Lucy MacGillis grew up not far from Melville’s famous prospect of Mt. Greylock, surrounded by the rolling expanses, hills, and wooded slopes of the Berkshires. Since 2000 she has lived and worked in a small Umbrian town, Monte Castello di Vibio, not far from Todi, painting landscapes and familiar objects around her studio and the simple house where she lives. The distant views and the rooms of the house alike are filled with the clear, warm light of Umbria. As she explained to me, showing me photographs as illustrations, her point of departure is this all-encompassing light and its subtle changes through the course of the day and the seasons. Wherever she goes from there, she is guided by her eye. This visual experience, she says, slows down her painting, reflecting the slow, tranquil life in the town.
Although her paintings, all oils on canvas or linen, are devoid of human figures on a literal level, they are full of human life. The apricots and figs in her still life paintings will be eaten, the bottles consumed, the distant caffetiera on the stove emptied into the cup discreetly looming in the foreground. In this direct experience of light, color, texture, and space and in the connoted life around and within them, Lucy MacGillis invites us to share obliquely in her life. For the viewer, as he or she contemplates each canvas, this grows into a feeling of actually being present on the spot.
Apart from the carefully developed technique of her work and its seductive light and color, it is surely this immediacy, this vivid recreation of the experience of life in an Umbrian hill town which accounts for the popularity of this young painter’s work. In her exhibitions at the Hoadley Gallery in Lenox, Lucy MacGillis’s work has sold readily to local and visiting collectors, who may or may not find evocations of some favorite Italian locality in them. Working in oil of varying impasto on markedly textured canvas and linen, she develops not only this deceptively simple experiential illusion, but also a Cézanne-like structure, however gently implied, as well as a richly developed but informal play of brushwork. As natural and unpretentious as this informality may seem the work is consistently complete. Her aims go far beyond pure impression.
This year the focus of the exhibition is the work Lucy MacGillis executed in Ravello during most of March, April, and May, when she was working at the Villa Rufolo, the medieval tower, now an arts center, which delighted Richard Wagner so much. The presence of the Mediterranean, its special light, and its gorgeous blues and greens, have produced a fundamental change in her palette. You will see not only more blues and greens, largely absent from the Umbrian landscape, but more contrasts of hue and light, and greater complexity in her compositions.
Although Cézanne, Morandi, and her former teachers John Lees and William Bailey are most definitely present, Ms. MacGillis is well along in her own course. She looks much more at her environment than at any models she may have encountered. She studied art and psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, graduating in 2000. In the course of this university grants brought her to Umbria, where she now lives with her husband and child. The ensuing years were filled with marriage, work, and a string of exhibitions in Philadelphia, Monte Castello di Vibio, Perugia, Rome, and of course Lenox, where the Hoadley Gallery has been presenting one-woman shows of her work since 2003.