Elemental Symbolism and Exotic Ingredients in Lucy Dodd's ‘May Flower'

The artist's materials include avocado extract, wild walnut, yew berries, nettles, hematite and tea at David Lewis, New York

A ring of chairs occupies the central space of New York-based artist Lucy Dodd’s exhibition ‘May Flower’, her third at David Lewis. But these aren’t the kind of hardwearing seats often placed strategically around museums to allow for relaxed contemplation – or, if they are, it’s hard to tell, since each one is concealed beneath a thick coat of pigmented cotton. Dyed a wild variety of colours and spilling onto the floor around each object like dreadlocks, the woven strands of material covering each piece suggest unhindered organic growth; it’s easy to imagine them doubling in size between the opening of the show and its conclusion a few weeks later. Dodd’s titles suggest real-world referents (Bzzzzz B [all works 2018] is clad in yellow and black; A Wash in watery blue and white), but they’re best regarded as objects unto themselves, a curious family, a collective shaggy-dog story.

As this series suggests, Dodd is fascinated by the notion of entropy, and by the possibilities of combining matter in new ways before pushing it to its physical limits. She makes paintings, yes, but often uses organic materials one might expect to find in a smoothie along with more conventional paints. Along with unmixed found pigments, her canvases are dyed with such ingredients as avocado extract, wild walnut, yew berries, nettles, hematite and tea (Tetley, specifically). This means they’re subject to gradual change, with certain materials coming to the fore as others decay and fade into the background. Like the chair sculptures, the paintings are riots of semi-abstract gesture and texture dominated by an earthy palette that underscores their natural origins.

web_ld_may-flower_2018_inst_6_2-1024x709.jpg

Lucy Dodd, 'May Flower', 2018, installation view, David Lewis Gallery, New York. Courtesy: David Lewis Gallery, New York

This is not to say that ‘May Flower’ is all about aimless (or only formalist) painterly rooting around; there’s a powerful elemental symbolism at play in Dodd’s work, too. Suggestions of flowers and moons, stars and crystals, splashes of water and cosmic explosions all contribute to an aura and visual lexicon of primal myth. In Prince Porcupine, for example, which the artist propped up against a column at the gallery, a pale-yellow semicircle haloed by sprays and splatters of white rises beneath a crescent set against a splotch of black cuttlefish ink. In her elliptical accompanying statement, Dodd describes this motif as a planetary ‘guardian’, and the picture certainly has the feel of an homage to something greater than ourselves. I don’t know if Dodd is religious, but if this was intended ironically, the aim remains well-disguised.

web_ld_may-flower_2018_inst_1_2-688x1024.jpg

Lucy Dodd, Father and Daughter’s America, 2018, paper beads, plastic beads, nylon cord, and wood, 2.7 x 2.5 m. Courtesy: the artist and David Lewis, New York

In ‘Open Plan’, her 2016 exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Dodd made the performative element of her work explicit, first by creating paintings in the space itself prior to the opening, then by inviting musicians to play in the installation once it was complete. ‘May Flower’ isn’t quite as ‘live’ as that, but there is still a theatrical atmosphere to the show, a sense that we are more than just viewers, and that a ritual of some sort is awaiting its completion. Even the raw space between the drips and swirls in paintings like The Flight of Aunt Goose and A Wink from the Bottom of the Sea seem here to connote such a possibility. Overseen by the monumental Venus and the Bull, the show as a whole has an imposing but ultimately welcoming feel, a back-to-the land vitality that edges away from the here and now. Only Father and Daughter’s America, a US flag in the form of a large plastic-and-paper beaded curtain at the room’s entrance, struck a current – and hence dissonant – note.

Lucy Dodd: May Flower runs at David Lewis Gallery, New York, until 20 May.

Main image: Lucy Dodd, Busy Bee, 2018, (detail), cuttlefish ink, charcoal, hematite, Tetley tea, tulip flower extract, and pigment on canvas, 1.1 x 1.5 m. Courtesy: the artist and David Lewis, New York

Most Read

Royal bodies, the ‘incel’ mindset and those Childish Gambino hot-takes: what to read this weekend
In further news: women wearing rainbow badges beaten in Beijing’s 798; gallerists Georg Kargl and Richard Gray have...
‘Coping as a woman in France is a daily battle: the aggression can be subtle, and you always have to push harder to...
The rapper and artist have thoughts about originality in art; Melania Trump tries graphic design – all the latest...
The dilapidated Nissen hut from which Rachel Whiteread will take a cast
Yorkshire residents complain that the concrete sculpture of a ‘Nissen hut’ will attract excrement, vandalism and litter
Poul Erik Tøjner pays tribute to Denmark’s most important artist since Asger Jorn
Toyin Ojih Odutola’s portraits of a fictional aristocratic Nigerian family push toward an expanded definition...
Photographer Dragana Jurisic says her account was deactivated after she uploaded an artwork depicting a partially naked...
In further news: open letter protests all-male shortlist for BelgianArtPrize; Arts Council of Ireland issues...
From Sol Calero’s playful clichés of Latin America to an homage to British modernist architect Alison Smithson
Everybody’s favourite underpaid, over-educated, raven-haired art critic, Rhonda Lieberman, is as relevant as ever
‘Prize & Prejudice’ at London's UCL Art Museum is a bittersweet celebration of female talent
The curators want to rectify the biennale’s ‘failure to question the hetero-normative production of space’; ‘poppers...
A fragment of the brutalist Robin Hood Gardens will go on show at the Venice Architecture Biennale
‘Women's role in shaping the history of contemporary art is being reappraised’
Three shows in Ireland celebrate the legendary polymath, artist and author of Inside the White Cube
The legendary performance artists will partner up again to detail their tumultuous relationship in a new book
An open letter signed by over 100 leading artists including 15 Turner prize-winners says that new UK education policy...
Naturists triumph at art gallery; soothing students with colouring books; Kanye’s architectural firm: your dose of art...
Avengers: Infinity War confirms the domination of mass culture by the franchise: what ever happened to narrative...
The agency’s founder talks about warfare in the age of post truth, deconstructing images and holding states and...
From hobnobbing with Oprah to championing new art centres, millennial crown prince Mohammed bin Salman is following a...
A juror for the award last year, Dan Fox on why the Turner Prize is and always will be political (whatever that means)
The argument that ancestral connection offers a natural grasp of the complex histories and aesthetics of African art is...
One of most iconic and controversial writers of the past 40 years, Tom Wolfe discusses writing, art and intellectual...

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

March 2018

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018