Essay Blood Orange. Jennifer Hays


Marie Le Lievre’s Untitled F Painting contains unbidden emotions that strain at the edges. Frustration is articulated upon moody layers of bruised colour through a mirrored profanity etched grid-like into the surface. Although kept within her subject matter of the bag motif, it threatens to spill out and to spoil its pristine background. Bitch Bag has similar explosive contents. The neat word repetition that creates a ladder from the letter ‘H’, presents the possibility that the Bitch might escape.

The sacred and profane in Le Lievre’s work is apparent in a myriad of ways. Her application of oil colour that employs chance and chaos upon perfectly prepared canvases; her use of evanescence and darkness, drawing and painting, pleasure and pain, has been tested and refined to hold in tension a query of the known against the unknown. Countering the sensory vividness of her paintings is the formality of the often white-grey background. This neutral void provides an uncluttered juxtaposition or a point of silence that serves to heighten the dominant visual impact. It is a means by which Le Lievre can also play with spatial and temporal demands inherent within her working methods. Paintings such as Longing and Tack Bag have beneath layers of grey, a seething excess of colour but only just visible at the edges. There is an almost perverse restraint in these compositions where Le Lievre has obliterated tantalising colours, but in others such as Lady Swine Bag Painting, there is a pervasive punch of colour reminiscent of her art historical predecessor, Helen Frankenthaler. Beyond staining her canvases in the post abstract expressionist or colour-field traditions however, Le Lievre’s (seeming) randomness of intense colour combinations with their whorls, bleedings, ridges and ruptures creates a three-dimensional textural quality and the sensation that the intricacies of these paintings could have been formed by biotic phenomena. This can be ascertained in the networks of phalluses of Orange Smoke and Blue Phase. Similarly, Slipping with its rivulets, veins and swift little legs takes on the appearance of an organic entity in the process of becoming.

he dialogue between painting and drawing is one that Le Lievre employs to relay gestural and literal connotations, as evidenced by Untitled F Paintingand All Sorted. Her drawing entitled Fixed, and others in this series, provides evidence of this underlying architecture in her work. It is with the subject matter of Fixed though that Le Lievre conveys both a sense of empathy and detachment. The female figure in Fixed is a supplicant to the lure of induced sedation. In Barbiturates, the candy-coloured shapes, or pills as the title suggests, appear almost burnt onto the canvas, its bitter sweet effect quite beguiling and tactile; recalling the words of Baudelaire who described drugs as an ‘exciting poison’, the effects of which he described thus:

“Colours will take an unaccustomed energy and smite themselves within your brain with the intensity of triumph. Delicate, mediocre, or even bad as they may be, the paintings upon the ceilings will clothe themselves with a tremendous life."
Barbiturates and Drugged Rug though, with their suggestion of both transfiguration and heaviness, are a cathartic rendering for the artist, the very mechanism of painting being her own poison of choice

The motif of the bag, with its connotations of physical and psychological baggage, is one that appears and reappears in different guises. It is a means by which the artist projects her motives, be it arising from desire, repugnance or anxiety. As such, the ‘bag’ also morphs into rugs, screens and objects; they reveal a storm of suggestive possibilities, veiled and not so veiled observations. P Bag #2 and for instance, intone potential violence while Storm in a Teacup and Slipping are more mercurial. Le Lievre’s bags while eminently desirable are not facades but are the stuff of visual and unconscious thoughts. They have views inside, their linings and contents are depicted in some, and for others she has made a protective skin. Her titles transmit ideas attached to these ‘bag’s, whether it is a plea; Please Help Me (Carpet Bag), or a declaration built into the image itself. The pull both toward words and away from them is a painterly paradox; Untitled F Paintingthen is no accessory for an old bag, Bitch Bag‘s double entendre suggests something beyond the exclamation of one’s wrath and Iron Lady will hold sway behind its monumental exterior its orange provocation – but you can still take it with you.

Charles Baudelaire, The Poem of Hashish, 1895 (Translated by Aleister Crowley)

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