The first time Lucy Skaer visited Chinati, in 2010, her encounter with Roni Horn’s Things That Happen Again (1986–88) left a lasting, looping impression. In Skaer’s mind’s eye, Horn’s paired, conical copper objects held repetition with Paul Nash’s Equivalents for the Megaliths (1935), a surreal landscape painting in which prehistoric standing stone monuments (think Stonehenge) transmute into modernist abstractions. As beholds their density—of forms, ideas—and sense of deep time, one might further connote Skaer’s own work.
Skaer is a sculptor whose art slows down perception to make abstraction concrete. She once put a whale skeleton behind a partitioned wall, making it visible only one sliver at a time. “Time is always present in my work,” she says. During her residency at Chinati, Skaer’s time in the studio was marked by the sound of a drawing machine. Descended from an early technology for diagramming microchips, Skaer’s tabletop device plugged into her laptop computer and moved a little arm that held a pencil rapidly over a piece of paper. She purchased it on eBay, where she additionally ordered a number of books on weaving. There was something definitely loom-like in the machine’s laying down of lines.
As is typical of Skaer’s approach to drawing, she was executing an idea. How do animals perceive enclosure? Just down the road from the Locker Plant is the Marfa stockyards. A historical plaque designates its heyday to the 1930s when cattle, sheep, and goats from across the region were held, weighed, and shipped by rail from this spot, where trucks now occasionally pick up livestock. The old wooden pens served as a reference for Skaer’s drawings, which were also informed by a nineteenth-century treatise on agricultural structures—a large volume she toted from Scotland.
At her open studio event, the concept behind the drawings snapped into view. Reduced to silvery silhouettes, rough boards, detached from any structure, blocked the sheets of paper like fenced-off vision. Also on view was a set of large, loose sketches of Gladys, the artist’s dog, which Skaer drew while the machine was at work and her job was to supply fresh pencils.
Lucy Skaer (born 1975 in Cambridge, United Kingdom; lives Isle of Lewis, Scotland) received a BA from the Environmental Art Department at Glasgow School of Art. At the time of her Chinati residency, she was at work on a commission for the Thames Tideway Sculpture Park for 2024.