African painters. She is absolutely awesome and amazing. I started with her when I was quite young because she used to teach at the French school. She really inspired me. When I was 18, I went back to her for evening classes with a bunch of other adults when I was at UCT and that sort of unlocked some more desire. Later, I went to a lot of life drawing classes with Julia Teale who runs a life drawing class. She really gets into the practice of drawing and observation and being accurate and trying hard and not being precious and all of that stuff. It’s not like I haven’t spent time studying art and I spend all my time when I go overseas in museums, which is my art education. I allow a hell of a lot of time for art history by spending so much time in museums and I am very curious about everything. I feel like I have had a Master’s degree but in a very unconventional way and over many years.
What was your initial encounter with Happy New Year?
It was Renaye Kramer. She spotted my Cape Town work and she knows what I do. David [Kramer] was adapting the play and she put us together because I don’t think they knew of me at all and I definitely didn’t know that there was a play happening. It just came out of the blue. David Kramer and Chris Pienaar, who is the set designer, were sitting here in my studio and they said, “Do you want to do this play?” I hadn’t read the script or anything but they said its a tribute to Cape Town and that there will be a lot of Cape Town scenes and that maybe we can use a lot of the drawings because I have 150 drawings of Cape Town already. I was very excited because it’s quite fun for me to go back to the theatre world and just collaborate with a bigger team of people because I’m very used to working by myself in my studio on my own shows or doing commissions but it’s not the same as workshopping something, especially a play with actors. I got very excited at the idea of doing behind the scenes work again. It was about three years ago that I did my last set design job which was for an Arcade Fire music video. Obviously, I also have a big love for performance and theatre and I really want to encourage it in South Africa and be part of it. It was a no-brainer. It was easy to say yes.
What was the process like?
I read the script and like you’ve seen, it jumps quite a lot. I started writing down all the scenes of what could be things to draw. We Skyped with Nicolas [Kent], the director, who was in England and he had sent us a list but I felt like there were some bits missing and the list got edited many times, but we tried to come up with a drawing list of things I could start to tick off as a drew. La Parada is a big location at the beginning of the play. I knew I could go there, take pictures and draw that one whereas with the abstract ones, I really had no idea what he wanted. He was trying to communicate with me which was difficult through Skype but he came down and then we had meetings and it became clearer. We even did two days touring with the actors. We all jumped in a car and we went to all of the places and they rehearsed the lines there. That was really useful for me because, at that time, I could say, “What is the view that we want? Which side are the actors?” Obviously, it changed a hundred times. If the play is 120 frames that you see, perhaps 50 main scenes but then there are animations, I’ve definitely drawn double that and then things got cut and reworked. It actually was quite a bulky job but the effect was there last night and it really looked fantastic. Maybe we started with too much and it needed to be cut down so that it can tell the story [and] the actors can tell the story. It’s not an exhibition of Lucie work. It’s about holding the actors.
Did any of those illustrations come easiest to you?
Definitely, the ones that are in a place, like La Parada. We know where we are and I know how to draw that because I draw from observation. I don’t have this amazing abstract mind. I need information to draw from and to sketch. The ones where it becomes quite philosophical and you are going through endless corridors of the brain and we are travelling through an egg to the retina of the eye was a big challenge and took about eight conversations before we nailed that one but it’s part of the creativity and it’s nice to think differently about things and not to always be doing the same thing.
Do you tend to make drawing quite a ritual practice?
I do. I’m quite strict with discipline. I have a lot of commissions and I really am a very busy person. I actually have a day office and a night office. Often during the week, I work from home in the evenings. I have a lot of self-motivation. This year I’m going to try cut down on commissions because I am working towards a show in December which will sort of be a Where’s Wally scene book of Cape Town beaches. I’ve done three beaches thus far but there are a hell of a lot more that I want to do and each drawing takes about a month. If I want a sizable collection, I need to start now and just ignore the peripheral stuff but it’s hard to say no to really great commissions especially coming from The Fugard who I admire and am dying to be part of their world. The next one I’m doing, for example, is Rovos Rail. I am designing a scarf for them and that is really exciting because they are such a beautiful travelling company. I also do ceramics. I’m having a shell exhibition and right now I have a solo exhibition in the Voorkamer Gallery at Chandler House which is 280 drawings that were just drawn in January. That coincided and overlapped with The Fugard drawing list.
Over 200 drawings in one month and Happy New Year?
It’s been bonkers.
I’m sure each drawing requires something different but to fit more than 200 drawings in a month, how many did you do in a day?
Picasso could regularly work out 300 drawings in a week. I listened to an audiobook on Picasso and that really inspired me. That’s why I was like, “I can easily do 10 a day.” 300 in a month was my goal but I drew 200 because I was working on The Fugard and I swiped 80 sketches from last year’s sketchbook just to bulk it up. I do draw fast when the information is in front of me. With my own show, I just walk around Cape Town drawing things. It’s really easy. You encounter things ever 10 steps to draw. No one is stopping me from doing my work. I just can razor through it. When I’m on holiday in Europe, I often sketch 15-20 sketches a day because we just sit around or we are in a museum. The drawings that are in The Fugard are not drawings that took excessively long. No drawing that you see took longer than two hours but getting the information to make that drawing might have taken four hours in and of itself just to compose the scene and know the view and actually go there and then have multiple meetings beforehand. That is where it takes time but for my own show, it’s actually easy.
