Written by Tracy Spencer, Shelby Swing, and Jenni Harris
Photographed by Sarah Grace Kivett
If you already know Lydia Grace Turbeville, you might think of Birkenstocks and paint-stained overalls, her passionate love for Beyoncé, and warmth. If you don’t know her, give it two minutes, and you will. She’ll probably hug you, insist that you watch a cute video of her two-year-old nephew, and then ask how you’re doing, how you’re getting along.
We met with Lydia Grace in the senior art students’ sanctum: the painting annex. A small, brick house tucked behind the library, it is home to paint-splashed floors and walls. It is also where Lydia Grace works, surrounded by half-finished canvases gleaming with fresh splotches of acrylic. A native of North Carolina, she grew up coloring swirls on her mother’s minivan in the mountain town of Hendersonville. However, after moving to Charlotte and beginning homeschooling, her passion for art grew, and she got the opportunity to practice her craft in a studio space. With this new chance to study various artists and their influences on their respective societies, Lydia Grace began to realize the possibilities of art—its power and its volume, and her reach as an artist, given her platform and microphone.
One of the most important themes that Lydia Grace strives to communicate in her art has to do with re-seeing the human form. Looking to Jenny Saville, a contemporary British painter, and Marina Abramavić, a performance artist based in New York, Lydia Grace tries with her art to expose and elucidate the beauty of the human body in its natural light despite the socialized standards of beauty that we see celebrated all around us. Saville’s use of color and rawness in rendering the human body inspires Lydia Grace to look at the human body realistically, focusing on the forms and flaws that miss the mark of traditional beauty standards. Abramavić’s physical interpretations of the human experience in art makes Lydia Grace question her own life and sense of identity in relation to what she creates.“If my art doesn’t line up with my life, then where is the validity in it?” she asked, looking around at her own pieces. Necks, hands, shoulders, stomachs, and thighs collaged and painted bright teal, orange, purple, and navy fill her annex workspace. The painting that she’s currently working on, part of her Milkbath series (in which a model’s body shape is explored while submerged in a bathtub full of milk), shows kneecaps and toes peeking out from above the white liquid.
But the physical body in and of itself isn’t the only aspect of humanity that has captured Lydia Grace; rather, she remains fascinated by the societal expectations, pressures, and beliefs that define beauty standards. “We focus in on our flaws and what doesn’t meet this invisible standard. But every human, in some way, has this sense of beauty about them… What is more beautiful than being human?” She asked this question amid copious amounts of painted flesh, often the flesh of plus-sized models, a perfect representation of what society has deemed “imperfect.” But here, in this light, the human form reaches peak glorification. Careful to never sexualize the bodies she paints, she uses rich, bright colors to accentuate and make beautiful fleshly flaws. This technique then calls into question the social pressures and body image issues that run rampant through modern day culture. How could something painted this beautifully be considered ugly?
Though Lydia Grace has faced discouragement and had many question the appropriateness of her artwork, she credits the faith of her family as well as the guidance of her professors among her largest motivations, giving her the edge she needs to continue doing what she truly loves. She hopes to continue her education in art and one day be able to teach others how to see the world in a new light, a world of Beyoncé and Birkenstocks and beauty recognized any time and every time someone catches their reflection.