Impressionist painter Helli Luck immerses herself en plein air to reveal the poetics of place


Champagne and Oysters, oil on canvas, 36″ x 36″

If the artist’s task is not so much to reflect the visible as to make visible, then impressionist painter Helli Luck achieves precisely that, revealing every nuance of what she sees and feels when immersed in a landscape, features that may be hidden from the casual eye.

Born in London, the Pawleys Island resident works principally en plein air.

“It’s mostly because, outdoors, I know I will find more ‘information’ and do better work,” she says. “It’s important to be quiet for a moment and observe colors, tones, shapes. Some things can only be grasped by being in the environment. My work captures what I saw and the emotion I felt at the time. I want to render the most beautiful impression of what I experienced in that moment. My design background plays into it as well, but it’s mostly a poetic impression.”

Luck is a former graphic designer and professional chef who returned to art after years in the culinary field, having earned diplomas from La Petite Cuisine in London, Roger Vergé’s fabled Le Moulin de Mougins in the French Riviera town of Mougins, and Le Chateau de Montreuil in Normandy. She worked part time as a cook in London and full time as a private chef after moving to Nashville in 1985.

Heavy Load, oil on canvas, 16″ x 12″

She did not put oil to canvas until 15 years ago.

Luck, who moved to South Carolina in 2015, is inspired by the great Impressionists, without regarding any one as a singular influence. It’s the style that speaks to her and to her clients.

“Impressionism is a dreamworld that invites you in,” she says. “You are transported there. It’s as if you can feel the sunshine, smell the melons and the peaches. I have always loved the South of France—its light, its colors and fragrances. It’s also just about being there, a combination of experiences. But what I loved about France I can love here, too.”

While attending Central Saint Martins, a college of the University of the Arts, London, Luck began working part time with the advertising firm of Saatchi & Saatchi, doing a lot of freelance graphic art and learning the ropes while still a student. After establishing her own company, D&H Advertising, at age 24, she worked simultaneously with Saatchi & Saatchi as an art director, responsible for numerous major accounts.

I’m so Pretty, oil on canvas, 40″ x 30″

But Luck’s baptism in art began much earlier. At 14, her combination pen-and-ink and watercolor piece was exhibited in the Mall Galleries near Buckingham Palace. It later traveled with the exhibit as it toured abroad.

“It was lovely to be recognized, but it was just a beginning, really,” says Luck. “I was madly in love with art and knew I was going to be an artist. It was just the first step on the road to exciting things.”

The seed was planted early. As a child, Luck traveled throughout Europe with her parents. It was during one such trip that she was galvanized by a first brush with art.

“The biggest emotional response I ever had to a painting was to a Monet in the Musée de l’Orangerie in the Tuileries Garden in Paris,” says Luck, for whom travel remains a passion. “It was so massive and overwhelming. I was in absolute awe.”

One assumes that anyone named Luck has enjoyed her share of good fortune. And the artist says moving to South Carolina was a stroke of serendipity.

“I do believe I’ve been extremely lucky and done some amazing things,” she says. “It’s not all luck. Hard work does come into play. But I think that at the moment I’m lucky to love being where I am because of what it means to my painting. A lot of people are wanting to buy large art of this subject matter for the beautiful houses that have been built in this area.”

Splendor in the Marsh, oil on canvas, 48″ x 48″

Luck, a member of the American Impressionist Society, says she wants buyers to experience joy in having and observing her work in their homes. She often goes to a client’s home to hear their stories and relate her own.

“Many of them will give me indications of what they want in the painting, so every day when they do look at the painting, it is a part of their lifestyle and sensibility as well as their home,” she says.

Currently, her work is on exhibit at Wynsum Antiques & Interiors and the Lowcountry Artists Gallery in Charleston, Perspective Gallery in Mount Pleasant, Brookgreen Gardens in Murrels Inlet and Stellers Gallery in Jacksonville, Florida.

Helli Luck

In formal art training as in food, certain concepts are stressed. Many are instructed to have a finished idea of what a work will be before they even begin. Luck prefers flexibility.

“Sometimes this is my approach, but I might also change directions,” she says. “A mood can change. Or I can make a mistake that is a happy mistake and just decide to go with it.” *

Bill Thompson writes about the arts, travel and film. His latest book is Lightwaves: A Film Critic’s Odyssey.

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