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This year at Frieze London, a series of mural-sized and kaleidoscopic abstract paintings by artist Lucy Bull lured in fairgoers to the booth of David Kordansky. The solo presentation emanated a push-and-pull movement of contrasting colors and additive-reductive markings which, drawing one’s gaze over repeated gestural marks and scratched surfaces in an energetic overload of rhythm, scale, and color, baited viewers to come and find them, and then themselves, in a series of Rorschach-like paintings.
Between surrealist landscapes and acid dreams, Bull’s abstract compositions toy with weight, space, and texture, captivating their audience through a hypnotic trance of sensorial experience. Pouring herself tea at the Bloomsbury hotel last month, the artist spelled out what she meant by her process “I want to titillate the senses. I want to draw people closer. I think people aren’t used to paying much-prolonged attention to paintings on walls and I want to allow people to have more of a sensory experience. I want to draw them in so that there is the opportunity for things to open up and for them to wander,” she said.
Between undefined lines and muddled markings, the eye is guided through riddled worlds and swirls of infinite shapes and surfaces, draped by aloof numerical titles such as 1.00 and 18:39, daring the viewer to try and decipher them. With an unparalleled free-handed motion, illusionistic shapes and passages take shape, only to then swiftly slip away again, giving light to new layers of buried paint and phantasmagorical plumes and stratifications. Unable to discern what came first and last, time and space appear alike as elliptical, like self-generating feedback loops withstanding the viewer in a universe of daubed and gauzy avenues, making room for both precision and abandon in an ultimate culmination of both.
Whilst incredibly chaotic and yet inexplicably soothing, deciphering her work feels strangely like getting lost, roaming through a dreamscape of brushstrokes that come together like puzzle pieces in a moving picture of cyclic associations. Forms concretize to figures as the mind rummages through a seemingly limitless number of affiliations which, intensified by the artist’s skilled use of contrast and color, borders on the ethereal, colliding conscious and subconscious into one intransient moment. In fact, after over a year of such madness, entering the foreground of Bull’s canvas seems closely akin to entering that of one’s own mind. “We’re so used to being proliferated with so much imagery,” said Bull. “That’s also what I respond to.”
Like abstract material representations of one’s emotions, Bull transfers her “experience of making” between “a slice of [my] current mood and personal perspective” and the world she lives in, amidst both “order and chaos.” Visceral rather than conceptual, the outcome is a sort of rapturous disorientation, materializing both consciousness and unconsciousness into a dream-like reality as deep in concept as they are intricate in detail and identity.
From landscapes of interstellar space to something generated by computer software, in form, and in practice, one can link Bull’s compositions to that of a Rorschach test. As our eyes unwind layers of visceral material effects, shapes seem to speak out in tactile, sonic, or even emotional terms which fail to address logic. For, due to the process of pareidolia, the meaning found in her works lies not really in the works themselves or the ebbing and flowing of the figures that appear and then swiftly disappear, but in the interpretation and internalization of each stroke, altering not just from artist to viewer but from person to person and moment to moment.
In short, her art lies not in the canvas itself but in the experience she translates to her audience. A painting appealing not strictly to our senses but to our feelings, translating that of creating the works rather than simply the outcome. Essentially, one could call them stream-of-consciousness paintings.
“The work itself is so subjective, there isn’t just one narrative,” said Bull. “Rich in so many associations, I never want to short-circuit any of my viewers in their viewing of the work by telling them what I see. I’m more interested in creating something that is more in-between and open-ended with multiple entry points.”
Bull seeks not to dictate or even give clues of what she sees to her audience but to allow them to come to their own conclusions. Wise yet undidactic, it is difficult to discern the role she plays in this open-ended experiment that she choreographs yet never fully controls.
Although her markings reveal hard-thought planning and negations, she seems content only to invite the viewer to participate in the process without making any attempts to its outcome. As I probed her on her intentions, she responded: “There is definitely no single message. I hope to transport people. That’s all I want to do is be transported and I hope people can get lost in them and take pleasure in looking at them. I’m not really just trying to make something beautiful, but I want to confront the viewer,” said Bull. “I hope that they are as enigmatic to others as they are to me.”
A mere subterfuge of escapist fantasies, or a foreword to our current time of superlative chaos and anxieties, who knows? The artist seems as doubtful of her answer as we do, drafting art perhaps as a means of release as well as reflection. They are, in the end, pure abstraction. Yet, we can’t help but feel closely related to them, a means for both artist and viewer to simultaneously lose and find themselves whilst finding comfort in between.