ORGAN: Frieze week, Lee Maelzer’s Lost Sleep at D Contemporary. As a painter she really is a pleasure but as paintings, this is hard-boiled reality…

Lee Maelzer, Lost Sleep at D Contemporary, Mayfair, London W1- We had to go there before anything else, the first day of Frieze might have the destination later that day, but first a midday visit to what is a decently sized, rather timely Lee Maelzer exhibition in a more than decent West End of London art space. We’ve mostly been bumping into Lee’s work in group shows and studio open days in more recent times, good to get to see a body of her more recent work together in a more formal gallery like this. Actually in the middle of Mayfair on a Wednesday Frieze week lunch time, after a visit to an underwhelming show or two at Frieze’s own No.9 Cork Street space and a really underwhelming exhibition at the rather big, rarely that rewarding Saatchi Yates Gallery, not sure if anything that exciting has been seen in that giant space yet?, it almost feels like a relief to walk in to D Contemporary. It is a bigger week for art in London than most weeks are and we had previewed this show (a couple of times actually) in the build up to Frieze. it was rather good to see these paintings here in this of all weeks, someone else talked of the show being “a gem glittering in the Mayfair mire”.

These paintings really do speak, they are real life, they are our lives, they are beautiful paintings, ‘proper’, but they are ugly as well, bleak in colour, they are grim. They are maybe a little too real, the crumples sheets, the solitude, the colourless world, the indignity captured in oils. Lee Maelzer, as we said a few days back, is a painter’s painter, her paintings feel like they are as much about painting itself as anything else, about the paint, about the emotion of the process, not just that though, if that’s all her paintings were then we wouldn’t be hot-footing it in anticipation to D Contemporary before we take on the challenge of an afternoon at Frieze now would we?

As bleak as they can sometimes be, If you like painting then you really should try to see a Lee Maelzer piece or two. I’m not sure I would say “cinematic”, but hey I’m not here to take issue with a press release or a gallery statement – her paintings feel intimate to me, almost disturbing, voyeuristic, private, a stolen glimpse of reality, too close to home, or to not having a home. The reality of life, the insecurity. They are, without a doubt, beautiful paintings, as cold as they are, as insecure as the subject is, they are rather beautiful in a rather perverse way, no, not beautiful, the beauty in in the way she paints. Her paintings are powerful, there’s nothing beautiful about them, and it would be so easy for her to just to paint beautiful things.  And housed here, in this plush West End Gallery, in a town house that no one from the real world could ever dream of living in, during a week where money, almost at odds with the rest of the world, is being splashed around in such an obscene way in a giant tent over at Regent’s Park.    


D Contemporary say the gallery is delighted to present Lost Sleep, a solo show by Lee Maelzer, here’s the aforementioned statement – Lee Maelzer is a painter, known for her cinematic depictions of abandoned places, unheimlich interiors and dystopian landscapes. An urban explorer, they are normally based on her own photographs. This body of work, however, stems from images found on Facebook Marketplace for rooms to let in London. Appalled by the prices and quality of what is on offer, she was spurred to begin making what has become an ongoing series that explores the pressing subject of poor housing and the threat of homelessness that hangs over the heads of so many. The bed, in so many historical artworks a place of repose, sensuality and succour, instead becomes uninviting, lumpen, repellent.

The rooms are placed to the rental market with the knowledge that they will be taken, even vied for – so the photographs, apart from the use of wide-angle to make them look larger than they are – make no attempt at an aesthetic. Hangers are left on the bed, kettles on the floor, bare bulbs, crooked curtain rails and rumpled bedding or mattresses still in plastic propped against the wall. They are lonely rooms with no promise of comfort, simply a ‘place to be’. Still itinerant, the artist’s lifelong experience of bad and insecure living conditions has imbued these paintings with a sense of claustrophobia and melancholy, without in any way being voyeuristic or exploitative.

And yes, this mostly of a repeat of things said last week in the preview, and yes, I do find some of it voyeuristic, from the point of view of the viewer rather than the painter,and now here we are, gallery pretty much silent and to ourselves, sun shining in and this painterly body of work to explore and really enjoy. Yes, it is, as bleak as the subjects may be, it is a joy. There’s some much humanity here, Both is the subject and the way she paints them, so much in terms of reality, guts. There guts here, this is not an easy subject, not a comfortable choice, not every painter would have the artistic strength to take on something like this, to say these things, to expose herself, there are so many ‘nice’ things she could be painting, there are so many easier options she could take in order to make the rent. 

Some of the smaller pieces that may not make the noise the larger paintings on the wall in here do, are gorgeous to just stand and look at, to quietly soak up, to admire. These are strong paintings, a strong body of work, this is a strong painter, a committed artist, a powerful show, a show of reality, a powerful painterly show and an artist that just has something more to her than most do. Her subject is probably a little too real to really truly enjoy, it probably is too close to home, but there is so much to enjoy here. I mean as a painter she really is a pleasure but as paintings, this is hard-boiled reality. This a real, this is brave, intimate, actually this is wonderful, whoever said it was right, this is “a gem glittering in the Mayfair mire”. (sw)       

The Lee Malzer exhibition runs until November 5th 2022, D-Contemporary is at 23 Grafton Street, London, W1S 4EY. The Gallery is open Tuesday until Saturday, entry is free, 11am until 5pm (Saturday, Midday until 6pm)

As always to click on an image to enlarge or to run the slice show…

6 thoughts on “ORGAN: Frieze week, Lee Maelzer’s Lost Sleep at D Contemporary. As a painter she really is a pleasure but as paintings, this is hard-boiled reality…

  1. Totally agree. I Iike the way that this writer highlights how you are drawn in by the surface of the painting and yet simultaneously pushed away by the disturbing content. A stand out, must-see show. So topical at the moment considering the housing crisis in London.

  2. Pingback: ORGAN: Frieze Week, the obligatory top ten list – Jeffrey Gibson, Jadé Fadojutimi’s seven paintings, Ken Currie at Flowers, Gina Birch, Caroline Coon, Lee Maelzer’s beds, Selome Muleta, Emma Amos, that DIS bench, Madeleine Strindberg

  3. Pingback: ORGAN: Frieze Week, the obligatory top ten list – Jeffrey Gibson, Jadé Fadojutimi’s seven paintings, Ken Currie at Flowers, Gina Birch, Caroline Coon, Lee Maelzer’s beds, Selome Muleta, Emma Amos, that DIS bench, Madeleine Strindberg

  4. Pingback: ORGAN: Frieze Week, the obligatory top ten list – Jeffrey Gibson, Jadé Fadojutimi’s seven paintings, Ken Currie at Flowers, Gina Birch, Caroline Coon, Lee Maelzer’s beds, Selome Muleta, Emma Amos, that DIS bench, Madeleine Strindberg

  5. Pingback: ORGAN: Frieze Week, the obligatory top ten list – Jeffrey Gibson, Jadé Fadojutimi’s seven paintings, Ken Currie at Flowers, Gina Birch, Caroline Coon, Lee Maelzer’s beds, Selome Muleta, Emma Amos, that DIS bench, Madeleine Strindberg

  6. Pingback: ORGAN: Frieze Week, the obligatory top ten list – Jeffrey Gibson, Jadé Fadojutimi’s seven paintings, Ken Currie at Flowers, Gina Birch, Caroline Coon, Lee Maelzer’s beds, Selome Muleta, Emma Amos, that DIS bench, Madeleine Strindberg

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