Breaking News - Lucy Bryant
At a time when our society at large still struggles to define, understand and, most of all, deal with the language of offence, some solace can be found in successful examples of reclaimed or re-appropriated words. Owning a slur meant to cause harm does not only render it pretty much ineffective but very often results in personal and collective empowerment.
The often pejorative label 'queer', for example, has been re-conceptualised and embraced by many. Think of 'Queer British Art 1861 -1967' at Tate Britain or the forthcoming 'Queer Spaces: London, 1980s - Today' at the Whitechapel Gallery.
The next frontier in this rescue operation should be a word that still provokes extreme reactions in the world of high brow art: kitsch.
This was the term stuck in my head on my way to meet Lucy Bryant, the creative mind behind Haus of Lucy, and try as I might, I just couldn't keep it out of my thoughts.
I shouldn't have worried. Kitsch was how Lucy referred to her own work within minutes of sitting down for a coffee in the West End. If you are not familiar with her pieces, they are strictly figurative, anecdotal, camp and, occasionally, very nostalgic. In short, they are a blast.
The result of her first crossover from design to art - she graduated in Graphic Design from the University of Derby - were 'Ye Olde Dirty Burger' and 'A Walk in The Park'.
These two would come to represent the beginning of an unconventional series of reworked porcelain figurines and definitely a trademark of the artist.
Below 'A Walk in the Park' (left), 'Ye Olde Dirty Burger' (centre), 'Babez in the Hood(ie)' (right)
Scoured in second-hand shops, car boot sales and antique fairs, they are not chosen purely for their appearance, but for their intrinsic potential in telling a different story.
Despite the odd looks she attracts during her obsessive searches in shops, she is, in her own words, 'completely addicted to the thrill of a new find'.
Not only Lucy Bryant gives a new lease of life to unloved and unfashionable pieces, cranking up their relevance and theatricality, but manages to add an additional layer of perfected kitsch to objects which are already in turns vintage, retro, thrifty or simply of dubious aesthetics.
The same histrionic qualities can be found in her commemorative plates. Blending the right amount of humour and tackiness has proved incredibly popular. A plate celebrating the wedding of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle, where the Duke of Sussex had been replaced with an image of Ed Sheeran, went viral worldwide and sold out in no time. 'Beautiful Gemma Collins' became the #BestChristmasPresentEver when it was gifted to comedian Alan Carr, who famously dressed as the Towie celebrity at Jonathan Ross' Halloween party in 2017.
Commemorative Plates by Lucy Bryant
The art world can get very serious. By her own admission, putting a smile on someone's face is her only raison d'être as an artist.
Yet, for all the light-heartedness and immediacy, there is also a certain bittersweet quality to her work, especially her reworking of landscape paintings.
Past the quirky juxtapositions and the slightly subversive approach, there is a muted depiction of real issues such as hardship, environmental pollution and gentrification.
Unsurprisingly for someone who feels 'an unstoppable urge to get people out of their comfort zone', Lucy is also a fantastic chronicler of everything that is off-kilter or just plain wrong with our present times.
These 'differently dystopian' pieces, and possibly her entire body of work, should all come with an extra caption.
'Before we are forgotten, we will be turned into kitsch. Kitsch is the stopover between being and oblivion.' - Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
No Fly Tipping [Top Left], Starbucks Lovers [Top Right], Car [Bottom Left] and Foxtons [Bottom Right]