Spotlight

Spotlight artist W.K. Lyhne

Championed by art critic and curator Jean Wainwright
The Wick - Stabat Mater, Pathosformel 9, 2023
W. K. Lyhne
Above  Stabat Mater, Pathosformel 9, 2023 W. K. Lyhne
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The Wick - Spotlight artist W.K. Lyhne
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Interview
W.K. Lyhne
03 April 2024
Interview
W.K. Lyhne
03 April 2024
Tangles of human and animal body parts writhe across the canvases of British artist W.K. Lyhne, emerging from blood red and black backgrounds. Her feverish paintings draw a link between the repressed maternal grief of the Virgin Mary and the plight of ewes, who have their lambs taken away from them – Lyhne’s hybrid forms seeming to emit a silent but almighty scream.

Layered with thick, visceral strokes of oil paint, her works are a riposte to the traditional depictions of Christian women as pure and demure, lacking the feelings, emotions and urges that make all humans animal. In her solo exhibition The Surrogate at Patricia Low’s Venice gallery (until 6 April 2024), the wild emotions of maternal loss come to the fore, while her paintings in Something Woman* This Way Comes at Low’s Gstaad space (until 20 April) parallel the female form and the soft, pliable bodies of ewes.

Lyhne’s champion for The Wick is the veteran art historian, critic and curator Jean Wainwright, who finds a magnetic charge in her work.
She says: “W.K. Lyhne’s paintings pulsate with entangled layers and skeins of lusciously applied oil paint, scratches, and markings – part of her ‘love affair with the medium’. Involving painstaking research, art historical references and iconography, her work conveys powerful and engaging narratives. We see hints and fragments of Picasso, Caravaggio, Francis Bacon, Holbein, and Donatello, which she reclaims. She examines the ‘patriarchal church’s role in stripping Mary of her right to personhood, agency, and voice, relegating her to a perpetual state of the muted sacrificial mother’ yet these are not religious paintings. There is, Lyhne says, ‘an undercurrent of chaos that is both physical and emotional juxtaposition, to challenge the stifling and rigid structures in which we live’.”

Wainwright describes her paintings as impossible to ignore. “They convey important messages about our contemporary world of hybridity, humans and animals, and the pain of love and loss and mothering. They are powerfully resonant paintings for our contemporary times.”

For Lyhne, the ewe is an important recurring emblem. She explains: “I am interested in the animal we all are. My obsession with the ewe, a female sheep, is rooted in its potential symbolism within feminism and its relationship to the major trope in religion, the Virgin Mary. Historically our visual language for female suffering has tended to find beauty rather than injustice in women’s suffering and so our visual culture lacks a framework for finding beauty in a shouting woman.”

Each work in The Surrogate is named after the Stabat Mater: a 13th-century hymn that reimagines Mary’s suffering at the death of her son in song and therefore sound form.

Lyhne explains: “These artworks portray a suppressed scream, reflecting the confined space mothers often endure. The figure embodies an ultimately futile struggle, mirroring the modern farm ewe’s experience. Through abstracted elements, it confronts societal expectations of motherhood, resisting historical weight and commodification.”

Lyhne is currently the informal artist-in-residence at the exquisite London home of one of her collectors, Tom Price. “Imagine letting someone paint in your home?” she asks. The Wick can certainly see the appeal of watching her frenzied compositions come to life – whatever mess they might entail.

About the champion

The Wick - Spotlight artist W.K. Lyhne

Jean Wainwright is an art historian, critic and curator living in London. She is also Professor of Contemporary Art and Photography at the University for the Creative Arts (UCA). For her ongoing Audio Art Archive initiative (begun in 1996), she has interviewed over 2,000 international artists, makers, photographers, filmmakers, and curators. Wainwright has also published monographs and contributed numerous essays to books, alongside appearing in television and radio programmes and curating exhibitions at James Hockey Gallery, Bermondsey Project Space and Exeter Phoenix Gallery, among others.

“Historically our visual language for female suffering has tended to find beauty rather than injustice in women’s suffering and so our visual culture lacks a framework for finding beauty in a shouting woman.”

Place of Birth

South Africa. I left at 17, as early as I could, just a few months before Apartheid ended, although no one was sure it would ever end. I couldn’t imagine investing my future in a country with a racist and violent regime.

Education

I am currently completing a practice-based PhD with supervisors from Chelsea College of Arts, UAL and the University of Oxford, exploring the connections between maternal behaviour in animals and humans. I also have an MA from UAL and an architecture degree from the Architectural Association.

Awards, Accolades

The John Moores Painting Prize, The British School at Athens Scholarship, ACS Studio Prize, UAL Research Bursary

Current exhibitions

“The Surrogate,” a solo show at Patricia Low Contemporary, Venice, 3 February – 6 April 2024

“Something Woman* This Way Comes,” a group exhibition at Patrica Low Contemporary, Gstaad, 23 February – 20 April, 2024

Spiritual guides, Mentors

I have lovely women in my life, who are endlessly kind, including art curators Fru Tholstrup, Sigrid Kirk, Brandei Estes, Jean Wainwright, Maryam Eisler, and Patricia Low.

Advice

[Lisson Gallery director] Louise Hayward once said to me: “When things get tough and you want to give up, keep going. When things get really really tough and you really really want to give up, keep going.” I can’t tell you how often I think of that, and um, keep going.


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