Lucia Nogueira

The Drawing Room at Tannery Arts

Lucia Nogueira’s quietly confident drawings occupy the twilight in which reality loosens its hold on the everyday. Many appear to be straightforward experiments in color incorporating elements of Nogueira’s sculptures: gray test tubes, a funnel framed by a smooth ocher brushstroke, a row of colored lines, abstract scribbles, or an ink-soaked page with a thick drip of enamel near its top. As a result, the works’ occasional strangeness takes you by surprise. One column of five yellow blobs has a cartoonish helicopter landing at its top (Untitled, 1995); elsewhere, pearly teeth loom out of the darkness (Untitled, 1991); and in a gloriously macabre example, what look at first glance like mangled tulips turn out to be animal heads atop flower stems (Untitled, 1998).

This is the first exhibition to concentrate on Nogueira’s drawings, which she produced in the hundreds alongside the sculptures for which she was better known, and they amount to a significant body of work. Whereas in her sculptures the Brazilian-born, London-based artist drew out the repressed violence of everyday objects like electric ceiling fans or mechanical toys, her works on paper are subtler, even whimsical. Four cats sitting with their backs turned have crosses in place of heads (Untitled, 1989); buttons with a bluish tinge could double as faces (Untitled, 1998). Their colors are crepuscular, dingy or faded; the cats have a brackish tinge, and in some drawings the entire paper has been steeped in ink or watercolor, giving them a dark, crusty depth. A line of plus and equal signs across one of the ink-soaked pieces of paper looks like a rendering of the stations of the cross, lending the work instant gravitas (Untitled, 1992), but the marks are made in correction tape, which has begun to flake off. This impermanence nods to a subtly feminine language, one Nogueira shares with other female artists whose drawings explore that strange space where the mundane morphs into the unreal. Teeth suspended midpage along a liquid red line bring to mind Jay De Feo; scribbly abstractions recall Unica Zürn; and button-faces filling an entire page in rows echo Yayoi Kusama.

However, a work on newspaper Nogueira made a few weeks before her untimely death in 1998, and marking a possible departure from her mostly figurative doodles, best articulates the precariousness of everyday life: A big blue pool of ink sweeps across the top right corner of a page torn from The Guardian, partially obscuring a photo of a ballet dancer. The blue washes against the red spotlight on the stage. Held in tension, it is at once part of the newsprint and apart from it.

Our own gaze upon the everyday is made strange by Nogueira’s calm exploration of this in-between space. In her film Smoke, 1996, based on a site-specific performative work presented at Berwick-upon-Tweed, a black bench looks out across the sea, and we hear the sound of kites flapping in the wind. Black pigeons fly through the air, their flight echoed by black kites. One of the kites is manipulated by an old man who looks like he’s performing some hyperpassionate tai chi moves. The string is barely visible, and you only see the kite’s shadow, but it doesn’t matter—what’s more important is the outline of the man’s body against the sky and the graceful language he creates with his gestures.

Emily Speers Mears