“None of the ways that I represent things are straightforward,” Lucy Skaer has said of her work. Indeed, Skaer’s two concurrent New York exhibitions contained prints, sculptures and installations—often rich with earthy, hand-wrought materials—that reminded viewers that images and objects are inherently contingent, their meanings dependent on context and their forms on essential physical properties. Thus, representation is never straightforward.
Shown at Peter Freeman, the series “13.08.13-04.10.13” (2013) comprises 51 lithographs roughly printed by hand from disused plates the British artist recovered from the Guardian newspaper. The prints are impressionistic; faint photographic images rendered in negative emerge through a blur of soft pink, gray and sepia tones, forming a hazy collage of contemporary symbols: men in suits, machine-gun-toting women, a collapsed building, an unidentifiable celebrity posing for the camera.
For American Images (2014), Skaer disinters an entire lost process, as embodied in three limestone boulders she took from quarries outside a small Iowa ghost town once known as “Lithograph City.” The town was created in the early 1900s as a residence for quarry workers excavating the fine-grained limestone widely used in lithography at that time but soon replaced by metal plates. What narratives might have been conveyed through these stones, Skaer seems to ask, had they been excavated before the technology changed?
With two additional sculptures, Skaer reprises a motif from previous work—a beveled-edged “lozenge” shape based largely on the standard form of cut emeralds. Emeralds, like other gems, possess a distinct molecular structure that compels gem cutters to shape them in specific ways; Skaer transposes her lozenge shape onto unexpected materials to see what new associations it compels. An untitled work from 2015 comprises a pile of several broken lozenges of unfired stoneware; elsewhere, 374 lozenges in tenmoku-glazed stoneware—a favorite material of British ceramist Bernard Leach—lay arranged in perfect rows, a variation on Skaer’s My Terracotta Army, my Red Studio, my Amber Room II (the original 2013 iteration of the piece includes 530 stoneware objects).
Skaer’s exhibition at Murray Guy offered a new five-work series. “Sticks & Stones” (2013-15) begins with Sticks &
Stones I, a pair of long, irregular slabs of “sinker mahogany.” The mahogany comes from dense logs that had been harvested in Belize by British colonists. While being floated downriver to a mill, the wood sank to the bottom of the riverbed, where it lay for over a century in alluvial muck. Within each flitch, Skaer embedded objects of varying shapes, sizes and materials, all taken from her studio. These include a block of lithograph stone and a lozenge fragment. Like a puzzle piece, each object fits snugly into a hole cut in the mahogany.
The shapes of the mahogany slabs in Sticks & Stones I are repeated in ceramic for Sticks & Stones II, and again in marble for Sticks & Stones III. The embedded objects in each pair likewise share the same basic shape, but are composed of a wide variety of materials. A hunk of tin studded with coins in Sticks & Stones I is approximated in black ceramic for Sticks & Stones II, then in malachite for the next in the series and so on.
Like a game of telephone played out with materials, forms appear to subtly degrade or mutate with replication. But with Skaer, there is no best, Platonic original. We observe that an artist’s work—and all human production—is one process, in which a single piece is never finished but evolves into the next.