Lucy Dodd, Miss Mars, 2018, squid ink, hematite, onion skins, liquid smoke, avocado, phosphorescent pigment, and acrylic on canvas, 10' 2“ × 15' 2”.

Lucy Dodd, Miss Mars, 2018, squid ink, hematite, onion skins, liquid smoke, avocado, phosphorescent pigment, and acrylic on canvas, 10' 2“ × 15' 2”.

Lucy Dodd

Sprueth Magers

Imagine Kandinsky as a feminist performance artist channeling Beuys while painting, and you might get a sense of Lucy Dodd’s sensibility. Her first London show, “Miss Mars,” was inspired, she has explained, by both a legendary East London pub, the George & Dragon, and her newborn daughter.

Dodd conveyed the idea of dragon slaying not with an image, but with wild spurts and spatters of pigment across canvas, as well as with her works’ titles: for instance, The Slay, The Sting, The Blow (all works 2018). Dodd’s is a revamped form of action painting; one is always aware of the artist’s sweeping gestures, stains, dribbles, drops, and, of course, brushstrokes. The main elements of The Princess, for example, were one long twirling gesture spanning the canvas’s length—in fact composed of three distinct marks (in black, blue, and purple)—and a round brown stain toward the base of the canvas; other faint spills and stains created a sense of atmosphere. The seemingly spontaneous mark-making contrasted with the neatly sewn canvas edge—an unusual method of stretching the support.

Birth was suggested in the largest painting, Miss Mars. At more than ten by fifteen feet, it dominated the exhibition, featuring a cosmic field of watery black ink and two crusty, earthy red hemispheres from which a white circle is emerging, as if a planet were hatching its own moon. A small troll-like face with bright red up-combed hair peers out from between the two halves, mischievously disrupting this cosmological birth. The painting is also invertible; in some early installation shots it is oriented the other way, with the white orb floating up and the head popping out the bottom. This piece, with its planetary dance, featured much more defined forms than the other works in the show.

In previous exhibitions, the New York–based artist leaned toward more elaborate installations. By contrast, this show was relatively conventional, with paintings on the walls rather than propped up here and there or forming a hut. However, the haptic pleasure of each individual piece shone through nevertheless. The Trap, a freestanding work, was a planar polygonal canvas held up by an armature—like a grubby sail rising up from the floor. The canvas surface was covered with dusty shoe prints and booze stains—enhanced with charcoal—from being left on a pub floor. In this reorientation from horizontal to vertical, there is a nod to Pollock’s process, while the work is also a prime example of Dodd’s propensity for using nontraditional materials and for indirect mark-making. She’s an alchemist with materials such as squid ink, berries, wild walnut, green tea, avocado, baby poo, and a baby snake, among many others mentioned on the checklist.

Dodd’s inventiveness is apparent in the materials she uses; it was also evident in the show’s narrative. She envisaged the exhibition as encompassing three parts: a birth, a dark transition, and finally light—corresponding to the three rooms containing, respectively, Miss Mars, The Trap, and the other gestural paintings, such as The Princess. Although this story was not entirely apparent, what came through was a sense of transition from room to room and piece to piece—of things still in the air or on the move. Taking in the show was like watching solid matter form out of primordial soup.