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There’s something so assured, so open and down-to-earth about Percy Lizzard and his work. The gentle friendliness of his voice. His beautifully bold yet simplistic paintings. The way he takes inspiration from others. Percy’s journey has had its ups and downs, but the constant has always been art. His work has appeared in magazines, galleries and even Prince Charles’s Cornish estate. Inspired by birds, elephants, views in Tuscany, the colour Indian Yellow, Matisse, Picasso and a thousand other things; Percy is a student of creativity and life itself. “I consider myself still – a learner,” he says, “I’m learning all the time – I’m experimenting all the time, and that is a great thrill.”
This creative curiosity has driven Percy for as long as he can remember. Growing up in Manchester, he recalls his mother drawing for him as a child. “I felt inspired by what she was doing” he says, “I wanted to be like her”. Though Percy’s mother sadly died when he was twelve, her creative impact was profound and sparked a lifetime of artistic pursuit in her son.
Following his passion and determination to learn, Percy applied for the Royal College of Art in his late teens. He had received high marks across the board during his time at grammar school and his father had wanted him to pursue English. But Percy was set on Art, a decision that caused conflict between them at the time. “Later on, I’m happy to say my dad realised it was my life not his,” Percy says fondly of their reconciliation.
When Percy talks about his experience at the RCA, you can hear how important this time was for him. “It was the absolute most wonderful experience ever,” he exclaims, “the people I met and the tutors and the whole thing.” By ‘the whole thing’ Percy is talking about London in the 70s, in his own words “a fantastic place to be.” And it must’ve been. “I feel I was just very lucky,” Percy continues modestly, “for whatever reason I ended up there and I really loved it.” In this most prestigious of art schools, Percy focussed on drawing, painting, ceramics and sculpting. His sculptures piqued the interest of international clients when he finished college, landing him a commission to design a glass fountain for a hotel in Bahrain. But when the German architecture firm he was working with went bust, Percy was left with no job and had to change plan.
“I ended up teaching to pay off my debt and be able to survive,” Percy recounts unexpectedly, “I’ve been a head teacher at a large secondary school, I’ve been an OFSTED inspector and throughout it all I’ve painted and drawn every single day. I must have been one of the only head teachers in the country, who came from a completely art background.” It was a difficult time for Percy, but he speaks of it without bitterness. He grew to enjoy teaching and found success in this new field. I wonder if, because he champions his own learning so strongly, Percy was able to find fulfilment in being able to teach and inspire others. He sounds like a fabulous teacher, he describes challenging his students by taping paper to the underside of their desks so they could experience what it was like to paint upwards, like Michelangelo did on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Now, for Percy it’s all about painting. As he says himself, “there’s no big secret about it – there’s no hidden messages. It’s about being happy, colourful, bright. Enjoyment, that’s what drives me.” This uplifting sentiment is reflected perfectly in the vibrancy of his work. One of his pieces is humorously named Yellophant, an Indian elephant fantastically depicted in Percy’s favourite Indian Yellow – truly an expression of joy.
Percy talks freely about his influences, weaving them reverently into descriptions of his own pieces. The old masters and contemporary artists that he draws inspiration from, feel as integral to his pieces as the actual subjects. Picasso, Matisse, Max Beckmann, John Bellany, Keith Haring, David Hockney; the echoes of these fellow artists resound through Percy’s work. “I saw a painting by Picasso which was just black and white” he explains, referring to a piece depicting Picasso’s mistress Dora Maar, “It inspired me to do some black and white birds and they’ve come out quite nicely.” He speaks similarly of employing Matisse’s colour palette or tapping into Hockney’s flair for reinvention – using what he admires about their work to develop his own. “We’ve got to feed off each other,” he asserts, and for a person like Percy, hungry to learn and discover new things, he’s completely right.
This collaborative and explorative mindset has led Percy to great successes in the art world. He tells his story of becoming a selected artist for the Royal family; how a mysterious bidder bought all eighteen of his paintings at an exhibition as part of the refurbishment of Restormel, Prince Charles’s Cornish Estate. “I just happened to be skimming through Home and Garden magazine and I suddenly saw one of my paintings in a picture. It was in Prince Charles’s house in Cornwall and I just thought it was fantastic, I was thrilled to bits.”
Percy’s exuberance for his craft is palpable, he’s excited by where he can take things. He’s open to inspiration and happy to be taught. This means that his work isn’t intimidating or snooty – this is art to enjoy because you can see the enjoyment in it. Percy wants to bring his positivity and beautiful pieces to the widest audience possible. “There’s people that are interested in my work all over the world,” he says, “I just want to get as much out there as possible. Well, that’s the exciting thing about being creative all these doors open, you choose which ones you go through.”