2 Maria Lluis: Elegance from simple materials 2
3 by Ellen Hall 3
Maria Lluis’s atelier is on a nondescript street in Perpignan. Push the
gate and ring the bell. She opens the door onto a spacious
well-proportioned square room. Beneath the ceiling of wooden beams,
the white walls are covered with paintings and drawings. Three wooden
tables hold brushes and pens. In one corner is a sofa covered with a
paisley throw in the same warm colours as her canvases: red, burnt
sienna and black.
She sits on the sofa, the centre of an admiring circle of two
friends and her daughter Hélène. Women are the subjects of most of her
work. Her three models: Patricia from Madagascar, Veronique, dancer
and choreographer, and Stephanie, from India, are inspiration and
co-conspirators. They glow from the walls in an infinite variety of
physical poses and emotional states.
Born into a poor family in Perpignan in 1931, Maria Lluis started
drawing on the floor with bits of charcoal from the fireplace.
Proudly identifying herself with “the school of Lascaux” , she
continues to produce elegant lines with the simplest of materials.
Charcoal remains her favourite medium. Her India ink drawings are made
with a hand-cut bamboo pen. She draws every day, in the morning, to
free the movement of her hand. “Freedom” is a recurring theme in her
From the age of 16 to 20 she went to the Beaux Arts in Perpignan,
where she studied with Henri Frere, a pupil of Aristide Maillol. There
she received a classical education in figurative art, first the Greeks
and then the Renaissance. From Michelangelo she learned how the human
body functions. “Under the clothes you have to sense that there is a
body.” Her women, draped or not, burn with sensuality. She admires
Egon Schiele’s drawings. One can see the parallels in the angularity
and exploration of human forms and the sureness of the black line.
For 30 years she worked as a ceramist. We sat around a table made by
her from volcanic lava. “In ceramics it is the fire which dominates –
one can’t impose one’s will. “Only at age 40 did she take up painting.
On her canvases she uses a restrained palette of six or seven colours.
Her aim is to make the colours speak, to relive her Latin roots : the
burnt sienna, red, golden yellow and black of her parent’s Spain
Maria Lluis never poses her models, but lets them settle. When she
sees a painting, she seizes the moment and tries to capture the
“miracle”, as she calls it. The best pictures, she claims, are created
in urgency, in a fleeting moment. It is also important to feel the
right moment to stop.
There are no “dead” spaces in Maria Lluis’ canvases. What is the
source of this energy and movement? “It is me freeing myself to let
life in – everything moves and changes.”
”Who knows what art is?” she asks. “For me it is a hunt, a pursuit. I
enter a sacred place that I cannot explain. It is a mystery.“
[(To see Maria Lluis’ work, you can call and make an appointment at her