Shannon Cartier Lucy: Cake on the Floor | Soft Opening

The notes for this show, from Nashville-based painter Shannon Cartier Lucy, are really excellent, and illuminated what I saw in the gallery. (Given that show notes are so often trite and obfuscatory, it’s worth shouting out.)

“Any singular narrative is made obtuse,” by this artist, Philomena Epps writes, “the certainty of reality melted away through her embrace of fantasy and the uncanny.

“The setting of a party can be inferred by the particular debris and signs of festivities: there is cake and strings of undulating, crimped satin ribbons, but the situation reads as ominous, toxic.”

shannon cartier lucy - the celebration The Celebration (2021)

So it proves: Lucy’s party goes horribly wrong over this series of paintings, which feature repeated characters and motifs. Cake, silly string, and distressed female subjects. Epps suggests a fitting soundtrack: Lesley Gore’s 60s anthem It’s My Party (and I’ll cry if I want to…)

Let’s start with the cake. In one painting, a vast slice of chocolate cake quivers on the floor, menaced by a fork-wielding partier. In another, white icing laces around another girl’s lips. In another, a finger prods a separate slice, again on the floor, a pair of (male) heels dangerously close.

The silly string, another symbol of carefree celebration, takes on a similarly sinister appearance, dropping down the back of one leotard-clad subject, stringing around the mouth of another. In The Celebration (above), one partier clutches it to her ear, sick of it all - ready to go home.

shannon cartier lucy - woman in meringue Woman in Meringue (2021)

Sweet treats return in Woman in Meringue (above), in which a woman’s face is obliterated by the desert, the only open patch on her face is cleared by her fingers, which she’s enthusiastically jamming down her throat.

Epps calls this a “fetishistic visual logic”, though she has a kinder view of this last painting, thinking the girl is sucking on her fingers rather than making herself sick. Either way, the party was horrible, and everyone’s ready to go home.

Lucy’s paintings made me think of Jenny Saville, with her close-ups of women in distress, and Wayne Thiebaud, that master of the expressive and sinister pastry. I’d love to see more from her.

Shannon Cartier Lucy: Cake on the Floor is at Soft Opening (London). 02 June - 31 July 2021