First major solo exhibition in the UK by artist Lucy Stein opens at Spike Island

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First major solo exhibition in the UK by artist Lucy Stein opens at Spike Island
Lucy Stein, The corn goddess goes back on Instagram (2021), Oil on linen, 120 x 140cm. Courtesy the artist and Gregor Staiger, Zurich. Photograph by Steve Tanner.

BRISTOL.- Spike Island presents Wet Room, the first major solo exhibition in the UK by Cornwall-based artist Lucy Stein (b. 1979). Working primarily with painting and drawing, Stein’s show is inspired by the fougou: narrow Neolithic underground passages unique to West Cornwall that lead to womb-like chambers and have become sacred sites of worship. Echoing the ritual rebirthing ceremonies that are believed to have taken place within these uterine caverns, the exhibition centres around an installation comprising a bathtub and sink with running taps, surrounded by tiled walls that have been hand-painted with scenes relating to the artist’s study of western esoteric traditions.

Informed by Stein’s long-standing research into the goddess culture that thrives in Land’s End, this installation transports audiences to the mythical Celtic land of Lyonesse: the legendary sunken kingdom off the Cornish peninsula. The mermaids and water creatures painted onto the tiled walls represent the archetypes of the Anima – the driving forces of the human psyche traditionally associated with femininity, and described variously as irrational, emotional and nurturing. Characterised by a soft and alluring palette of red, pink and blue-green hues, the eerie, fairy tale-like qualities of these underwater scenes portray the psychological state of an overactive Anima.

Surrounding the central installation is a series of new paintings and drawings. Made during Stein’s second pregnancy and throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, these new works reflect on a period of intensive domestic caregiving and anxiety. They combine Greek mythology, esoteric culture, and ecclesiastical and medieval imagery with vibrant tableaus that depict a wide range of western female archetypes. We see Mary Magdalene (2021) mournfully kissing the wounds of a dead Christ; an exuberant young woman with exaggerated breasts holding an ear of corn in May Queen (2020); and a tussling, half-naked old woman in Hag Fight (2020). Through these works Stein brings in the notion of the numinous – a religious or spiritual quality – in an attempt to describe the real, the symbolic and the imaginary.

In 2020, Stein began to study psychoanalysis, and many of the works in the exhibition reflect on psychoanalytical processes such as transference or projection – when someone redirects their feelings or desires towards one person to another. Splitting and Projection (2020) embodies and illustrates these processes: the artist applies wax to unpainted linen to resist the oil paint, building up a multiplicity of images that complicate the reading of the work. Here, a skeleton split in two is suspended against a vigorously painted red background and surrounded by ghostly traces of other figures and faint iconography.

Populated by romantic allusions and unexpected juxtapositions, the works in Wet Room share a raw quality, where quick, expressive brushstrokes and areas of intensive reworking reveal Stein’s changing moods and compulsive approach to making. Loaded with wittiness and humour, they challenge the different clichés and stereotypes that have shaped the interpretations of esoteric culture and the female psyche for decades.

Lucy Stein

Lucy Stein has been based in St. Just, Cornwall since 2015. She studied at The Glasgow School of Art, and later at De Ateliers, in Amsterdam. Recent solo exhibitions include Thesmophoria (including the performance lecture Bride of Quiet) Galerie Gregor Staiger Milan (2020); Digitalis Purpurea (a re-introspective ), Conceptual Fine Arts , Milan (online) (2020), £10.66, Palette Terre, Paris (2018); Crying the Neck, NICC Brussels (with Nina Royle) (2017); On Celticity (organised with Paola Clerico), Rodeo Gallery, London (2016). Her work has been included in group exhibitions at Futura , Prague (2020); Bonington Gallery, Nottingham (2019); Tate St Ives (2018); TULCA festival, Galway; Newlyn Gallery, Penzance (all 2017); Le Bourgeoise, London(2016); UKS Oslo (2015). In 2017 she co-organised “Fuck you wheres my Suger” a two day festival celebrating depression and hysteria at Cafe Oto in London with Mark Harwood. In 2016 she co-curated NEO-PAGAN BITCH-WITCH! at Evelyn Yard, London with France-Lise McGurn and in 2015 she organized the performance event The Wise Wound with Tate St Ives and Porthmeor studios.

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