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Shannon Cartier Lucy Builds a Strange House | Nina Johnson

Shannon Cartier Lucy Builds a Strange House

April 17, 2020

By Marcus Mamourian

“The Ever-Flashing Strap” which opened April 3rd at Nina Johnson in Miami, marks Shannon Cartier Lucy’s third solo show this year. Because of social distancing and non-essential business shutdowns, the Instagram live-streamed opening was rather unusual, but not any worse than the usual exhibition opening—now, curious quarantiners may request a FaceTime visit with info@ninajohnson.com. This was not the first time Lucy and Johnson were on Instagram Live though. Weeks ago, Johnson and Lucy did a digital studio visit at Lucy’s home in Nashville, Tennessee, followed by a Q&A with viewers.

At one point during the stream, Lucy said, ’Don’t the paintings seem to fall apart the closer you get?’ Lucy is a figurative painter, and her hyper-realistic paintings of subtly obscene situations make her something of a rarity. Things do indeed fall apart in Lucy’s paintings, whether they be pixelated resolutions or scenes from human life. 

There is no doubt that it is both the form and the content that make Lucy’s work highly idiomatic. Precise figuration with subtle abject behavior, perversion. This series of 12 paintings are of the same thematic oeuvre that Lucy had been working on for years leading up to her return. A coherent theme runs through them all: playful abuse, binding, homestead, braids, linens, solitude, sunlight, liquid, human objects—and a streak of violence here and there, a flash of a leather whip the naked eye barely catches. One can get the impression one is witnessing a novel unfold in pure imagery—it is likely the case, only it’s cut up, without an ending or middle or beginning.

One of the pleasures (a word used with caution around Lucy’s work, as per psychoanalytic pleasure/pain discussions) of viewing her paintings is the blunt fact that things are not where they are “supposed” to be. These things are misplaced, and someone has put them there. There is an apple on a nose. A family under yoga mats. Underwear in the oven. But while this is at first comic, it is also deeply disturbing. 

With her third show this year—her third show in 20 years—the question now is whether Lucy has transitioned from that visceral creative barrage that hit her in 2018-2019 when she produced enough paintings for these three shows. Now, she told me, she’s considering her work more—where she’ll place an iron, how the blood will be presented. That’s not to say new “meaning” will emerge out of nowhere, but the thematic architecture will slowly be brought further together, with structural integrity for better or for worse. 

As a painter/architect of the perverse domicile, Lucy is building a fortress. A trained psychoanalyst, Lucy builds houses resting on rearranged Oedipal (familial) structures. For one, Oedipus, the son, is missing. The focal point of each of the human-centered paintings is a female: a female held underwater, choking herself, nude in the street acting as a desk, a woman with an apple, perhaps waiting for a Tull. The absurdity of these situations is not that they are rarities, but mere normalities. The visual matter-of-factness negates any leftover traces of bizarreness.

While these paintings remain in line with Lucy’s first two shows this year—at NYC’s Lubov in February and LA’s de Boer in March—there is more coherency to Lucy’s Miami show, a sharper narrative, an ever flashing strap just barely visible.