Mist and Nuts contains 17 painting assemblages by Siobhan Liddell. 17 images with ceramic and other sculptural elements such as wire, straws, fabric, and foil. Here are 17 figures of Liddell’s feeling for form and material. 17 pieces of life on Earth. Here are 17 arrangements of what is at hand or at heart. 17 intuitions of rest and work. There are 17 days in this quixotic month.
Liddell started these paintings last summer. She had lost several people close to her and time was opening to swallow. Liddell meditates and has space for emptiness. What she didn’t expect in these works was form. They are not about loss but about change. Here are 17 experiments with time and mutability. 17 takes on the infinitude alive in bounded things.
“Leg of Lamb” comes between “April 21” and “April 22” in Bernadette Mayer’s Works and Days. Liddell’s works also treat the everyday as superadded. Figures play beyond edges and parts that hang or drape or frame reverse visual encounter with texture, so that the eye is asked to feel before it sees. Liddell stands accused of affinity with “poor materials.” The New York Times called Liddell’s work “odd poetry,” which is one way to say that she includes in composition what is out of place.
Oddness estranges and compels. Weird, someone says, feeling jealous, curious, or in awe. Oddness disarranges consciousness and opens up vision. Is the empty cardboard box or the drained pool a cenotaph? Are ceramics to image what shape is to sky? Liddell’s material impulses get worked over. Liddell makes minor architectures of touch and feeling. These ask questions: What is memory? What is seeing? Where does image come from?
Ovid sends Iris for visions to the palace of sleep. I get the sense that image arrives similarly in Liddell’s work, outside the daylight of consciousness. Her varied sources—photographs, memories, in-the-world, mind’s eye—obviate distinctions of “outer” and “inner” vision. Image in Liddell’s work is a visitation, sensed before it is seen. Image is a filter sense passes through on its way to form. Specific like a body, bodied like a hand. Image intercedes in being and is its shape.
Liddell’s friend Matt Connors wrote that painting isn’t about vision, painting is vision. These uncharacteristically figurative works ask me to look at what they’re depicting, as well as how they appear, and when I do, they start to seem more like figurative abstractions in which (even) narrativity points to the fact of their making. Lucio Fontana’s crucifixes improbably come to mind. Liddell is a maker and material is her subject matter. Here are 17 times image is inseparable from material which is vision.
Sprung from the grey estate building, the wire, like an eye, casts barely into space. This wire is fishing for the work’s extents, which are serious and sincere, even as the nuts and bolts of it are disappearing. Mist settles, improbable, Johanna Fateman wrote, enchanted. Back to Iris. Form is magic. Image is restless. Liddell communes with the solid and the shifting. Ceramic doily over painted torso, sun rising toward fabric skies, love under branches and in blue jeans, an impossibly pink story on this regular, regular English afternoon.