Essay Sounds Woo Catalogue 2020. Rebecca Nash


Marie Le Lievre’s works exist in the liminal space between realism and abstraction, where figurative images are juxtaposed with, and enmeshed in, abstract images. Across her oeuvre, MLL presents human bodies blurred by bodies of colours, objects abstracted due to the imperfection of memory, and fully abstract images that are amorphous in a way that suggests figuration.

This artistic space finds echo in the work of South American magical realist writers, whose stories are also liminal; they exist in a space between magic and realism. The writers present story forms and models made in the image of the conscious, measurable world, that a human’s pattern recognising brain understands and expects. This realism finds echoes in MLL’s figurative elements: body parts, bag handles, abstractions which seem so deeply suggestive that figures appear and then disappear into the physicality of paint. These speak to the viewers’ desire to ‘read’ images in a logical way. Into realistic worlds, magical realist writers drop fantastical, irreconcilable elements. It is the link to the tangible that allows these fantasies to have their own realism, as they stretch, but never sever the connection to actual human experience. The stories, rather than working to create entirely separate realities, remain in dialogue with and comment on the realism of this world. MLL’s use of abstraction works in a similar way. Bodies of colour obscure and unravel the figurative, but do not posit their authority over the figurative. The two elements, rather, are in dialogue, and this allows for a generative flux and fluidity of meaning.

Gabriel García Márquez’s magical realist short story, ‘A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings: A Tale for Children’, speaks of a decrepit angel that falls to Earth. The people of the village that he lands in almost immediately rationalise his presence and wonder, while they wait for the Supreme Pontiff’s opinion of the whole matter, “whether he wasn’t just a Norweigan with wings” (García Márquez 109).  GGM is critiquing the way in which humans refuse to be imaginative, and how it is easier to make magical elements mundane; to slot them into well trodden categories, than to expand one’s definition for what is possible. In MLL’s work, a similar challenge is presented to the viewer: will you reduce this image to a category you feel you know? Or will you let it exist in between categories. Will you expand your imagination to accept the way in which disparate elements co-exist? The poured paint of her ‘slip’ paintings, for example, can mean, simply ‘this is a process of paint’. It also has a visceral meaning, in that the sensuous, bodily quality of her paint seems to give her works an indeterminate but definite emotional life. That visceral meaning, in turn, connects the work to a viewer’s stories and memories, as well as connecting to MLL’s stories and memories.

This fluidity of meaning evokes the brain-state of the unconscious mind. The vast majority of human brain activity is unconscious, which means we are unaware of most of our brain’s contents and operations. Dream states give us some insight into our subterranean thoughts, but even in our waking hours, it seems that we are unconscious metaphor-makers whose brains easily make imaginative leaps and surrealist connections. When asked to recall objects that we have seen, it becomes clear that the logical, conscious part of our brain is fairly useless. It is impossible to remember the actuality of things and experiences, and we have to use the other, wilder parts of our brains in order to make meaning. In MLL’s ‘paraphernalia’ paintings, abstract impressions of objects are presented rather than faithful depictions of objects. MLL’s suggestive colour-bodies ask the viewer to find their own object-echoes from their own flawed memories.

Feminism, too, has a voice in MLL’s works. She is a mother, and this human experience makes the question of the unconscious mind both sharper and more immediate. Children, like dream states, consistently remind adults of their instinctual nature. Children are quick to rage, engage in constant ordinary creativity and have the capacity to become deeply engrossed in imaginative play. To raise a child is to be acutely aware that one is living through a love that is completely beyond logic. Motherhood is also an experience of repression, as one must work to repress one’s own illogical rage; one’s own illogical panic. Similarly, mothers must carry the weight of many unsaid things because they are not afforded space to be fully emotional beings. They must prioritise care of children over their own space for sadness; must relegate thoughts to the unseen parts of their brains. Mothers must develop a subterranean toughness that is its own enforced unconsciousness. These experiences mean, happily, that the mother’s imaginative space grows deep and worthy. When MLL accesses it, she is able to create images that, whilst being deliberately blurry and ‘unreadable’, are able to contain massive emotional weight: they are heavy with stories, as well as the infinite possibility of stories. 

Márquez, Gabriel García, “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings: A Tale for Children”, Leaf Storm and Other Stories, trans. Gregory Rabassa (London: Picador, 1979): 105-112.

Related Exhibition