“London’s streets are paved with gold,” as the saying goes. How much truth does this tongue-in-cheek promise once made to Dick Whittington hold for aspiring creatives?
We’re trying to find out. In the latest interview in this series, which sheds light on the world of London’s up-and-coming creatives and how they got there, Lottie Lesberg Smith meets Lucy Donovan, an ‘influencer of sorts’.
Introducing Lucy Donovan, aka girls and gallery.
I wanted to look down snobbishly, fist in the air to defend the sanctity of art, at the death of pure artistic form, at the fact that works of art – these pieces of history, glimpses of the soul – are only now nor backgrounds for someone’s are instagram grids. But I was wrong about a rare cultural phenomenon. And how wrong I was.
The art world can seem a bit impenetrable to passers-by. It takes a lot for someone to come in and just enjoy art. Not to intellectualize, not to talk about the canon, not to its value, not to its last auction price, but just to enjoy.
However, Lucy Donovan is here to talk 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 into people’s pockets.
@girlandgallery This is what visiting the Frieze Art Fair in London is like 🎨 #frieze #artfair #london #regentspark #friezeartfair #traceyemin #girlandgallery #londonartgallery ♬ CUFF IT – Beyoncé
We meet in front of Hauser and Wirth during Frieze London, between all the events and too many women in fur coats. Before we get to the first painting, I learn that Lucy moved to London from Boston when she was 19 to continue modeling, which she started when she was 16. One of her first jobs was catwalk at 180, which is the case now 180 studioswhere Lucy recently attended an event under her new title Art Influencer.
Lucy towers over me, wears cardigans under coats, talks like a mile a minute and seems like the happiest person in the room. It radiates out of her. The reason, I suppose, is that even in this setting, she’s given up the stuffy pretense of acting cool, calm, and collected that’s often assumed to be a must-have in a gallery.
Pointing to the gallery opposite the one we’re standing in, she says, “This exhibition is like avocado and chocolate, it shouldn’t work, but it does.” She’s referring to Horses and Freud. She’s already cast a spell on me and I’m curious to see how she’s made a career for herself in the obscure niche of art influence.
“I didn’t study art history and didn’t grow up with a lot of art. I didn’t really start until 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.
“How do you prepare for days like this?” I ask: “Do you research the exhibitions beforehand?”
“There is a lot of stuffy language and a lot of jargon. It’s pretty fast and I often don’t understand it. So I’m overwhelmed secretly googling things while someone is chatting up me. It’s difficult though because I find it ridiculous to make things too complicated, but I’m also obsessed with trying to understand something. When you get the reference, that’s the most magical thing in the world.” Lucy adds, “I really like experiencing the art first and then learning from it. The work should stand on its own.”
I’m beginning to see that Lucy’s role is clarity. She is a translator. She steps into these spaces where art is talked about in complex, amazing, bewildering, tedious and brilliant ways, and then absorbs that information and presents it in a way that her followers can understand.
I put this in front of her and she joked, “It’s literally just paint dude. I’ve always liked art. Art class was my favorite and English and history because of the stories. Then Michael Craig Martin was a huge inspiration to me and really sparked my curiosity to take things apart to understand them.”
And what about the decision to become an influencer?
“I don’t know,” she laughs. “I appreciate storytelling. I’m not a teacher, that’s just my opinion. I never want to feel like I’m preaching, only that I’m carrying the message.”
Hoping to jump onto a few other galleries this evening, my personal tour guide Lucy briefs me on each artist, from Chantal Joffe to curator Katy Hessel.
For an influencer who has a niche and so many followers, I ask what the key to her success is.
‘Honesty. You have to be honest, otherwise people see through it.
There is much to be said for influencers and, like Camille Charriere, regaining the title “influencer” in a stance against its flimsy misconceptions and association with a lowly “feed me now” culture.
I rate it. Look, is what Lucy’s doing something I blindly co-sign? No, I’m still struggling with it, but overall I find it brilliant and in an almost genius move, a gap in the art world’s armor that certainly lets in light and understanding.
Will I still cringe when I see someone stand in front of a masterpiece for a photo? Without doubt. But after spending an evening running from event to event, I’ve started to realize that someone who chooses to interact with an artwork is interesting, fair, and valid to them.