Critics’ Picks

Lucy Stein, Wet Room, 2021, hand-painted ceramic tiles, bath, sink, shower head, black acrylic mirror, water, dimensions variable. Installation view. Photo: Max McClure.

Lucy Stein, Wet Room, 2021, hand-painted ceramic tiles, bath, sink, shower head, black acrylic mirror, water, dimensions variable. Installation view. Photo: Max McClure.

Bristol

Lucy Stein

Spike Island
133 Cumberland Road
September 25, 2021–January 16, 2022

In a reconjuring of the kingdom of Lyonesse, the mythical sunken landscape situated off the Cornish peninsula, Lucy Stein has installed a bathroom at the center of Spike Island’s galleries. Wet Room, 2021, was crafted using timber scenery flats common to theater set design, onto which a wall of hand-painted ceramic tiles has been adhered. A modern rainfall showerhead sprays into the pedestal tub and the sink taps are left running, as if to remind us of how, in Celtic lore, the island of Lyonesse was swallowed by a tidal wave during a storm.

On the tiles, Stein has portrayed a mermaid, the eye of Horus, a three-headed snake, an octopus, the sun and moon, wheat sheaves, a skull, shells. Above the sink, an obsidian black mirror might double as a scrying glass, and atop a dish sits a squat, amber figurine made from herbal soap in the shape of Baubo, the sexually liberated goddess of obscenity typically identified by the convergence of her face and torso and her exposed genitalia. This esoteric iconography merges the artist’s research into ancient Neolithic traditions with Anima, the forces of one’s psyche that Carl Jung associated with femininity (irrational, emotional, nurturing).

On the gallery walls hang a series of paintings in addition to a huddle of framed works on paper. Sexy centaurs and witches with cartoonish cleavage and kissy lips, drawn in felt pen, appear in some of the latter works, collectively titled Cosmos Bitch, 2020. The mythological and neo-pagan creatures and motifs from the aqueous mise-en-scène recur in large, expressive paintings viscerally rendered with oil paint, acrylic, and pastel on canvas and linen in deep red, grass green, teal, and turquoise. Intense and gestural, Stein’s brushstrokes carry a carnal and angsty vigor, with their shapeshifting symbols teasingly open to psychoanalytic readings. Fertility deities, buxom May Queens, and aged sirens scroll Instagram, recline, smoke cigarettes, expose themselves, and enter violent altercations. Goddesses, they’re just like us.