These Tiny, Intensely Time-Consuming Paintings Are Monuments to the Everyday

Drawing out light and darkness in evocative still lifes, Lucy Mackenzie’s paintings are nostalgic and affectionate, reflecting a life of great depth and rich solitude. At Nancy Hoffman Gallery in New York this month, Mackenzie presents “Quiet,” her first exhibition at a gallery in eight years. The body of work on display focuses on personal moments of domesticity, in finely tuned works that approach trompe l’oeil in their level of realism.

“Quiet” gathers objects that appear to be highly personal to the artist, depicted in paintings that share a palette of grays punctuated by color, as if they were all snapshots of the early morning, or a cloudy day.  Many of these objects seem to have been specifically chosen for their uniquely evocative qualities—timeless parts of daily life that any viewer can recognize as nostalgic: warm laundry, a fresh glass of water on a dish towel, vases and flowers, a child’s truck.

However, it is the moments in which the paintings deviate from standard subjects that they begin to take on theoretical and emotional depth—and become a portrait of the artist and her own dedications. An interest in reading, artwork, and craft is repeated in poignantly chosen subjects: Four Books (2) (2009) features what seem to be imaginary titles of personal passions (Trees, Weather, Garden Flowers, Wild Flowers); Vermeer Eyes with Pearls (2012) takes Vermeer’s canonical Girl With a Pearl Earring (c. 1665) and places art history solidly within personal space. Fragile Box with Scissors (2009) features a dynamically balanced composition of everyday domestic objects but also a loud textual moment—“FRAGILE”—which perhaps alludes to an imagined female hysteria and delicate psyche. 

The care and attention given to each subject makes clear the artist’s respect for time, craft, and self-reflection. In fact, each of these tiny paintings (each of which measures only a handful of inches, from 2x3 to 4x7) takes the artist months to complete, resulting in only two to three finished works made per year. Mackenzie’s jewel-like works, no matter their subject, gain their power through the intrinsic appeal of beautifully painted surfaces combined with a peaceful tone, and the quality of being simultaneously personal and universal.

—K. Sundberg

Quiet” is on view at Nancy Hoffman Gallery, New York, Mar. 19–May 2, 2015.

Follow Nancy Hoffman Gallery on Artsy.