SUPERPOWER: Karyn Lyons, Aimée Parrott, Allison Schulnik

18 June - 16 July 2022

Allison Schulnik's animation Moth cycles through metamorphosing symbols that are as fluttering and fragile as the titular insect's wings. Created with washy gouache on paper, her moth does more than shapeshift from caterpillar to cocoon to nocturnal flame-seeker. Wing markings become eyes and nipples and nurturing flowers suggest liquid human flesh. Natural history turns fantastical as animals mutate into figures from folktales and myths: a girl in a red cloak; a galloping winged centaur. The artist painted the animation's pages every day over the course of her first pregnancy and the months following birth and her evolving forms suggest a baby's sensory journey as well as the growing physical and psychic bond between mother and child. Yet she reaches beyond that first relationship, positioning it within a tangled outgrowth of natural and imaginative kingdoms.


There's a similarly fluid exploration of the interplay between selfhood and external forces in Aimée Parrott's painterly prints. The process by which the artist creates her semi-abstract hybrids of printmaking and painting techniques, mirrors ways in which we're shaped by our environment. Though storms of spotted pigment or rippling lines suggest the path of a loaded brush, her raw cotton canvasses are not thick with paint but skin-smooth mono-prints. Human skin is the buffer zone between our bodies and the world beyond, though the imprint of experience rarely leaves a mark. Parrott's continuous flat surfaces however are visibly interrupted by physical records of specific moments in their making: the seam between the two halves of her current stitched-together prints, or white ghostly trails made in paint by loose cotton thread.


Parrott underlines painting's physical immediacy, but her impressionistic imagery speaks of wide-reaching concerns. Her loose, flowing forms suggest deep roots, fungi, tornadoes, seas and ancient hills. The micro forever melts into the macro, as with Low Pressure, which conjures the hidden life of pregnancy in a subterranean underworld of looping pink and green lines. These swell like a growing belly, increasing soundwaves or geological strata. Above, moody mauve clouds gather in an immense sky. There's a sense of our place as but one connected element in a wider system, be it the baby in the womb or the endangered eco-system.


Karyn Lyons meanwhile, explores the creation of a self in terms that are acutely personal and specific. Her paintings of a long-haired girl revisit her Connecticut teen-hood, though what she depicts is conjured as much from recollections of actual events as they are her youthful fantasies and aspirations. The paintings' imagery is cropped, mid-action like a movie freeze-frame, yet one that represents interior experience. The candlelit panelled rooms, gilt furniture, wine and cigarettes, are born from an imagination nurtured on Gothic novels and the rebel romance of the Rolling Stones, as well as her ideas about out-of-reach worlds closer to home: the twinkling upmarket neighbourhoods, seen across the water from her own less exciting locale. 


In these heady settings, Lyons gives glimpses of formative moments for this remembered younger self, leaving us to guess at the wider co-ordinates. Is the bottle in her hand filched from her parent's booze? How meaningful is the moonlit clinch? When we meet the young Lyons face-to-face, why the interrogating stare? Perhaps she doesn't like being secretly watched through doors left ajar. Lyons offers an interesting twist on the artist-voyeur: what she intrudes on is her own girlhood, the moments that shaped her, their far-reaching glow.


- Skye Sherwin, June 2022

Skye Sherwin is art critic at The Guardian