Amy Lockhart’s ‘Dirty Dishes’

Dirty Dishes by Amy Lockhart
Drawn & Quarterly – Petits Livres, $US 14.95

Reviewed by Elizabeth Prater.

Slim, easily browsed and just about small enough to fit into the back pocket of your jeans, Dirty Dishes offers a compressed look at some of the less exposed aspects of Amy Lockhart’s practice. Drawn and Quarterly is a broad church, it has gathered together many independent, thoughtful and intellectually aspiring graphic novelists and comic artists. Drawn and Quarterly’s Petits Livres are limited edition art books which stylishly but inexpensively package groundbreaking artwork by cartoonists and artists from around the globe.

Working in the painstaking, hands on medium of lo-tech paper animation, Lockhart has received attention and praise for short films such as Walk for Walk. While studying at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design she was also schooling herself in film making and animation. Lockhart attended Helen Hill’s experimental animation workshop at AFCOOP in Halifax and has also completed an artist’s residency at the Quickdraw Animation Society (Calgary) and a fellowship at the National Film Board in Montreal. Dirty Dishes is the first book collection of her work.

The selection of works included in Dirty Dishes was made by Lockhart herself in partnership with Marc Bell. It’s fair to guess then that these are works Lockhart wants to be known and judged by. Aside from two sample cells from Walk for Walk, and a couple of short panel narrative cartoons, the greater portion of Dirty Dishes is given over to Lockhart’s naïve canvases and to a handful of heavy-line etchings.

Lockhart is un-self-consciously subjective in her depiction of the human form and a hard-core anthropomorphist in her depiction of the material world. Her figurative images suggest basic narratives and cryptic symbolic relationships. They are surreal and hallucinatory in a familiar cartoon way. The human torso is a dominant motif – male or female, sheathed in cursory bands of implied underwear (a kind of back-woodsy, hillbilly devolution of super-hero spandex). The torsoes are rigid and sinewy. Often they are lacking in limbs. Lockhart explains that she really likes the torso shape, and that removing arms lets you focus on it. Perhaps this is also a legacy of Lockhart’s work in paper animation – mobile body parts such as arms and legs are always detachable. Lockhart’s etchings bear some resemblance to the deep scrawled lines of German expressionists like Dix and Grosz, and she has perhaps absorbed something of their crooked vision of mangled bodies in war-wracked Europe. Lockhart’s altered bodies are counter-culture kooks, though, they are not blighted victims.

Lockhart’s reiterative subject matter gives Dirty Dishes an insistent and obsessive feel. Much of the appeal of outsider art often comes from the way in which a singular vision can take on the semblance of a case-study. Lockhart probably wouldn’t shy away from that kind of resonance, but I doubt she would see herself as an outsider (outsiders install drywall or sell insurance, they don’t go to art school) and I doubt that outsider appeal is really what she’s working towards. In spite of the somewhat self-conscious oddity of the images, Lockhart’s work carries on a number of traditions, all of which are mainstream in their own way. Or rather (given that ‘mainstream’ is such a toxic word) Lockhart’s work shows a conscious slant towards populist forms. The makeshift technique of Lockhart’s bold acrylics resonates with the social purpose of street murals and the municipal art of Africa and South America. In Lockhart’s work there is a sense that sophisticated technique has been abandoned on the suspicion that it harbours insincerity.

In Dirty Dishes, Lockhart can be seen nurturing her idiosyncratic, subjective vision. This will carry her so far – but questioning, subverting, resisting and refiguring that vision will take her much further.

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