The Director’s Cut.
New paintings by Anna Liber Lewis
Words by Ansel Krut
Even without seeing the title Phonic Lips is obviously a painting about music. Loud music. Music that overwhelms your senses, in-the-middle-of-the-dance-floor music, slightly druggy and physically abandoned music. The kaleidoscopic background of the painting has been overlaid with a blue grille/stencil that has been overlaid with a diamond shape that has been overlaid with the phonic lips of the title (a motif derived from a whale specimen that Liber Lewis saw in the Natural History museum). The kaleidoscope background explodes outwards, the blue stencil shapes weave sinuously, the diamond spins on its lime green axis and the phonic lips float forwards from the canvas. Four distinct movements in four distinct tempi. It’s a series of dance moves tuned-in to an internal rhythm; it is a painting that could quite literally be danced. But there’s an odd little curlicue at the top of the blue stencil shape just out of synch enough to suggest another reading; could it be a cartoon quiff? It crops up again in the painting Orcus, an image more readily read as a portrait of the god of the underworld. Does it suggest a hidden portrait in Phonic Lips too? It wouldn’t be unlike Liber Lewis to so subversively entwine the figurative and the abstract.
If, in Grand Ecart, you immediately see a tragi-comic head framed against a sunset, then you must also find yourself grappling to say exactly why it is a head that you are seeing. The dark shape towards the top - that could be hair. Those linked shapes are where eyes might be. That rubbing back in the pink could suggest a nose. The red-brown areas might be beard or stubble. This is a subtle and pleasurable puzzle that keeps you guessing and your eye amused. The head has weight and sits like a boulder on top of two neck-pillows that bulge slightly under the pressure. The image itself is drawn with a charcoal line that delineates flat shapes that lock together to form the head. There is one significant instance where the line does not close off a shape (towards the bottom of the “nose”) and another moment where the line turns back within the mustard yellow shape, as if momentarily changing its mind. A wry comedy routine has been spun out of these apparently simple elements. The painting knows what its about even as we acquiesce to its improbabilities.
These new works share Liber Lewis’ directorial drive, she manages their choreography, oversees their paradoxes. They are challenging images, often confrontational (the alien eyes in Arch are like the predatory eyes of a giant squid), often comic, often sensual. In these paintings she steps back from the intense subjectivity of her earlier work, her themes remain constant and the paintings remain deeply personal, but the images are realized with the authority of clear eyed objectivity, she dictates the way she wants us to see them. There are complex narratives in the paintings, and veiled and unveiled allusions, erudition and reference. But at no point does she pander to her audience - she gives us the director’s cut.