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  4. Lucy Clink

Where are you from, and what brought you to Rome? 

I'm from Arlington, Virginia, right outside of Washington, D.C. I came to Rome as a graduate student for the second year of an MFA program at the Tyler School of Art, which has a program in Rome where I still teach, actually. So I came to do an MFA, and then I went back to the United States. I came back to Italy, and shortly thereafter, I found a job at St. Stephen's and Temple University. So I've worked at these two jobs for many years.

You have been teaching drawing and painting at St. Stephen’s for 35 years; that’s an incredible commitment; congratulations. What has kept you coming back every year?

Honestly, I never imagined I would have any jobs anywhere for that many years. And I have to say, it wasn't always a hundred percent, sometimes it was seventy-five percent love and other times it was less, sometimes it was more [laughs] but let me say that it won out as a great place to work with a friendly and intelligent community, a fantastic art department, a beautiful physical space, and the greatest thing, as a teacher in the art department, was that we were left alone to teach as we liked and that was a tremendous freedom. The students were always pretty enthusiastic, plus extremely interesting and intelligent. They're teenagers, so they can get out of hand and go wild and rebel and all the rest. And so they should, but mostly it was fun, and that's its own reward, and then they get involved, and you get involved, and that's it.

Did you know from a young age that you wanted to become an artist?

I mean, it is the kind of thing that you know. I remember in my neighborhood in Arlington, I had a little pack of friends, and we would go out, and I would give them drawing lessons as an 11-year-old! What a nerve! What did I know? Not much, but they liked it. Through high school, I always did art and then applied to an undergraduate school with a great art department at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. And I just was happy, I just really felt I was lucky in that way to always love art, you know?


It sounds like you knew right away.

Yes, I mean, there are many other things I love too, but it never occurred to me to do anything else really as a profession. I have always loved looking at pictures and making pictures of all sorts. So that was nice.

On the subject of your art, your oil paintings, works on paper, and mixed media art feature many landscapes and interior scenes; what is it about natural and domestic landscapes that attract you?

Certainly, the landscape around Rome and also, as an artist, I like to work from direct observation. There were plenty of places around Rome and in some gardens where I could go and paint and set things up and then leave them there and then come back the next day and do those kinds of projects, and I would also work from my balcony. I like the observational, and that's sort of linked to photography, another part of the picture-making business that I am involved in. Photography is really just looking and thinking about composition and light. And then, of course, my art is informed by countless numbers of other artists whose work I adore from just about any century. When people say, "well, who are your favorite artists?" Then I say, "which century?" So, [my practice] is informed by love of art and informed by the place I live.


It sounds like your art has been very much informed by living in Rome.

Yes, and there's also the light and the color. Those things seem like the standard-issue answers, but once you start down that road, you're endlessly fascinated by it. That certainly was the truth for someone like Morandi.


I love Morandi…

He's a tough one because people who are maybe not in the business at first, say, "so what, there are a bunch of pots." But it's this sort of love of looking and the little nuances and bits and pieces that can take a lifetime to really understand—both for him as an artist and maybe even for us as viewers.

That's a beautiful way of thinking about Morandi and this idea of dedicating one's life to the study of a single object or group of objects in his case. I have to ask you, since you brought up the light in Rome, do you feel as an artist that Rome has a light that's different from other places?

I think the truth is that the Mediterranean in general and certainly the south of France and Provence and all those places have a beautiful light, but then you get to the North, in the Nordic countries, and there are great painters there too. I think wherever you are, you find that thing that suits you, but I have to say, the light is different here. When I go to Arlington, and I paint there, it's different. Here, the days are long; the sky is often clear. I was walking here today, and I'm looking at the sky; it's midday, and I'm thinking, "it's so high contrast. How can it be so high contrast? Why is it like this?" So there's a general appraisal in looking at the landscape, the buildings, the architecture, and if you go south, to Puglia, where the white buildings are so beautiful against the blue sky, [you realize that] the light is different [there too].


You're right; the light in Rome creates this incredibly high contrast.

I would say it does. It's so thrilling. Italians are so funny, especially Romans; when it's a rainy day, they take it as a personal insult.

I know exactly what you mean. So, remaining on the subject of Rome and thinking back on your time at St. Stephen's, were there moments that helped you grow or inspired you to see something differently?

I can't say there's any one particular thing, but I have also to say that over the long arc of time, after teaching a long time, it's sort of funny when you get ready not to teach anymore because you feel like you've suddenly understood it. And that may be true with many things in life. I think, being older, I've tried to be more patient, and I've tried to say, you know, these are young people and, especially with what we've been through in the past couple of years, they really need to relax a little bit. So I had to sort of monitor my strictness and my desire for everyone to get to work and do the job because these are young human beings who really are more interested in each other than anything else in the world at the moment. So it was a kind of learning curve of patience, but it wasn't one specific thing. You kind of grow along with your students. I'm sure you feel that too.



When you're younger, it's tricky because they kind of want you to be a peer, but you're not the peer, although you look young, and you have to stand your ground and make sure that you have authority. It's kind of a game of "who has the authority," and I think with young people, especially this age and especially with these students, you know, they know a lot, they're very smart, and they will let you know what you made a mistake, and I'll say, "thank you. I appreciate that." [Laughs] And I didn't always; I wasn't always like that.

