Essay A Magician Painting. Ri Williamson


The first time I saw a work of Marie Le Lievre’s I vividly remember feeling like I was no longer in the gallery. It was as though I had floated off into a different realm having fallen gently into one of her large-scale colour fields. I recall thinking ‘How does she do that?’ before making a point of looking closely at the delicate layers of paint upon paint on canvas. To be transported somewhere else so convincingly, so seemingly effortlessly by art is a treasure. Clearly Le Lievre’s technical mastery was evident but I wondered what else was behind a work that could do that.

Here we find ourselves some years on and without ever asking the question, Le Lievre has answered it with her latest body of work: ‘Bulletproof (Panels)’. In this suite Le Lievre takes us beyond the surface of her abstractionist practice and reveals glimpses of a handful/headful of notions that underpin her work. In this series Le Lievre draws reference from art history, antiquity, herbalism, mythology and spiritualism.

Le Lievre has organised ‘Bulletproof’ onto nine equal squares she refers to as shields or armour. These become the formal structure from which she conjures a collection of evocative symbols. Each work tells a different story as it materialises into view against the pared back surfaces of Le Lievre’s panels. The spaces Le Lievre creates in her compositions enable us time for reflection. Similar to feeling transported by Le Lievre’s aforementioned colour fields each element in this series seems to break free from it’s structure, coalesce and float into the air around us. It seems as though Le Lievre’s has revealed her subject matter to us through incantation, rather than painting.

Notions of armour and shields suggest historical outward means of protection, while at the same time the panels also refer to talisman, votives, touchstones, amulets and charms. Indeed, if we look closer, Le Lievre hints at an intimate, more personal toolkit of remedies and philosophies for inward healing and protection as we go about the challenges of our daily lives. As Le Lievre herself explains: '…so I confess to an interest in spirituality as a practice throughout existence to calm the unknown and fearful aspects of our fragile existence'.

Through Bulletproof (Panels), Le Lievre leads us into the mists of the space-time continuum but delivers us back to the gallery where we emerge with a vital sense of the very contemporary concerns of this new body of work.

Related Exhibition