Lucy White grew up in a house with a lawn and a mother who took care of the house and father who took care of the lawn. These might be the perfect conditions for producing a laid back landscapist, but they didn’t. Lucy White’s politically centered pop art has zero to do with capturing the ephemeral beauty of the changing seasons, and everything to do with sex, violence, and commodities.
Lucy White’s aesthetic is bubbly like soda pop and hot like a bullet. She makes thongs with cheeky prints of female artists on them, and (sometimes sentimental) portraits of handguns. She uses bright, hot, and vivid colors and applies her paint using band aids. When I first saw her work, I really connected to its blunt force seriality and sly references to current events.
I met Lucy on Facebook, which seems apropos. She happily engaged with our theme of boredom, and sent us some pics of what she does when she’s bored. It turns out that Lucy is a compulsive listmaker and napkin doodler. But these fidgety meanderings, instead of being left behind on the bar, evolve into extended projects. I was really excited to talk to her about her creative process and the context of her work.
TD: What role does boredom play in your creative process? Do you find it to be productive? I can see from your photos that you spend some time conceptualizing your projects before executing them. Is that time focused or scattered? Ie: is the TV on while you’re thinking? Is it on when you’re painting? I guess I wonder whether your work is the product of concentration or distraction or some combination of both?
LW: Conceptualization is necessary for me to edit myself. I have AADD (Artistic Attention Deficit Disorder). In Facebook terms, I’m hitting the LIKE button over and over. So I have to self-edit — it’s painful. One thing I’m good at is sitting down and following through a series. But before I begin I have to trust myself.
Most of my decisions about the work are made before I make the work. There is a concentration that happens outside the studio. I explore ideas through my notes, lists and sketches. The TV is not on (if it were, I would be watching Adult Swim), but a computer is never far away.
That said, there is overlap and gray that happens when I experiment with materials, getting to know them and finding out if what I’m thinking is possible. For example, I had an idea for a series of tootsie roll drawings where I would simply draw with them like a crayon. I figured this would work by unwrapping the roll and wetting the end and I would make some drawings. So I bought a big bag of tootsie rolls. The End. No force on earth could make them make a mark, not even melting them. I’m still mulling it over. I haven’t had much luck with Necco wafers either…
TD: Your work has been explained using Gilles Deleuze’s notion of (capitalist era) schizophrenia. Does that resonate for you? I mean, is the notion that your work is “deterritorializing signifiers” meaningful to you? I guess I want to know if the internal coherence of your work arises out of this kind of intellectualism. I am a fan of intellectualism and I find Mr. Paige’s article about your work to be terrifically compelling, but I usually find that there is a divide between where an artist’s work is actually conceived and how it is interpreted. Is that even a question?
LW: Gilles who? I’m flattered to be placed in such intellectual context, but I hadn’t read Deleuze before that article. He’s right about the “signs” though. I’m dealing with images in a schematic, bare-bones way. Signifiers, yeah. If you look at the photograph of the installation for that show, or the installation for my Band-Aid Paintings show, you’ll see that my images can be arranged in clusters that form small narratives, like words in a sentence. The fact that a body of work contains the words for a series of sentences to tell a story provides its internal coherence.
TD: I love the repetitiveness of your work, and the way it happens on multiple levels. As in, you seem to commit to a series, and not just a series but a single object (even if the object is made multiple), and then even within that, it seems like the process itself is repetitive: the application of paint to band aids, etc. Can you tell me what this level of seemingly obsessive repetition means for you? Or is it a tactile pleasure?
LW: For me repetition isn’t a goal. Part of my interest in a series is the creation of an alphabet or vocabulary that can be arranged into visual sentences on a wall. I associate repetitiveness with context. For instance, the band-aids are a way of filtering paint without a brush and because of this my images are constructed rather than drawn. It takes many band-aids to build an image and many images to build a body of work. The repetition is a part of the process and the series imposes a discipline or boundary on my ideas.
TD: Some of your pieces deal with conceptions of femininity and domesticity (I am thinking of the thongs and the band aids with home and lawn on them). Is producing a feminist body of work a goal for you? Are the women artist thongs meant to call attention to the where women’s value is placed, regardless of their talent?
LW: Some of my choices are driven by humor more than feminism. I had called my work “feminimalism” in the past, but as a satire. I may be too lazy or self-consciously blind for a serious cultural critique! I find working with Kotex or Handi-Wipes to be funny. Often it has to do with experimentation of materials. In the end it comes down to where you shop, and I spend more time in CVS than Dick Blick.
The thongs are meant to be humorous but I can see how they could be disturbing. With some women artists it seems appropriate. (Yayoi, yes — maybe Agnes Martin, no.) I read somewhere recently that to be a successful woman artist in Japan you have to be extremely attractive as well as having strong work. So they have two critical tests to pass (yikes!).
TD: I am really intrigued by the way some of the guns in your paintings have relationships to each other. I have never felt as much tenderness towards a firearm as I did when I saw your guns on the napkin. I also really dig the sex pistols. What was the impetus for these works?
LW: The guns are one of my major themes, culled from a larger body of work I’m calling “America’s Choice” — images include guns, flags, churches, cellphones, thongs, missing girls, and the NASDAQ stock exchange.
I’m fond of the guns as human stand-ins. I originally wanted to draw nudes and then I thought that guns are nudes with content and more politically pornographic detail. The Sex Pistols began as a visualization of the pun in the name. The churches are monolithic, but the guns and cellphones (being small objects) allow me to arrange them in more social ways.
TD: I’m making your spider menu my wallpaper.
LW: Ha, The spiders (on felt balls) are left over from a piece called NASDAQ Spiders — spiders crawling on the daily NASDAQ newspaper spread. I haven’t pushed the spiders much. They are fun to draw but I associate them so strongly with Louise Bourgeois. Maybe she owns spiders.
And check out our galleries of her work below.
Lucy White’s Boredom Projects [nggallery id=21]
Lucy White’s “Paintings from 1962″[nggallery id=23]
Lucy White’s Panty Paintings [nggallery id=24]
Lucy White’s Gun Paintings [nggallery id=22]
Lucy White’s “Women Artist Thongs”[nggallery id=25]
All Images Courtesy Lucy White