Lucy McKenzie

Side Entrance

2011

Not on display
Artist
Lucy McKenzie born 1977
Medium
Oil paint and graphite on canvas
Dimensions
Painting: 2755 x 1754 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 2012
Reference
T13591

Summary

Side Entrance depicts an elevation of an interior at near life-size proportions. Rendered with a graphic flatness associated with nineteenth-century academic scale drawing, thin black lines delineate the architectural features of the room, which have been filled in with flat washes of muted ochre, yellow and blue oil paint. The curving arch of the window that occupies the right-hand side of the composition reflects the formal aesthetic of the art nouveau movement. Different materials and surfaces are indicated through the most economic means, such as the subtle variations in tone that suggest light hitting glass. In common with the shorthand pictorial language associated with architectural plans, areas of the canvas remain unpainted, such as the staircase viewed in cross section, as if only partially completed. Hand drawn pencil numbers and lines have been added to the surface of the painting, giving accurate measurements to the areas they identify. This confuses the sense of pictorial space, already flattened and simplified, by drawing attention to the surface of the painting and its relationship to the environment in which it is being viewed, as well as suggesting its function as a plan or blueprint for a project not yet realised, rather than an end in itself.

Side Entrance belongs to a series of six paintings made by Scottish artist Lucy McKenzie in 2011. These are based on designs by the Belgian architect Paul Jaspar and continue McKenzie’s practice of reinterpreting late-nineteenth-century interior designs taken from architectural books and archives. Her interest in these drawings lies in part in their combination of the architectural plan, illustration and comic art, something she has described as ‘secondary by-products to their core métier, yet accomplished artworks in their own right’ (Lucy McKenzie, ‘Canvases Stretched in a Studio Far Less Convenient Than One’s Own’, in McKenzie 2009, p.7). She first worked with architectural scale for her exhibition Ten Years of Robotic Mayhem (Including Sublet) in 2007, which toured to venues across the United Kingdom as well as in the United States and Germany. For this exhibition she made four large canvases, each depicting a wall in differing styles and periods, which were placed together as a freestanding enclosure that could be entered at one corner.

Commissioned by the Museum Ludwig, Cologne in 2009, McKenzie created a monumental painting seven metres long by nine metres high that amalgamated and synthesised designs by various Belgian architects from around 1900. Such works are deliberately ambiguous in status: it is unclear whether they are to be read as autonomous works of art, drawings or modified architectural plans, while their mode of presentation and life-size proportions transform them into theatrical settings – environments into which the viewer can physically ‘enter’. This ambiguity reflects McKenzie’s interest in the relationship between fine and applied arts and her desire to ‘question the accepted norm that art, and specifically painting, must develop in a direct line from the avant-garde and twentieth century modernism’ (McKenzie 2009, p.12). Scottish muralism has remained a strong influence for McKenzie and in her painting she has regularly appropriated styles of representation attached to political or social ideologies, such as socialist realism, Bauhaus and East European modernism. McKenzie’s interest in the conditions of art’s production and display, and the wider question of art’s social relevance, feeds into her fascination with the Arts and Crafts movement and its ambitions to eliminate divisions of labour. To this end in 2007 she undertook an intensive six-month period of study at the Ecole Van Der Kelen-Logelain in Brussels, where she learnt traditional artisan decorative techniques such as marbling, trompe l’oeil and wood graining. McKenzie commented: ‘when I enrolled at the school I wanted to see if intellectual flexibility and a high degree of technical skill were mutually exclusive’ (McKenzie 2009, p.12). McKenzie proposes that an artist be ‘something closer to the classical artisan, but one who nevertheless creates their own language, relationship to commerce and self-definition’ (McKenzie 2009, p.12).

Further reading
Bennett Simpson, ‘Lucy McKenzie, Herself’, Parkett, no.76, 2006, pp.138–42.
Lucy McKenzie, Chêne de Weekend, 2006–2009, Cologne 2009.
Beca Lipscombe and Lucy McKenzie, The Inventors of Tradition, London 2011.

Lizzie Carey-Thomas
January 2012

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