in Reviews | 11 AUG 15
Featured in
Issue 21

Lucy Stein

Galerie Gregor Staiger

in Reviews | 11 AUG 15

Lucy Stein, Burn, 2015, mixed media

The painting series Wise Wound (all works 2015) is the principal element in Lucy Stein’s exhibition Moonblood / Bloodmoon. A cycle in several senses, the series of paintings on wooden panels encircle the viewer on every side of the square gallery. Installed at ovary level, the thirty .5 × .5 m square panels correspond to the days of a menstrual cycle. Complementing the series are three larger canvases as well as Burn, a batik-like work in bleach on denim, as well as a three-stanza poetic text by the artist. In the middle of the gallery played a sound piece, Squirming the Worm: The Wise Wound, made in collabo­ration with Mark Harwood, that uses excerpts from the 1978 book The Wise Wound: Menstruation & Everywoman by Penelope Shuttle and Peter Redgrove. Shuttle and Redgrove’s book examines historic and modern myths, fictions and realities of menstruation. As befits this subject, Wise Wound is at times a messy affair, with oil paint only the first of a long list of varied media including tiles, image transfer and wax candles from a museum of witchcraft.

This may sound like a self-involved exercise in esoteric hogwash, but Stein’s approach circumvents this through objectivity and wit. Wise Wound was developed during a residency at Tate St Ives, and the countless references throughout the show – some named in Stein’s text – are to Cornish artists and locations, to paganism, witchcraft, the occult, to legends and prehistoric sites. Symbols, patterns, heraldic motifs, ecclesiastical architectural motifs and a host of moon-like faces also jostle for place on the small, dense and impressionistic panels. In Wise Wound 20, for example, shells cling to a translucent ground of marine colours. In the eighth of the series, a witch in a pointed hat crouches and lays an egg, with her hand or maybe phone clapped to one ear, the margin full of swirls and hatching. Stein’s figures are limned in swift, easy strokes, and this fluidity makes absurd conjunctions seem self-evident. Historic elements and superstition meet contemporary concerns: in number 14, for example, the words ‘FERTILE WINDOW’ are scrawled in reverse over a square of pale green washed colour that is inset within the panel, recalling not only the biology of conception but also foundling wheels and baby hatches. And in number 25 a heraldic knight is popped on his head in a cheerful two-fingered salute at Georg Baselitz and his ideas on women painters.

Even though this is a female artist’s reflection on female reproduction, Stein’s à la carte selection of motifs prevents her from being dragged down by an overarching theme that, in the wrong hands, could seem bur­densome. The works Desperate (Horny) and Green Goddess and their high salon hang, as if in Stein’s private picture gallery, illustrated her unencumbered, masterful approach gloriously. The former, just short of two metres tall and over two metres wide, is a white canvas over which ‘Desperate’ is scrawled numerous times in red; the adjacent Green Goddess is taller and narrower, with a complex surface of pale inky shapes. The central figure is a green nude outlined loosely, a dollar bill clapped to her pubis, while a host of creatures, including a lion, a mermaid and a horse’s head, float around her. Stein’s collecting is not dilettantish but agile. She mixes brazenness with earnestness, not to mention humanity. One moon-like face (27) is grumpily scrawled with the letters ‘FFS’ (‘for fuck’s sake’): the artist’s alter ego commenting on the sheer copiousness of her theme?