Tuesday, October 26, 2021

In the Wet Room, Lucy Stein’s vivid studies of female mythology are bursting with wit and witch-like energy

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The artist’s paintings over the past three years are intensely physical – even violent. You are aware of their body work

A cave, a womb, a spring, a sweat lodge, a steaming bathtub: in Lucy Stein’s show on Bristol’s Spike Island, many “wet rooms” are bundled together.

The exhibition pays tribute in part to the veneration of the goddess of various flavors who lives on amid the standing stones, grottos and holy sites near the artist’s home in St Just, Cornwall.

Stein may not be a full member of the West Country Wiccan sorority, but seems cautiously intrigued by its celebration of feminine sexuality and its powerful feminine archetypes.

She tries out alternative identities offered by different traditions. In Self-portrait as a Celtic Sheela (2020).

She is also considering aging and the limited representation of older women. In Witch fight (2020) an elderly mermaid appears to be involved in some type of violent activity.

The blush May queen (2020) is flanked by a skull – symbol of mortality – but it has an older, heavier body that has been painted across the front like a sagging apron. Stein inserted the aging female body between death and virgin.

There is a lot of this kind of layering in the paintings – image overlaid with image, as if we were looking at other images through windows or veils of fog.

They function as metaphors for the spiritual or mystical realm or perhaps also for the unconscious: indistinct hints of images, stories or interpretations that are barely comprehensible.

Stein’s paintings, which were created over the past three years, are very physical – in some places even violent. They are aware of their body work. Large, curved brushstrokes, scratch marks and primers made of resilient wax surround clear line paintings of witches, virgins, witches, corn maids and their mystical relatives.

Painting as an energetic, spontaneous attack picks up on Stein’s interest in the unconscious and Jungian archetypes. She is a reader and a thinker, but you can feel that she wants to get herself not to think too much, to let things arise in the process.

Stein also uses humor to undermine her big ideas. The corn goddess returns on Instagram (2021). A painting of a reclining woman smoking a cigarette turns out to be a tribute to popular West Country artist Beryl Cook.

Exhibition title Wet room is a tiled bathroom – walls painted with the eye of Horus, Sirens and Ouroboros – with a modern bathtub and sink with running water.

Behind the wet room is a picture of a little girl, still curled up and curled up, taking her first bath with plum-pink skin. This humble painting by the artist’s (presumably) daughter anchors the show.

She is the magical end point of all this symbolism, the Goddess Power, Wicca and the uterine energy.

The connection between the fairy tales of frogs and witches, the mythical realm of goddesses and lunar magic and the domestic world of clean bathroom tiles and bathtubs: “just” a baby.

Lucy Stein: Wet room, Spike Island, Bristol, through January 16th

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