International colourists: Giuliana Lazzerini & Lesley Seeger

KatherineCaddy / Yorkshire Art Journal

Yorkshire Art Journal has been exploring the work of two Yorkshire-based painters this year. Their work pops up across the county and beyond, notable for its vibrancy and the way it captures and illuminates aspects of the landscape and architecture it draws force from. Both Giuliana Lazzerini and Lesley Seeger use colour to produce tapestry-like paintings that gently flatten and harmonise their subjects, both in terms of content and tonal quality. Below, we meet the artists whose paintings evoke much about the joy and beauty that can be found in our world

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L-R: Giuliana Lazzerini, ‘Old Whitby’, Lesley Seeger, ‘Towards Philip’s House’. Copyright the artists.

What are you inspired by?
G.L: The world and nature around me offer constant inspiration. Experiences from my past that surface as memories can also act as a starting point for my paintings, as they remain strong.
L.S: Nature, landscape, the earth, wild places where nature is strong. I’m interested in a sense of place. I think there is something spiritual and sustaining in nature. Whenever I’m in a city with all its stimulations I feel cut off from my life source. It’s like the fields call to me.

Tell us about your recent projects and interests.
G.L:
Having moved to York four years ago, the city and the countryside around has inspired me – especially in terms of my paintings and linocuts, where animals that inhabit the landscape have become the subject of some recent work.
L.S: I love the countryside around where I live in Huttons Ambo. It could keep me busy forever. Painting en plein air is a recent development for me; I used to be totally studio based. Now a lot of my work is created out in the landscape. While people are driving down the motorway I am walking up a hill with a bag of paints and water. Earlier this year I got up at 3am to paint Castle Howard as the dawn came up in a pink mist.

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L-R: Giuliana Lazzerini, ‘Mountain Village’, Lesley Seeger, ‘Towards the Cornfield’. Copyright the artists.

How did your painting practice begin?
L.S: It began when I went to a painting class aged five, with my mother.  I always won the painting and poetry  prizes at school.  I took an art foundation course at York College and hated it; we had to do colour charts which were really boring.  My degree was in English and Media and I specialised in design in the media. Design, drawing, making, was always there, but the birth of my son really kick-started my creativity. That is when I began to paint all the time.
G.L: My father was a painter and mosaic maker and he passed his love of painting onto me. Exposure to colour and geometry during my childhood encouraged me to study art and painting in Tuscany, sparking a passion for art which has never left me.

Tell us about the importance of colour in your work. Why is colour powerful?
L.S: I think colour has the ability to heal; it depicts mood and mental states. I was artist in residence at York Hospital for seven years and I know what a difference colour makes to the feel of the place. I’m international when it comes to colour. I like the vibrant hot tones of South America, Mexico or India but also the subdued greens greys and ochre of England.
G.L: I feel very attracted by colour and its power to communicate emotions. I can’t explain why, as I have a very instinctive approach in the way I use it. As a child I played with colourful mosaic tesserae and I used to spend hours putting colours together until they felt right and almost vibrated. I guess there may be that child still inside me.

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L-R: Lesley Seeger, ‘Rakes Lane’, Giuliana Lazzerini, ‘Spring Coming’. Copyright the artists.

Do you feel that your works possess certain qualities of tapestries?
G.L: People often describe my paintings as being like tapestries. I guess my brush and palette knives form brushstrokes like threads that can remind one of tapestries.
L.S: People have often said I should have my work put on to textiles. I would like to, but painting takes over everything and all my time. I do aim to develop some textiles from my work.

Whose work do you follow and admire?
L.S: Barbara Rae comes close to how I would like to be able to paint. Her freedom, depth and vigour. John Bellany, Frida Kahlo, Howard Hodgkin, Gillian Ayres and Leonora Carrington are people who inspire me.
G.L: I like many artists but Paul Klee is my favourite, as his work touches my senses and my soul. He can fall in love with a simple leaf and can take me on the most amazing journeys into his paintings and the world‘s most magical mysteries and discoveries, just as a child discovers the world around them.

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L-R: Giuliana Lazzerini, ‘York Song’, Lesley Seeger, ‘The Garden of Sarah China’. Copyright the artists.

How does your creative process work, and what do you do if you become stuck in a creative rut? 
G.L: I never start from a blank canvas as I cover the canvas with swatches of colour similar to a tapestry. I start the painting having a vague idea of what it is going to be about, but I like to keep all my options open as it evolves. I very rarely become stuck in a creative rut as I am very prolific but if I do, changing the medium in which I work can often stimulate new ideas and processes.
L.S: I’ve never been stuck really, but I do like to alternate the way I work between work in the studio, which tends to stem from my old way of working intuitively and freely – sort of free-range, seeing what emerges – with my observed work out in the field, where I draw and base work on what I see. I draw and paint a lot more from observation these days but I also love the freedom of letting rip in the studio.

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L-R: Lesley Seeger, ‘Helmsley Walled Garden Revisited’, Giuliana Lazzerini, ‘Bird’s View, Tuscany’. Copyright the artists.

Where do you live/have you lived in the past, and how has it impacted your work?
L.S: I think my 1950s childhood in Northumberland and Yorkshire was the greatest blessing for an artist. We were allowed to roam free; swimming in rivers, making dens in woods, jumping from haystacks. I was always out in nature and landscape. Visits to Sri Lanka , Egypt and Tunisia really influenced my early work, filling it with hot colours.
G.L: I was born and grew up in Tuscany, Italy. This has had a strong impact on my work. Pietrasanta is a place where art is part of everybody’s life; this medieval town, nicknamed ‘Little Athens’, is surrounded by Michelangelo’s marble mountains. When there, my father’s love for art and some inspiring art-passionate friends and teachers impacted me. I came to discover the world in such a wonderful land full of art, light and colour, and the memories are very vivid and precious.

Discover more about Lesley and Giuliana’s work on their websites: lesleyseeger.co.ukgiulianalazzerini.com

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