Lucy McKenzie (1977) has been working for several years now on a series of paintings titled Quodlibet. ‘Quodlibet’ is a Latin term which means, amongst other things, ‘that which pleases’ or ‘what she/he wants’. McKenzie uses it here to refer to a genre within ‘trompe l’oeil’ painting that was en vogue in early 19th century architecture, which featured realistically rendered wall paintings of random objects. The primary purpose of the ‘quodlibet’ was to intellectually entertain.
A triptych of McKenzie’s Quodlibet series presents the artist’s fascination for interiors. She believes that ‘you can read a person’s character by his or her interior’. These paintings,Quodlibet XII, Quodlibet XXII and Quodlibet XX, have been subtitled respectively Objectivism, Nazism and Fascism. The paintings are painted pinboards with copies of industrial paint samples, architectural drawings, different types of marble, pictures of furniture of people. There are also references to Polish painter Tamara de Lempicka, American novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand or a pamphlet titled Das Behagliche Heim, which describes ‘how one recognizes a National Socialist by his home’.
One of the painted items on the pinboard of Quodlibet XXII (Nazism) (2012) is the famous photo of photographer Lee Miller (1907-1977) sitting in the bathtub of Adolf Hitler. This picture is taken in the defeated dictator’s apartment in Munich where Miller and another photographer David E. Sherman stayed for several nights.
Sherman – who traveled with Miller through Germany with U.S. troops on a commission for the magazine Life – took the picture in the afternoon of 30 April 1945, after they visited the Dachau concentration camp in the morning.
The hyper-realistic way of painting created by McKenzie has a special effect: the viewer is surprised by the fact that it is really painted and is, at the same time, intrigued by the items on the pinboard and their political context. All those juxtaposed and dissonant elements open up a whole array of associations and possible interpretations. Looking at this work is an intellectual discovery and experience.
The Quodlibet triptych including Quodlibet XXII (Nazism) was on view in the exhibition Painting Now: Five Contemporary Artists at Tate Britain until 9 February 2014.