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Lizzy Lunday in BOMB

Last October at Fredericks & Freiser in New York City, I stood in front of a drama-scape painting of seductive bikini-wearing and iPhone-clad figures gathered and gossiping, rendered in a Baroque formation reminiscent of a Caravaggio. Titled Indecent Curiosity (2023), it piqued mine. Since then, I’ve come to learn that Lizzy Lunday’s large-scale tableaus are astute mashups of historical and contemporary media. Both satirical and serious, Lunday’s paintings explore the ways in which our identities are constructed by the imagery we consume.


Most exciting to me in Lunday’s work are the oddities that punctuate her compositions: in Clamshell (2024), naturally oscillating ocean waves meet the sands of a beach in a perfectly straight line; in Beach Worm (2024), a woman’s leg lags a beat behind the rest of her body. These quirks read as “Photoshop fails” or AI glitches and serve to underscore the uncanniness of Lunday’s sumptuous spectacles that conflate time and culture. The artist’s newest exhibition, New Myths and Amalgamated Monsters, is on view at GNYP Gallery in Antwerp.


Alex Leav: Let’s start with the most apparent element of your work: figuration. What draws you to the figure?


Lizzy Lunday: I’ve always been interested in the figure. I think it’s the most relatable, accessible image. The body is something we can all understand and read into in countless ways.


AL: Your figures feel relatable and contemporary: they wear sports bras and minidresses and hold iPhones. Yet, they’re composed within seemingly biblical, perhaps ancient mythological narratives. For example, in looking at your painting Beheaded (2024), my mind directly goes to Judith beheading Holofernes; in Clamshell, to the birth of Venus. Can you speak to this duality?


LL: I think there’s an important throughline between contemporary pop media such as reality TV and biblical stories or classical mythology. Throughout history we’ve learned to understand the world and form our own identities through the representations we consume, but the stories and ways in which we consume them have shifted. I made the connection between mythology and contemporary media one night while watching The Real Housewives of Orange County; a specific scene’s composition and narrative struck me as a contemporary Renaissance painting when two housewives slouched over the side of a hot tub after drinking a little too much tequila. The drama was reminiscent of Caravaggio.


AL: To me, this duality in your work also hints at a pop blending of high and low or a Warholian likening of celebrities to religious icons.


LL: Totally. I think a lot about icons and iconography.


AL: Why are you looking at reality TV shows and not, say, sitcoms?


LL: I think reality TV, as well as pop-culture media in general, is a specific mirror of our culture. A lot of people might look down on it and write it off as trivial or trashy, but it records where society is at a certain time: what kind of clothing people are wearing; general trends in speech, politics, human rights, and so on. I joke with friends that part of my job as an artist is to watch ten hours of Love Island in one day, but it’s true. I watch episodes of course as entertainment but also as if they’re historical records and I’m doing research.


AL: (laughter) I’m sure a lot of people would kill for your job. Do you think art has a responsibility to record its time?


LL: I don’t know if it’s a responsibility as much as an inevitability since artists are often drawing from their own experiences. I think it’s impossible to separate your work from the climate of the time you live in.


AL: What does your process look like, or how are you integrating your research and experience into the studio?


LL: I’m constantly gathering images, whether while I’m watching TV, scrolling on Instagram, or googling paparazzi photos. I keep these in an archive of photos on my phone, which I always refer to. Then, I piece together photos in Photoshop into a composition I find appealing. The resulting collage functions as a digital sketch, which I use as a platform to jump from rather than as the destination itself. When I’m painting, I allow myself the freedom to react to what the paint does. So, the colors and even the figures will often shift or be replaced on the actual canvas.


AL: What is it about an image, wherever it may come from, that makes you save it to the archive? That makes you say, Ah, yes, I want to paint that?


LL: Interesting faces, poses, colors, and negative space all play a role.


AL: I think I can recognize some of the faces in your paintings as well-known celebrities, but I’m totally not confident enough in my guesses to name them.


LL: That’s what I want to happen! I like the ambiguity and the, Is this who/what I think it is? I’ll start with a reference photo of one celebrity, and the face will morph as I’m painting it. By the end, it might look like someone completely different.


AL: Why is ambiguity important to you?


LL: Because I don’t want the paintings to be about any specific person but rather the idea of them. I’ve always been interested in the subconscious slip between the artificial and real, and I want my paintings to exist in the space where it’s kind of hard to pull one apart from the other. The constant streams of media we’re exposed to on a daily basis permeate our physical lives, whether we’re conscious of it or not. I try to explore this slippage. In the paintings, more realistic, tightly rendered figures merge with looser, abstract passages. Objects fade into the background. People and architecture slide into one another. There’s movement and blending between the two realities, and it creates a new one altogether.


AL: Jean Baudrillard’s hyperreality comes to mind.


LL: Exactly. The distinction between the real and the virtual is disappearing, perhaps disappeared. You can’t pull them apart anymore. I want my work to exist as a visual representation of this blending.


Lizzy Lunday: New Myths and Amalgamated Monsters is on view at GNYP Gallery in Antwerp until June 22.


Alex Leav is a visual artist who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Her work primarily addresses the concept of identity as it relates to the contemporary digital landscape. She has exhibited in New York City and London.