Mary Lacy Creates Beauty From Body Parts in Her Exhibit 'Anatomy Of' | Visual Art | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Mary Lacy Creates Beauty From Body Parts in Her Exhibit 'Anatomy Of'


Published June 7, 2023 at 10:00 a.m.

"Anatomy of a Wedding Dress" - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • "Anatomy of a Wedding Dress"

Art students can spend hours upon hours drawing from a live model in order to learn anatomy. Or, more specifically, to learn how to draw or paint an anatomically plausible human form — from the outside. Mary Lacy has a personal motivation to study internal body parts: her ongoing struggle, and reckoning, with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, or EDS. That's a connective tissue disorder resulting in hypermobility of joints, elasticity of the skin and other symptoms, all of which can cause significant pain.

In her current exhibit at Soapbox Arts in Burlington, Lacy puts body parts on display, mainly as spare graphite studies of bones and joints and colorful ceramic mosaics, composed of broken dishes, that depict organs and vertebrae. One piece, curiously called "Anatomy of a Wedding Dress," assembles vintage fabrics, lace, bits of jewelry and beads she has saved since childhood into a larger-than-life pelvis. From across the room, the intricately adorned shape resembles a butterfly, even in black and white.

Detail "Anatomy of a Wedding Dress" - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Detail "Anatomy of a Wedding Dress"

Lacy titled her show "Anatomy Of," an open-ended phrase that suggests inconclusion. Indeed, the artist stated during a gallery visit that this series isn't finished. Neither, of course, is managing EDS — though she is learning how to recognize and mitigate the onset of certain symptoms.

She's perhaps better known for her distinctive murals, such as the giant hummingbird on a wall at College and St. Paul streets in Burlington. But after her diagnosis a few years ago, Lacy said, "I was literally throwing dishes at the wall. I didn't see this coming."

She traded ladders and cherry pickers for a less grueling studio practice, including drawing, and began to turn broken ceramics into artwork. A previous exhibit at Soapbox featured Lacy's posed female nudes crafted from smashed dishes. "Anatomy Of," which evolved in correspondence with a surge of physical issues, shows not only her more intimate understanding of anatomy but greater finesse with her medium. Now, Lacy said, she has a saw to cut intentional shapes from her dishes, rather than piecing together random bits. The grout and poured cement grounds for her mosaics, and their handmade frames, are flawless.

"Relief" - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • "Relief"

Though Lacy said she "never set out for a mosaic style," the pristine configurations of "Relief" (intestines) or "The Grind" (upper jaw) or "A Knot" (elbow) are really not so far removed from the fractalized creatures in her murals. The medium is different, but "my relationship to lines and shapes is changing," she said. So are her responses to her own body.

Breaking dishes will always be the origin story for this series of work, Lacy acknowledged, "but I began to fall in love with the colors and the stories that go with them." A floral pattern, a bird, a cryptic bit of text on plates she sources in thrift shops and the town dump all find a place in her compositions.

Lacy's assemblages of body parts seem to align with her trajectory with EDS. All the pieces "coincide with personal experience," Lacy confirmed. "But I'm not trying to interrogate it too much. I just do it."

"Anatomy Of" is on view through June 17. 

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