“Art is a part of my identity and I cannot live without art. My paintings are like my family members.” 

Lucy Li Chenhui (b. 1999) was born in China and grew up in Hong Kong.  She is currently a Bachelor student at Oxford University, studying Economics and Management. Lucy has been creating art all of her life. Art fills what was missing in her childhood: she was an introverted child, had very few friends as a child and was often isolated. Painting allowed Lucy to open herself up to the people around her and gave her a voice. Lucy has become a happier person since she developed a passion for art.

She used to work on Chinese painting but the medium was too restrictive for her. She primarily works in oil now as she believes in the emotional qualities and the richly textured surface delivers what she wants to communicate. Her works have evolved into figurative, realist pieces depicting human conditions. For the past few years, she has been working off the concepts of refugees and misplaced beggars from her interactions with the homeless in London. She has since adopted a keen interest in depicting humanitarian subjects. Since last year, she began to work on a series about the Khmer Rouge massacre. Lucy works from black and white photograph sources taken during the massacre, scenes from the killing fields, military prisons today, the biographies and books written by victims of Khmer Rouge. Recently she has been reading Loung Ung’s biographic novels, The Gate, Survival in the Killing Fields and when Broken Glass Floats.

Lucy believes that there is peace in the oil painting language.  She also plans on writing a paper or a book to accompany the paintings she creates so that more people can become aware of the Khmer Rouge massacre.

Lucy is pursuing a business school education because she thinks that people’s understanding of art needs to change and that artists need to focus on developing the ideas behind works and not the execution.  Lucy’s paintings are densely layered and bring together impressionistic colors with classical realism. The surface of her paintings are often not smooth. Her impressionistic style is what she developed from her early experience with Chinese painting.  

Lucy hosted her first Chinese painting exhibition at the age of 13. At the age of 16, her IGCSE art portfolio was selected as the top 1 out of 5,000 submissions and she was given the IGCSE Top in the World in Art and Design award. In 2017, Lucy exhibited at Piano Nobile Place as a part of the Ruth Borchard Self Portrait Prize; in 2018, Lucy was featured on Sky TV for Sky Art Portrait Artist of the year where she painted a celebrity live at the Wallace Collection. In that same year, Lucy hosted her solo oil painting exhibition in central London. This year, Lucy set up the Oxford Art Club, the only fine art society at Oxford University. 

In Lucy’s artwork we can appreciate the duality of life…and death.  Her art transmits an expression of despair that can be intrinsically felt.  It’s as almost we are coming face to face with an end, with that familiar end that we are born to experience.  Her art brings to us a dense reality, yet at the same time, it’s filled with hope.  Through her art, Lucy knows how to offer comfort when we can’t find the light.  In the midst of darkness, Lucy’s art represents rebirth. 

Q. Do you remember the first art you made? What was it and how old were you?  
The first art I made was a caterpillar. I made it when I was one. My mother kept it till this date. When I was young, I used to keep insects in my room, build houses for them and observe them carefully. When they died I would bury them very ceremonially. Since then I had been taking some coloring lessons but they were for fun. I became seriously interested in art at the age of 13 when I began to allocate a considerable amount of time per day for art.

Q. Tell us about your beginnings, how were your first steps in the art world?
It has always been very tough. Motivating myself to do art when other people are doing internships/working in finance is very stressful. There are a lot of organizations that support art of a very specific taste and my art does not fit into any of those. Thus, I look towards gaining publicity on my own and apply to host independent exhibitions rather than having individual works in group shows.

Q. What have you had to sacrifice for this career?
A lot of things: time to learn coding, time to learn financial analysis skills, time for internships, time to spend with family and friends. However, I multitask so I sometimes listen to Bloomberg and coding instruction videos while I paint. Yet, the opportunity cost of painting is still very high.

Q. Who are your biggest influences? Are you inspired by the work of your peers or anyone else in particular? 
 I really admire Rembrandt’s works and I am certainly inspired by works of contemporary artists on social media. I have connections with around 500 artists whose works I look up to on Facebook.

Q. What does your art aim to express? 
 They are meant to communicate an unbiased reality from my perspective. They are emotive pieces that draw people closer to a humanitarian problem: I hope they help to educate people.

Q. Is the artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?
Yes: extremely lonely. However, I like the lonely aspect of it and I often have a computer talk to me as I paint. It is beautiful to live in one's own world but that is not what life is like. One needs interpersonal connections and develop other skills.

Q. Apart from art, what do you love doing? 
 I recently picked up some coding methods for a data science research project that I am working on. I am planning to spend more time on picking up more coding languages: I am becoming proficient in python and I plan to learn C++, Javascript and HTML.

Q. What is your philosophy in matters of art?
 I think art is important because people associate pleasure and freedom with art. Works that are produced on a mechanical basis are not good works. Good works show very evident effort and care.

Q. What does 'success' mean to you? 
 I believe that success is a part of the process: the momentum in working towards something.

Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given, and by who? 
 I was chatting with Bruno Passos, an artist friend, and he told me, “Do not worry about the themes you paint, worry about the world, study the world, society, cultures. Your painting is just a reaction to the way you see the world. Many painters worry about what to paint, I feel that they just did not understand this logic.”

Q. What advice would you give to the next generation? 
Do what you enjoy and happiness is more important than you think.