That's hard to do. Of course, we are constantly learning from our students. I wonder, what is the most unexpected thing you have learned from a student or group of students?

I think the most unexpected thing I learned was that they want to do it their way when it comes to the visual arts. You know, you say, "no, draw it this way or always draw the whole form and then try it this way," and a lot of times you make them do it because you know that's the right approach, and they'll go back to their own approach. So I respect that, even if I don't always agree but with them at this age, I've learned to allow them to have their way sometimes. I get my way sometimes too. It can't be all, "I'm the teacher, and you have to do it this way." I have to respect that; everybody's kind of idiosyncratic about these things. [As a teacher] you try to find the way into where they feel like they can do something because it's a form of empowerment to say to them, "that's pretty good what you did, and it's not what I would have advised." And that's hard to do.


And you, as the teacher, can be surprised along the way.

You know I've always said that these St. Stephen's students I've had over the years draw much better than any university student from the get-go. They have a natural skill in drawing. I don't know if it's because they're more relaxed or they're still young enough that they're not inhibited so much, but they have a real sense of drawing that some of my university students don't have.

In your thirty-five tenure at the school, I can’t imagine it has always been easy, especially these past few years with the global pandemic. Have there been moments when you have doubted whether education was the right path for you, and if so, how did you move past that doubt?

Well, yeah, sometimes I thought, why am I doing this? You know, there were days when I would think, "this is just like pandemonium." I would joke and say, "this is riot control. It's not teaching," and there were times when I would have to send some to the Headmaster and that kind of stuff, so yes, there were those moments, but on the whole, I have enjoyed it.

What accomplishments from your time at St. Stephen’s are you most proud of?

That's a hard one. I've had shows here; I won a few fellowships and those moments when I could do the work-life balance. One thing in the Art Department that is different from the other departments is that there was always this idea that you could have a part-time job that you're very devoted to--and I have been all these years--and still have time for your own thoughts and your artistic life to exist so that in itself is an accomplishment that that balance has been maintained in all the years that I've taught here and I assume it will be maintained for my colleagues because we all love what we do and we're happy to teach but that balance is important.


And I imagine being an artist makes you a better teacher.

Well yes because I'm thinking about; what happens with the students is that I'll work on something and then say, "I'm gonna try this out on them" or "let's try these materials" and we work through it together. Then as we're doing it I'll say, "We should have done it this way," but I think all people do that in teaching, that’s not particular to art. You have a class of fifteen students who are all doing variations on a theme and that is very exciting to see that type of collaboration.

And on the subject of your art, I was wondering, how has teaching at St. Stephen’s and the experience of living in Rome influenced your artistic production?

That is almost impossible to quantify. I kept saying I was going to move to Naples or even Venice, I wasn't gonna leave the country, but you know, I thought I might go to another town but I think it was just so lucky that I landed here and, it wasn't like a life plan, but it kind of presented itself when I was in my late twenties and I thought, well, why don't I just stay here? And one thing led to another and you know, and even students would always say, "why did you come to Rome?" And I'd say, "well, I was a graduate student," and they'll say, "oh, well you must have fallen in love with an Italian and gotten married," and I would say, "no, I didn't, I mean I had boyfriends but I didn't get married until very late in life." It's kind of funny; that's not why I stayed.


Everyone always assumes it always has to be an Italian man!

That's an old-fashioned idea, isn't it? I guess that's still floating around in your generation too.


It is. It's as if no one believes you can fall in love with a country.

You know, for all the bureaucracy, all the things that go wrong and drive you nuts, and all the rest, it's so worth it. You can get on a train and go to Venice, you can go to Capri, it's just such a privilege. So that has been a huge influence, constantly photographing it, painting it, drawing it and it's never finished. So, yes, Rome has had a huge influence. It's a kind of collage of many years of experience and it's hard to say precisely what it is; I would never be able to say that and that's why I love Morandi. He taught and he was a very good teacher. He had three sisters that took care of him and a close-knit circle of friends but he didn't really go anywhere. I love the idea of him being there, with his work. He had a circuit that was pretty small, even physically, I mean he would travel, but not much. I love that idea and, in a way, I came to Rome and sort of did that. I didn't really expand out and travel to other places. I go to Washington, D.C., but I'll go to see the Italian paintings at the National Gallery. How perverse is that?


That's exactly what I do every time I go home to Washington, the first thing I do. I had never really thought about it before. That is pretty funny.

"Gotta go see the Italians!" --As if I hadn't gotten enough of them just living here. So, the influence and the joy and love of it have been immense.

Could you share a piece of advice with our graduating class of 2022?

They are so wonderful; I've had many of them as my students over the years. I don't have any big lofty advice but I have all the simple old-fashioned grandmotherly advice, which is: "give everybody the benefit of the doubt." We all say that's a good idea, but it's really a good idea. Try to wait 24 hours before you react or send the email about something that upsets you. Practice common courtesy. If you can give your seat up or smile at someone or help out in some way, that common act of kindness or courtesy is powerful. See how you can make the moment a little bit better for someone else. Also be kind to yourself ,that's all. They already have been given lots of advice and they have the education and the ability to get on in life and enjoy it.

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