Arts & Culture

21st October 2021

Lucy McKenzie – A Retrospective Exhibition

Who is Lucy McKenzie?

Over the past 20 years, Lucy McKenzie has built a vast and varied back-catalogue. The opportunity to explore this retrospective, presented in the UK for the first time, is now available at Tate Liverpool. Born in Glasgow and based in Brussels, McKenzie’s work spans an impressive multitude of materials, styles and themes. With over 80 pieces, it can be challenging to grasp an overall feel at first glance. However, this body of work is unified by careful curation and subtle continuities, where each piece makes up part of the story. 

Photo by Zoe Huang for Liverpool Guild Student Media

We see the artist’s work progress from degree-level to present, bringing an exciting insight into her incredibly varied skillset that spans many styles. From the beginning, the viewer is greeted with an abundance of different materials and techniques. One of the first displays of McKenzie’s immaculate painting is the recreation of a marble interior in Prague. This sculpture utilises the trompe l’oeil technique, which the artist refers to throughout her work – creating extremely realistic textures and materials that ‘deceive the eye’. Remember to look twice at the cork board on the wall, as it may well be a painting and not the real thing! Painting mastery is evident in the typography used in large-scale maps, but also in much smaller, delicate pieces. 

Photo by Zoe Huang for Liverpool Guild Student Media

Thematic discussion

An interest in architecture and interior design has inspired many of McKenzie’s projects. One being the 2010 ‘May of Teck, Town/ Gown Conflict’. This compelling depiction of a room in post-WWII London, invites the viewer to stand within the walls and experience the juxtaposition of cloudy, ethereal wallpaper with dirty skirting boards and graffiti. In addition to interior design and realist painting, McKenzie founded a fashion label with Scottish designer Beca Lipscombe. Atelier E.B, which appears towards the end of the exhibition, puts emphasis on collective strength of artists working together.

Photo by Zoe Huang for Liverpool Guild Student Media

In the same way materials and techniques are favoured, there are also continuities of theme. One prominent topic is feminism and gender politics. I think the most powerful pieces relate to the artist’s own personal experiences around appropriation of women’s bodies and consent, as there is an added depth. Another theme present in McKenzie’s earlier works, was the cultural forces and eroticism of women in mass events such as the Olympics. The Games appear in many works and raise questions around their significance and ethics.

Photo by Zoe Huang for Liverpool Guild Student Media

Freedom of interpretation

Sometimes it is daunting to visit an art exhibition due to perceived pressure to understand meaning. The opposite is true: any interpretation is valid. Different pieces evoke different feelings among any audience because everyone has their own stance and perspective. This is a freedom to enjoy when visiting an art gallery and if it’s something you haven’t yet experienced, then this exhibition is the perfect place.

Personally, I loved this exhibition’s huge variety and really recommend giving it a visit. I would suggest keeping an eye out for the 10-minute silent film, ‘The Girl Who Followed Marple’. It is an enchanting piece, beautifully filmed. It’s also nice to sit down in a dark room, reflect on what you’ve seen so far and give those feet a rest.

Viewing the exhibition

As winter approaches, what’s more inviting than a warm afternoon immersed in incredible art at the Tate. Time to book your ticket and get yourself down to the Royal Albert Dock! The exhibition is open from 20th October to 13th March 2022, Tuesday to Sunday 10:00-18:00. Tickets are £10 (£9 with a student ID) and free with ticket for members and under 16s. 

Cover image by Zoe Huang for Liverpool Guild Student Media