These two drawings by Lucy Skaer are from a group of works called “Solid Ground.” Yet, for all the promise of the title, as we view these large-format pieces we discover fragmented filigree structures: lines, cross hatchings, patterns, and ornamentation. Then there is the delicately applied gold leaf that gives these sheets a precious, fragile air. Hints of figuration loom into view. At the center of “Solid Ground. Carpal,” for instance, we can make out a human figure turning away. Meanwhile the golden shapes distributed across the sheet in “Solid Ground. Tarsal” could as easily be fragments of old buildings as parts of new walls under construction. And do the same two shadowy figures, facing each other, not appear several times in the center of this sheet? Three times as black silhouettes, once as a white void? In this drawing in particular, the white picture ground is more than just a setting for shapes and marks, it also forms figures.
While the figures and pictorial forms in these two drawings pull the viewer in, they are also puzzling. The eye roams across the sheets in search of figures, structures, and hints at their meaning. Yet even the titles explain very little. “Carpal” and “tarsal” are both anatomical terms, with carpal referring to the wrist bone, and tarsal to a cluster of foot bones. Thus, as we read the titles, contemplate the drawings, and compare titles and works, we are already actively engaged in a process of observation and analysis. And, as such, we are also in the middle of the work of Lucy Skaer.
Skaer, who trained at Glasgow School of Art, works with drawing, sculpture, and film. More often than not the point of departure for a new work is a photograph found in a magazine, a book, or online. During the process of drawing, or as she works on a sculpture, Skaer appropriates these found images, transforming and alienating them. Talking about her approach to her work, Skaer commented: “I’m interested in a state of between-ness, and that state you find if one thing transforms to another.”(1) And this process of transformation is seen in the drawings in the Baloise Collection, when, for instance, a shape suddenly mutates into a figure. The relationship between abstraction and figuration is central to this group of works.
The same interest is also evident in Skaer’s use of gold, both as a drawing medium and for its own sake. She is fascinated by gold, which is both an actual metal and an abstract value, and she has even found inspiration in the national gold reserves. This is specifically seen in the two figures in “Solid Ground. Tarsal,” who represent employees shifting the gold around.
However, the “between-ness” Skaer cites in the quote above can also refer to her work in a wider sense, specifically the artistic process whereby she appropriates images made by others. The viewer’s active observation is part of this. It may even include the wrist bones and foot bones that crucially connect the arm and the hand, the leg and the foot—which are, in other words, essential factors in the act of grasping (both literally and metaphorically) and in walking. Against this backdrop the innate flexibility of seeing and observing appears to be the real—solid yet mutable—basis of her work.
(1) See https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2009/dec/04/lucy-skaerturner-
prize-profile (last accessed November 2019).