The quality of the light in the Lowcountry—sunrise, sunset and everything in between—is what drives Helli Luck’s passion for painting in the coastal region of South Carolina.
“I painted in Paris a lot before COVID,” says Luck in her soft British accent. “The light here is beautiful, but the light in Paris is amazing. That’s the theme that runs through my art—not the subject or where I am—it’s the light. I’m also a big foodie, so I’d paint all day and go out to a fantastic dinner at night—Charleston is like that too.”
The artist admits the ocean is a draw and that she finds inspiration in the maritime forests and marshes that hug the coastal waterways. And the natural beauty of the Lowcountry plays to her old-school approach to painting: She sets up her easel where she plans to paint—en plein air—and whether it’s on a shoreline or city sidewalk, it’s an approach she’s always taken. Again, she says it’s all about the nature of the light in the moment.
“For me, the light sculpts the image, which allows me to paint three-dimensionally,” says Luck. “The shape where the light and shadow meet provides a way for me to sculpture the piece.”
The London-born artist credits her parents’ propensity for travel abroad for developing her appreciation of the Old Masters. Her pull to the art world was instinctive: At 14, her work was on display in Mall Galleries near Buckingham Palace, putting her on a path to the prestigious Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London.
While in school, Luck secured a part-time gig as photographer’s assistant at the multinational ad agency Saatchi and Saatchi in London.
“I specialized in it as part of my degree,” she explains. “But I really wanted to paint and draw to express myself.” Luck advanced there to art director in charge of accounts like British Airways. “I worked with some really nice businesses that took me to really nice places.”
After a stint in Nashville, where her paintings of Charleston’s iconic horse-drawn carriages were especially popular, she found her way to South Carolina and settled in Pawleys Island.
Barely five years later, the Carolina newcomer has secured a solid place in the artistic community and in 2022 showed her work at Piccolo Spoleto. “It was a great experience and great exposure,” says Luck. “People come to the event from all over the country and Canada, not just to look but to collect—serious buyers. Connecting with them was amazing. Clients are calling me now, and I’m being commissioned to do paintings.”
Luck has experimented with a variety of media and styles over the years and is happiest painting with oils. “The impressionist artists are my favorites,” she says. “Looking at their work gives me pleasure and inspires me to use that style, a painterly method, for self-expression.”
The expat’s repertoire is wide, encompassing life experiences from the Continent to the States—a Parisian café, ballerinas at practice, portraits, still lifes, the hunt and Lowcountry landscapes and the creatures that inhabit them.
“I prefer larger-scale works,” says Luck. “The brushstrokes can be more creative, make more of an impression because the canvas provides more room to move your arm. It’s more freeing to me, and I feel it has more impact.”
Luck’s expansive works are a good fit for many of her clients’ homes. “They’re looking for big art, and that’s what I paint,” she says. “Think of the impact that must make on someone’s wall. It’s more of a statement—feeding into what excites us.”
Luck’s art is exhibited at Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, and Stellers Gallery in Jacksonville, Florida. She is represented locally at Wynsum Antiques and Interiors, Lowcountry Artists Gallery and Perspective Gallery, which I visited recently for a viewing of her latest works. I was struck by the action in her paintings, how she captured a moment, a bird in flight—light shimmering on a wing.
“She is one of our most popular artists,” notes Betsy Jones McDonald, fellow artist and Perspective Gallery staffer.
“My goal is to express the excitement of what I see,” says Luck. “To paint what speaks to me in the hopes that the magic translates to the viewer.”
On the horizon: Luck hopes to soon bring to fruition a long-distance French collaboration, unfolding in a novel medium. *
Wendy Swat Snyder is a Charleston-based freelance writer (sweetgrassandgrits.com).