Essay Net Let. Rebecca Nash


In Marie Le Lievre’s new ‘Catcher’ series, we see MLL consider her previous artistic vocabulary whilst also leaping into other mind pools. Threads connecting this work to her oeuvre include her exploration of the formal properties of paint (dense slicks interplaying with iridescence, transparency, cirrus wisp, the movement of water). Thematically, we see her continue in her examination of the interplay between the concrete and the abstract; the thick bubble of the unconscious mind. Into these threads, she adds literal new threads as she criss-crosses them into organic grids. 

Grids are incredibly suggestive forms. They can be ordering forces: mathematical columns, sieves that sort wheat from chafe, baby hammocks that can be rocked to keep fussy newborns from tearing a hole in the universe with their mewling. These grids, however, are also unstable. Mathematicians know they are standing at the void, and that numbers are, in a way, a panicked clarity. If the mathematician focuses on the grid and what is reconcilable, then they are just as a child who huddles under a duvet in a storm. The wheat sieve is limited by the size of its holes and its age and sag, and needles are famously hiding in hay. The fussy baby will mewl despite everything, its arms breaking loose of its swaddle, its teeth erupting, the insufficiency of a singular mother. 

Grids also exist in dialogue with the history of abstract art. “In the spatial sense, the grid states the autonomy of the realm of art. Flattened, geometricized, ordered, it is antinatural, antimimetic, antireal. It is what art looks like when it turns its back on nature.” Yet, MLL’s grids also call to mind weaving, which is a form much entwined with nature; fishing nets, baskets, bounty, fertility. These grids do not deny the real, nor its symbology, rather, they form vessels for it. What MLL does not do is prescribe the contents of her baskets; these paintings do not have to be read as an artist’s autobiography. Rather, they evoke the viewer’s autobiography. They ask the question, “who or what is your net, your catcher?”

My catcher is a piece of muslin cloth tied to the end of a vacuum cleaner hose with a hair tie. I use it to get all the dog hair out of the lego. My invention works, as the dog hair is removed into clumps, but it also doesn’t work as, of course, lego is also pulled up into the sieve, so I still have to separate the dog hair and lego by hand. This dysfunctional sieve has a much slipperier and vaster iteration inside a human brain. Throughout the day, we strive to keep our useful, functional thoughts at the forefront of our minds. We hope to remember to return the library books, to be on time and to eat and sleep and not put salt instead of sugar in the birthday cake. We also strive to keep the gnawing emotions out of it. We hope to not cry in the supermarket, to not daydream when we are slicing onions, to not let our subterranean rage out too indiscriminately. 

The creative space, however, requires a complete redefinition of what the mind catcher is to filter out and what to filter in. The artist wants to open the floodgates for the unconscious mind; to flow through with it, losing all trace of the petty and the daily and the necessary. Thus, the mind catcher itself is a thing in flux, rather than a static thing. It must dynamically shift in its sifting according to social constraints, to situation, to mental health, to disaster, to weather. This shifting is analogous to the way that MLL’s paint is in flux between its formal, abstract qualities and its leap into the concreteness of actual objects, and sometimes, its leap further into symbol or psychological human states. 

This is not to say that MLL’s subject matter comes entirely from the internal. Rather, she speaks of the interplay between the mind catcher and the external world. A human, in addition to filtering through itself, must also filter through the world’s sensory overload of people, light, speeding cars, news, and menus. It must selectively focus. On what advice to take, and how close to zoom in on its surroundings. We cannot live in a state of constant mindfulness, focusing on every detail, as this would result in overload and catatonia at the same time. Yet again, I find myself describing something about the artistic space. In painting, the artist submits to their materials, and they make things in a place that feels alot like overload and catatonia at the same time. 

Margaret Atwood, in her book On Writers and Writing, speaks of “the inability to distinguish between the real and the imagined, or rather the attitude that what we consider real is also imagined: every life lived is also an inner life, a life created.” The ‘catcher’ the ‘net’ the ‘sieve’ the ‘grid’ speaks to all of these liminalities. It is inner and outer, the email spam, the intruding thoughts, the headless painful bliss of creation. It also could be none of these things. It could be paint, it could be whatever you would like it to be, it could be a single cord or vibration from a deep well of paint like a human iris earthquaking straight into your own human iris. You must decide whether to let it settle or explode. 



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