Lucy McKenzie (Brussels, Belgium)

Breche Abstract


Not on display

Oil paint on canvas
Object: 945 × 1227 × 40 mm
Purchased with funds provided by The Joe and Marie Donnelly Acquisition Fund 2016


This is one of a group of three works by Lucy McKenzie which together form an installation that embodies the artist’s approach to an expansive idea of painting. They are: Serrancolin Bed 2015 (Tate T14670), a painting stretched over a copper and MDF frame in the shape of a bed; Shell Light 2015 (Tate T14672), a lamp made out of a shell; and Breche Abstract 2015 (Tate T14671), a wall-hung painting. They were first shown in the exhibition Inspired by an Atlas of Leprosy held at Galerie Buchholz, Berlin in November 2015 and should always be installed together. Also included was Quodlibet LXI (Cerfontaine Coiffeuse) 2015 (Tate T14669), is also in Tate’s collection, a work which combines painting and sculpture in the form of a dressing table. This fourth work can be displayed as part of the installation or on its own.

Throughout this group of works, painting functions in different ways. In Serrancolin Bed the bed frame serves as a support for an oil painting on canvas depicting a faux marble surface where the mattress would normally be, Serrancolin being a type of marble used in luxury interiors. The headboard and footboard of the bed are made out of bent copper tubes. McKenzie used the same materials and illusionistic decorative and commercial paint techniques in Quodlibet LXI (Cerfontaine Coiffeuse), but in this instance the painting has been transformed into a dressing table with a seat. A circular mirror extends upwards from the work. The artist worked with a professional upholsterer to make both works. In Quodlibet LXI (Cerfontaine Coiffeuse) she employed illusionistic trompe l’oeil painting – also known by the Latin word ‘quodlibet’, hence the work’s title – to create a tabletop composition in which she has drawn an arrangement of make-up products and creams. Her own image is reflected on the lid of a blush powder box. Breche Abstract is a wall-mounted painting that functions as a parody of an abstract style that has become generic and commonplace. Talking about this work, McKenzie said: ‘I have no idea how to do something abstract, so I used the composition of some of the big slabs of marble in the show [at Galerie Buchholz] as the basis for the composition and did [it] in a couple of hours.’ (Quoted in Andersen 2015, accessed 8 May 2016.) Shell Light 2015, a reading lamp made out of a Bursidae shell, commonly known as ‘frog shell’, is the only work in the group that does not incorporate painting.

The exhibition Inspired by an Atlas of Leprosy revolved around the recreation of a fictional domestic interior, such as might be associated with young cultural entrepreneurs; a social group whose members are characterised for having lifestyles in which the traditional boundaries between industry, leisure and intimacy have apparently dissolved, and whose principles and attitudes are reflected in the spaces they inhabit. McKenzie created a domestic interior around a fictional character, a businesswoman who works from her living space. The exhibition comprised different rooms: an office, a waiting area, a bedroom and a maid’s room. Each room was filled with riddles that referred to elements of the artist’s own biography. For example, in the ‘office’ the artist employed her characteristic trompe l’oeil techniques to create detailed paintings of neatly arranged bulletin boards for Quodlibet XLVII, Quodlibet LII and Quodlibet XLIX (all 2015). These included actual correspondence with banks and tax offices from her ongoing collaborative project Atelier E.B. Throughout the exhibition McKenzie used painting to define the personality of the woman who inhabits this space, based on the things she owns or has lying about her house; her choice of furniture, wallpaper, magazines and the like. Talking about the exhibition the artist commented:

The world of visual culture has changed so much in the last decade. If you are interested in aesthetics you have to examine your relationship to culture material much more carefully now, or you are just a coloniser. I have zero interest in being part of good taste design culture. That’s why I like to work with art nouveau, partly because it’s not the kind of thing you ever see in a boutique hotel or collectors house … I love exploring ideology or gender codes through how houses are decorated – the misogyny in utopian modernism for instance.
(Quoted in ibid.)

Alongside this expanded idea of painting, McKenzie’s practice additionally combines a range of activities which include writing, curating, event organisation and interdisciplinary collaborations with her peers. She has founded a record label, Decemberism, ran the temporary Warsaw-based salon Nova Popularna with Polish artist Paolina Olowska in 2003, and established the design company Atelier with Beca Lipscombe and Bernie Reid in 2007.

Further reading
Lizzie Carey-Thomas, ‘Lucy McKenzie’, in exhibition catalogue, Painting Now. Five Contemporary Artists, Tate Britain, London 2013.
Henry Andersen, ‘I have zero interest in being part of good taste culture: An interview with Lucy McKenzie’, Conceptual Fine Arts, December 2015,, accessed 8 May 2016.

Carmen Juliá
April 2016

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