'Marie Le Lievre', Catalogue for Paris and Sydney exhibitions,
(ISBN 978-0-473-22271-0), Andrew Paul Wood, 2012

New Zealand artist Marie Le Lievre understands the material of paint. Her canvasses seethe with bleeding and agitated skins of translucent and opaque tints on a mat finished ground. She is an empathetic and instinctive colourist. From behind protective blankets of dark, rich, subtle colour, little rainbows of pure colour emerge to flicker like flames at the periphery. The scale of the paintings ranges from domestic and intimate, to the heroic. In the latter especially, the effect is oceanic, and sublime in the Romantic sense – the viewer enters the painting. The eye is attracted to all the little complexities and puncta of interest: the complex patterns of textural rippling, the emergent islands of opacity, and the almost Rothko-like ambiguous fades. There is, perhaps, a closer relationship with the lyrical abstraction of European Tachisme than the action bravura of American Abstract Expressionism.

Firmly anchoring this experimentation is a carefully formulated compositional sensibility. A central, biomorphic-organic self-contained visual mass, a sort of mandala often incorporating a galaxy of complex and allusive interplay between colour and texture, forms the basis of each painting. These are not exclusively abstract. With the complex construction of each mass addition of drawn elements, a playful figuration is implied in the naive-primitivist traditions of Art Brut and KoBrA.

Colour is increasingly strident in its own right as a compositional device, highlighting Le Lievre’s dedicated working and reworking the luscious painted surface into something, though flat, is almost sculptural with intensity. Alternatively it can be a more simple dark cosmic egg, a black hole from which Stephen Hawking assures us only damaged information can escape. When Le Lievre chooses to work up the ground of her paintings, the Shiva-like dance of figure and plane is almost palpable in a glorious retinal richness.

Although primarily interested in colour and form, Le Lievre chooses not to abandon the figure entirely, but anchors figure and ground with specific motifs. Prominent among these symbolic forms is the handbag devolved to a basic oblong and the suggestion of an arching handle. While on one level this can be read as a feminist response to the idea of abstract painting as masculine, it also carries much of the significance of Anna Karenina’s red handbag in Tolstoy’s novel – a container of worldly desires and an anchor to consumer society.

Another reoccurring motif is a sort of crude biomorphic phallus. Again this can be read as a feminist statement, a symbolic castration of painting’s patriarchy, but it can also symbolise the procreative nature of painting. Another recent intervention is the inclusion of hidden text, either as gestural calligraphic mark in the paint, or as bristling drawn cilia and hairs, emphasising the organic nature of Le Lievre’s forms. We are encouraged to see them as living amorphous, amoebic entities with their own distinct personalities.

The paint is poured, layered, worked by hand, and tempered. The intended effect is that which Baldassare Castiglione in his Il Cortegiano (1528) termed Sprezzatura: “a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it.” – although the artist clearly wants us to see this defensive irony as the distancing mechanism of an unreliable narrator. There are sufficient signposts to suggest the effort and toil behind the implied randomness. This means that the work has many connotations, tension between reality and abstraction, chaos and control and ultimately defies final analysis.

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Les peintures de l’artiste Néo Zélandaise, Marie Le Lièvre grouillent de saignements et de couches agités de teintes translucides et opaques sur des supports mats. Le Lièvre est une coloriste instinctive, empathique. Sous de sombres couches, d’une couleur riche et subtile, émergent de petits arcs en ciel d’une couleur pure qui scintillent comme des flammes à la périphérie.

La dimension des peintures s’étend de domestique et intime à héroïque. Pour ces dernières, l'effet est océanique et sublime dans le sens Romantique - le spectateur pénètre dans la peinture. L'œil est attiré par toutes les petites complexités et les puncta d'intérêt: des motifs complexes de texture ondulant, les îles émergeant d'opacité, et le changement de couleurs ambigu rappelant l’œuvre de Rothko. Il y a peut-être une relation plus étroite avec l'abstraction lyrique du Tachisme européen plutôt que le verve de l'Expressionnisme Abstrait américain.

Un sens de composition soigneusement élaboré ancre fermement cette expérimentation. La base de chaque peinture incorpore une masse centrale, organique-biomorphique et autonome, une sorte de mandala présentant souvent une galaxie d'interaction complexe et allusive entre la couleur et la texture de l’œuvre. La couleur est de plus en plus déclarative de sa propre position comme un dispositif de composition, qui souligne le travail dédié de l’artiste de travailler et retravailler pour transformer la surface pulpeuse peinte en quelque chose, certes plat, mais tendant vers le sculptural chargé d’intensité.

Lorsque Le Lièvre choisit de travailler le fond de ses peintures, la danse Shiva de la figure et la surface plane est presque palpable dans une glorieuse richesse pour notre rétine.

La peinture est versée en couches successives,et travaillée à la main. L'effet recherché est celui que Baldassare Castiglione dans son Il Cortegiano (1528) appelle Sprezzatura: d'une certaine nonchalance, qui cache l'artifice, et qui montre ce qu'on fait comme s'il était venu sans peine et presque sans y penser - même si l’artiste veut clairement afficher cette ironie défensive en tant que mécanisme de distanciation d'un narrateur invraisemblable.

Il y a suffisamment de signaux pour suggérer l'immense effort derrière l’aléa suggéré. Cela signifie que le travail a de nombreuses connotations, de tension entre la réalité et l'abstraction, de chaos et de contrôle, et en fin de compte il reste imperméable à nos efforts d’analyse.