Lucy Skaer: Leonora (3 stars)

A mixed-media tribute to surrealist painter Leonora Carrington that resists easy definitions

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Lucy Skaer: Leonora

Lucy Skaer, Leonora, 2006–2008. Image © The Hunterian, University of Glasgow 2013

In 2006, the Glasgow-based artist Lucy Skaer came across two small drawings in the Tate by the surrealist painter Leonora Carrington. More than the works themselves, she was struck by the fact that the artist, then in her nineties, was still alive and working: the past was a handshake away. On the strength of this, she travelled to Mexico City and turned up (unannounced) on Carrington’s doorstep.

The body of work made as a response to that encounter, parts of which were shown at the Venice Biennale in 2007 and in her Turner Prize show in 2006, is now owned by the Hunterian, and is being exhibited as part of GENERATION, along with three photographs of Carrington’s apartment taken in 2012 after the artist died.

The works embody some of Skaer’s key themes: an interest in craft and a fascination with the past wedded to a rigorous conceptual core which resists easy conclusions. The 16mm film made during her encounter with Carrington is just a minute long, concentrating on the old woman’s hands and a few details around her. It’s a fleeting, austere picture. Though her hands gesture, we never hear her voice.

A wooden occasion table inlaid with a mother of pearl hand echoes the gnarled hands of the artist. It is a precious if slightly sinister object, as are the carved mahogany sculptures based on a silhouette from a found photograph, and the intensely worked drawing of a whale skeleton. The links between the works cease to be thematic or logical – they resist those definitions.

The photographs of the exterior of Carrington’s apartment after her death deepen the sense of shifting meaning. Instead of a portrait of the artist, Skaer offers us a closed door and shuttered windows. The past may seem close, but it is also inaccessible.

Hunterian Art Gallery, until Sun 4 Jan, 2015.

Lucy Skaer

A drawing, a film and two wooden sculptures, influenced by the maverick English surrealist Leonora Carrington.

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