Lady Lucy Someone, some people, something.
Text by Antonio Ciutto
Lucy Woollett. Friend. Participant. Resident. Neighbour. Skateboarder. City Dweller. Secretary. Committee member. Collaborator. Oddball. Eccentric. Crafts-person. Painter. Social Portraitist. Artist. Self-appointed Lady. At any moment, Lady Lucy is any or all of these things.
My partner and I once sat for a Lady Lucy portrait as part of her “Portraits for Services, Gifts and Favours” reciprocity project: an exchange of things for mutual benefit. In return for a round-trip to Berlin and a stay at our apartment we received a portrait. We became participants in one of Lady Lucy’s unspoken social psychology experiments. Exposed and vulnerable, we sat for several hours while Lady Lucy slowly, diligently painted our likenesses from the foot of our bed. The intimate event became an art-social game, like an Abramovi? “The Artist is Present” stare for as long as one could stand. But where an Abramovi? MoMA experience would have been silent, ours was most definitely not.
Witty anecdotes bounced back and forth – wisecracks, zingers, flirtation, puns, the occasional bicker – seeking subterfuge, subtext, situation and rapport. A real chatterbox, Lady Lucy far exceeded any words-per-day-spoken averages. She found every means to avoid any moment of silence. Intra-personal chitchat filled these rare gaps exposing therapeutic conversations with her self.
Her quirkiness, her authenticity, her odd out-of-centre ingenuity, her un-conforming vigour and her courage to build a familial bond delighted us. An awkward but familiar Lady Lucy manner manifested. Her hand became part of a triad of behavioural impairments in social, communicative and imaginative abilities. With particular actions like compulsive tea sipping and obsessive brush-licking (like a latter day Radium Girl) Lady Lucy conceals an innocent pride, unabashed, unafraid and uninfluenced by the opinions of others. We became part of her vagaries, her storytelling, her Lore.
The portrait itself gives us pleasure. Its straightforward, partly naturalistic partly warped impression of us is like an 80s school photo, bad to the point of good. Our depiction might look like other people, but in a good way. The work makes us wonder how we are being perceived. Tension between our inner and outer selves mounts, tugged in multiple directions, misaligned. We question ourselves for the first time in a long time.
Lady Lucy is clearly smart and able, technically and intellectually well rounded. I see parts of Alice Neel or Marlene Dumas or Stella Vine in her paintwork. But our confrontation wasn’t about the paint. Or the final image. It was about Lady Lucy – the way she took up space to produce a relatively small outcome, her mess of working. I imagine her as a modern-day Vigeé Le Brun, who, too, once practised without a licence, before being accredited and celebrated, who had also experienced parental loss at an early age, who had been patronised by established institutions and museums. Lady Lucy displaces Le Brun’s nobility, the Ancient Regime and the Revolution with another political and social system, a contemporary ruling Norm-core. A London forest of endless new subjects, a macrocosm of potential social snapshots, multi-verses of people of every kind, staged sitters connected in innumerable ways to the portraitist. Peter Ackroyd’s Crowd immediately springs to mind. The London crowd, irregular, unnoticed, misruled, fierce, desperate, furious. Lady Lucy, a Londonphile, celebrates this city’s inhabitants, each one unique, an icon and a potential sitter.
Lady Lucy’s abstract works directly oppose her portraits. Aniconic or even iconoclastic, her “On Paper” and “On Cardboard” series seem to attack the icon altogether. If these are faces in a crowd, these are blank, obliterated, like amassed unfinished children’s thumbprint portraits. Like Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie, a rush of colour, arrays of shapes form her city’s inhabitants – daubs and blobs of paint dance over the canvases. We see accidental staging, a lack of sensitivity, a numbness to what might be portraits-en-masse. Perhaps the works make more sense as a series of extreme facial close-ups, portraits zoomed in way too far. We see zits and spots and hair follicles and pores and warts and all, beauty in the ugly. Knowing Lady Lucy, we constantly zoom in and out, looking for a face, a crowd, macro detail. Someone, some people, something.
Perhaps Lady Lucy is fighting with the city’s population, questioning the meaning of identity or community, trying to control public movement and the crowd. Her lore reveals a crazy backstory, a troubled teen, a skateboarding video gone viral, an alter ego, connectivity to urban music circles, a self- imposed search to meet other “ladies”, funfairs with bunting and Punch and Judy, a lesson. We see a thing emerging, without form, an amorphous, unformed Golem, coming out of an equally formless living city, half-flesh half- paint. A collaged human shape is somewhere present, the city – ugly, rebuilt, demolished, vandalised. Fleeting boroughs and anonymous districts, blandished blind forces, replicated over and over, an echolalia – artistic or autistic repetition of subjects – refuting the litany of the painting discipline. Temporal simultaneity and compendious documentary play a social game of peek-a-boo.
Beneath we see a system that is monopolistic to the detriment of the artist, who is here a social scientist or documentary journalist for the non-commercial public sector. Lady Lucy stands up for the invisible “normal” who might be forgotten lest celebrated. She no doubt appreciates Arbus’s representation of “normal” outsider culture, the things nobody would see unless (she) showed them. She probably covets Chantal Joffe’s anonymous women portraits, or Karen Kilimniks without the celebrity. Lady Lucy questions the importance of a face in a crowd, the power of social memory as we acquire a new set of irrational fears – Oblitophobia, the fear of forgetting and Athazagoraphobia, the fear of being forgotten or ignored. She celebrates a certain face-blindness, prosopagnosia, and wilful strangeness, an unpretentious connection between artist and subject. We question our face parts, our forgettable features. We wonder about the function of social cognition, how people perceive what they think about and how they remember information about others; about person perception, how people perceive others and interpersonal perception, how people form beliefs about each other through interaction.
Lady Lucy uses cognitive shortcuts, heuristic, reductionist tendencies. She is in a constant state of satisficing in paint, eliminating degrees of recognition, valuation and decision-making. Her abstracts seem to mimic fast-and-frugal decision trees, thought diagrams. Logic, probability and rationality take a definite backseat.
So where do we fit on the someone-some people-something scale? Are we merely keenly observed stripped down subjects, or are we part of a social fabric, a piece of angsty irrational social work? Or are we a thing, perhaps in a crowd of things, unrepresented, until now? We are all, unconsciously, subjects of Lady Lucy’s larger reciprocity project, self-serving but with a social remit. Using us, Lady Lucy squeezes a macrocosm into the microcosm, the individual into the crowd into the world.
Text by http://antoniociutto.com/