A year ago we turned our magnifying glass on artist Mary Stephenson, who was then immersed in constructing imaginary worlds from papier mache and fake boyfriends from clay, portraying the artist’s tongue-in-cheek expectations of her relationships to come. The irresistible story of Mary and her clay boyfriends was been picked up and retold by media publications around the world, among them The New York Times, Metro, Huck magazine and Broadly.
Earlier this summer, Mary went to Madrid for a two month-long artist residency which resulted in Cucumber, a vast, disorientating oil mural spanning three metres by four metres. Evoking Mary’s own feelings of anxiety at finding herself in an unknown city, Cucumber is a self portrait of uncertainty. It depicts the artist clutching armfuls of shopping lost in a tide of Spanish characters living life at full volume. The exuberant, larger-than-life painted characters which tumble down from the ceiling of the installation feed the feeling of otherness which filters out from the tableau. Mary says that she “wanted to convey the feeling of being placed within a new setting that I found hard to control, the difficulty to play out my ambitions and imagination there and the problems of trying to navigate the development of new ideas and to re-interpret my existing practice within this new context.”
Taking the exhibition into a third dimension, Mary told us that “part of the show encouraged the audience to hunt around the gallery and outside on the street for clay cucumbers, an object that quickly came to represent the hunt for nourishment in the city.” Accompanying the paintings was a poem, also titled Cucumber, which Mary wrote on arriving in Madrid. Mary explains that she “decided to Google translate the text back and forth from English to Spanish multiple times throughout the duration of the residency,” making her poem inaccurate and imperfect but still understandable.
Cucumber represents “a turning point” in Mary’s work, which she says shows “a rigorous determination to move into a classical practise of painting combined with a playful and confrontational approach to its installation and interaction with the audience.”
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