With a focus on “extreme softness”, artist Lucy O’Doherty builds a hazy and eerie dreamland

The artist tells us more about her fuzzy creations and why she views hard lines as unnecessary “barriers” to her work.

8 August 2022

If there is one thing artist Lucy O’Doherty has no interest in including in her work, it’s hard lines. Seeing them as creating unnecessary “barriers” within her paintings, she instead gravitates towards the act of blending to create extreme softness. “When the lines between colours or tones become less distinct, your eye has nowhere to settle and keeps roaming around the work,” she details. “This pulls you into the confines of the composition rather than making you feel separate to it.” It’s this ability of being able to fully immerse yourself in Lucy’s work that gives it its defining quality. As opposed to her works existing as separate entities, her flowing style allows you to journey through them; they exist cohesively as scenes from the same hazy, eerie dreamland that Lucy has so expertly crafted.

To achieve this style, Lucy uses soft pastels or oil paint because “their slow drying time and flexibility once applied to the canvas or paper makes them suitable for excessive blending”. Then, using her finger or a paintbrush, Lucy moves the paint back and forth in the same spot until distinct lines begin to “dissolve”. This technique doesn’t only have arresting aesthetic results, it also has a deeply soothing quality: “the act of removing hard lines and letting fields of colour melt into each other has a meditative effect on me,” Lucy explains.

Growing up in Sydney, Lucy began painting after being inspired by her artist and graphic designer father Reg Mombassa. He encouraged her to apply her creativity and supplied numerous art materials to experiment with. She then completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the National Art School in Sydney, before later doing a residency in Paris at the Cité Internationale des Arts, and she has since exhibited over Australia and New Zealand.


Lucy O’Doherty: Soft glow in empty cinema (Copyright © Lucy O'Doherty, 2022)

When she first began exhibiting, Lucy tells us that she was predominantly drawn to creating artworks “centred around man-made structures with a subtle implication that they had been hastily abandoned for mysterious reasons”. This includes motels with doors left open and pools drained of water, and silent houses with the lights left on. While still applying some of these themes into her work, in the past few years – as her hazy style has become more established – Lucy has found herself more attracted to themes that “carry a sense of calm”, like bodies of water and the absolution of twilight. "I benefit personally from seeking calm through my art making process," she adds. These opposing themes, which are now both equally present in Lucy’s body of work, are seen as representative of her dreams, bouncing back and forth from “warmth and nostalgia” to places imbued with “danger and the unknown”.

Two recent paintings which exemplify this are from her recent exhibition entitled The Calm Before the Storm, held at China Heights Gallery in Surrey Hills. In Soft Glow in an Empty Cinema, Lucy uses subtle shifts in pink tones and an orange glow to represent a dimly lit cinema. “I think the limited palette helped with effectively capturing the enveloping and silencing atmosphere of a cinema before the curtains part and the movie begins,” Lucy says. An Unexpected Storm, however – a piece full of movement and drama that shows a lone car driving down a palm tree-lined highway in the midst of a thunderstorm – shows Lucy’s ability to create tumultuous, disquieting scenes. More recently, she's been fascinated by melting forms and the colours of glaciers and icebergs. Lucy is excited to see the icy path such subject matter will take her in the future.


Lucy O’Doherty: An unexpected storm (Copyright © Lucy O'Doherty, 2022)


Lucy O’Doherty: New lakes and craters formed by thawing permafrost (Copyright © Lucy O'Doherty, 2021)


Lucy O’Doherty: Afternoon light on coral house (Copyright © Lucy O'Doherty, 2020)


Lucy O’Doherty: Art Deco house, lilac (Copyright © Lucy O'Doherty, 2020)


Lucy O’Doherty: Ice tunnel (Copyright © Lucy O'Doherty, 2022)


Lucy O’Doherty: Restaurant waiting in suspended hour (Copyright © Lucy O'Doherty, 2021)


Lucy O’Doherty: Smog obscured view from LA pool (Copyright © Lucy O'Doherty, 2022)


Lucy O’Doherty: Sketch Vacancy (Copyright © Lucy O'Doherty, 2018)


Lucy O’Doherty: Cracks in ancient stone (Copyright © Lucy O'Doherty, 2022)


Lucy O’Doherty: Bellagio pool, view of distant mountains (Copyright © Lucy O'Doherty, 2018)

Share Article

Further Info

Copyright © Lucy O'Doherty

About the Author

Olivia Hingley

Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.

It's Nice That Newsletters

Fancy a bit of It's Nice That in your inbox? Sign up to our newsletters and we'll keep you in the loop with everything good going on in the creative world.