- Cheap Cheap, Birmingham
- West Midlands
When invited to review your exhibition, I thought for a while about how we respond to text-based work with more text, and how often the response can be so inappropriately dry. Writing a letter to you feels intimate, and yet we (viewers, readers, followers, listeners) receive letters from you all the time. As an artist, you seem earnestly aware that there are people viewing, reading, following, listening to the things that you make. Interacting with ‘Leah Hickey, The Artist’ is not only an exercise in gaining attention when drowning, but an exercise in receiving attention. Perhaps the presence of an audience enchants you, or perhaps more likely it torments you, but, either way, you offer yourself to us, vulnerable yet devoted. In your artwork, a richly crafted explosion of desires, furies and secrets seems to seek confidants. You don’t shrug resignedly while throwing artwork into the void; you take generous care in giving it to us, and we recognise it.
During the opening evening of “How to Get Attention When You’re Drowning”, gathered amongst the streaks of sunset that fell through the windows and onto your paintings, a group of us, visitors, and confidants, fangirled about your attentiveness. Although fearful of imperfections, you are unafraid to reveal them to us, and so we have grown to relish them, delighting in seeking them out in the gallery and quietly appreciating the “emotional outbursts” that assemble your work. Every one of us had felt a big cry coming on, and we were jubilant to share how recently one had rumbled up into our tear ducts. Another hot topic in our circle were the delicious dollops of oil paint which construct each delicate letter. Nobody had realised how fleshy these paintings are. Some of us wanted to reach out a finger and stroke them, while some of us wanted to sink our teeth into them and take a bite. The presence of lumps and blemishes, relayed to us in exasperated Instagram stories, remind us that these artworks were not made by a machine but the hands of an accomplished artist, fluent in passion and dysphoria. The public exposure of paint scuffs, ruptures and frustrated tears are more valuable than flawlessness. The mucus, the bile, the mould, sweat and soot that make up a girl are every bit as important as the sugar and spice.
Cheap Cheap, reborn in the rafters of The Lombard Method during the pandemic, provides a pointed roof and exposed wooden beams, giving “How to Get Attention When You’re Drowning” a chapel-esque setting. Each slip of transcribed satin glistens in the natural light, transforming into a stained-glass window. ‘Valentine’ (2022) is elevated at the head of the gallery, commanding a worship of overflowing human eruptions. In your letters, you remind us of hopeless maidens and femme fatales, each one a muse to your practice. Stood in this temporary chapel, surrounded by an indulgence of sweetheart red and celestial white, a wrench of my gut transports me to the ascension of Laura Palmer’s angel, carried away from the Black Lodge. The scene is tranquil, triumphant, and can always be relied upon to provoke a big cry. While exploring so many feelings capable of reducing a human being to a salty puddle, “How to Get Attention When You’re Drowning” softly breaks like a conquering wave. Although so preoccupied with tragedy, your exhibition is victorious; A fierce presence demonstrating the significance of time spent amongst grief, restlessness, and ambiguity.
I will end this letter here and wish you good night. I cannot wait to hear from you soon.