Do you specifically draw as you are observing something?
Yeah. I draw everything from life but [with] the show downstairs, all the colouring I do at home. All the colour is added later because walking around with a big box of colours is just heavy and not possible. I just take an ink pen. For The Fugard, all the drawings were done in Indian ink and then the colour was added digitally later. Everything got scanned in properly and sort of manipulated, often cropped quite a few times because the width of the stage changed a few times. There was a whole digital side as well.
Do people ever come up to you while you are drawing to ask about what you are working on?
All the time but it’s actually a bit irritating so I often put headphones on because when I’m drawing, I actually want to draw. I don’t want to be interrupted. Maybe I’m a little bit hardcore like that. I’m very focused and motivated but when someone is drawing, I’m the first person to go up and see what they are doing. It’s very curious and interesting and I wish there were more people doing it so that it would be less interesting and exciting and it would just be more normal. If more people picked up a sketchbook and drew instead of swiping through Facebook, they would actually enjoy and notice life a lot more and notice how other people live. I think it’s a great way to spend your time. It’s so satisfying. It’s like playing a musical instrument. It really is something that can bring tremendous joy to your life.
What do you find to be the biggest misconception that people might have about what you do?
I guess one thing that even I battle with is that people think, and I’m now talking even about my family members who are the closest to me, they think, “Oh Lucie, she is just laughing and frolicking in her studio. She can come meet me for lunch in the middle of the day.” I take my work very seriously and yes, it is true that I am having tremendous fun doing my work but I also am working and I also get extremely tired even just from drawing. If someone is a doctor, I think people give them a lot of respect and if they are tired, they understand that they can’t come out to their party or whatever but if I say, “Sorry, I can’t come to your party because I’m deadlining or I’m drawing,” people don’t get that I’m actually very serious about my work and what I’m trying to do and how much I like to draw and that it is also work like anything else. I am working for money. I am working to keep working because I feel like I need to keep it up. I’ve managed to just skim through and survive as a fine artist in Cape Town who is not even part of a big swanky gallery, who doesn’t do international shows but I’m doing absolutely fine and I’m really lucky but I feel like I need to maintain and work disciplined hours just like anybody else. I model my hours on how I used to work as an architect. The misconception would be that I’m just frolicking. My mom thinks I’m just doing photo shoots for Instagram and Instagram stories but actually, Instagram is my work. That’s how I sell most of my work. I have 39 000 followers. That’s where people see my things so I have to sit down and make an interesting Instagram post every day so that I’m constantly in the feeds and things. It’s obviously extremely fun but it’s also something that I take seriously.
Do you feel an added pressure on your work as that number of followers grows?
I think followers are extremely random. I think my sales have been more or less consistent despite followers [and] whatever they are doing but hopefully, it’s all building up to something. For me, the more interesting thing is just making better drawings every year and making more original drawings that I want to show. One of the things that I am trying to do this year, I think I will always do picturesque drawings forever but I am trying to add a little bit extra social commentary into it because I think South Africa is in such an interesting place and I think you can’t ignore all the dynamics that are going on. Almost like a newspaper cartoonist or something like that, I want to try put my thoughts into my drawings a little bit more rather than them being beautiful things. I do try to draw beautiful drawings and it is picturesque and picturesque views of Cape Town and the cityscapes but my challenge is to actually just develop it for myself. The followers/ people sometimes give you advice or say, “This is so beautiful. I want to buy it. You should do more of this.” You’ve just got to ignore all of that because then you’ll just end up being completely boring and I hopefully will be changing and adapting forever and the followers will keep following and growing and hopefully, the sales will pick up as well.
Is there anything still on your artistic bucket list?
Definitely. I draw the Cannes Film Festival every year. The first two year’s I was commissioned by a British PR company to draw at their parties. Instead of a photographer, they would have me draw live drawings of the people who are mega-celebrities but now I’m not commissioned anymore. They aren’t doing those parties anymore but I’ve still gone to Cannes last year by myself. I’m still going to Cannes because I’ve decided that the sketches that I’ve done, they are great and really fun on social media during the festival but what I’d really like is to visit the Cannes Film Festival for 10 years as a complete plebe, that I am. I just get my own Airbnb, I sit around on the beaches outside the festival, watch the red carpets which are public and free and I draw. I think in 10 years time it will be really exciting to have an exhibition of all of those sketches in Cannes during the festival. That’s one of my long-term plans. There are others but that is the most fun one.
Who are some South African women in the arts that inspire you?
One of my favourite painters is Mia Chaplin. She is a young painter. I am obsessed with her work and her sister Erin Chaplin is also an artist. I really like painters. The next one is Georgina Gratrix from SMAC. Her paintings just make me laugh so much and I think they are fabulous. Irma Stern, obviously. I just love Esther Mahlangu. I just think she is the coolest. Those are my favourites.
Lucie’s exhibition “Sketching Cape Town” is currently on display at Chandler House.
Special thanks to Christine Skinner.
All photos were taken on February 22nd at Chandler House.
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