Exhibition

Spencer Lewis: Jacques (Pink and purple paintings for my dad)

Harper’s, New York, United States
30 Jun 2022 - 13 Aug 2022

Spencer Lewis, Untitled, 2022. Acrylic, oil, enamel, spray paint, and ink on canvas, 11 x 14 in

Spencer Lewis, Untitled, 2022. Acrylic, oil, enamel, spray paint, and ink on canvas, 11 x 14 in

Harper’s presents Jacques (Pink and purple paintings for my dad), Spencer Lewis’s fifth solo presentation with the gallery, continuing a series titled in honor of the artist’s father. Highly compressed, broad-spectrum color abstractions made on the artist’s signature jute surface are presented at a truly grand scale. A larger surface for pigments applied to the unexpectedly soft material—jute fibers originate from the Bengali plant often used to make burlap bags—encourages the artist to take heart against the traditional fragility or inhibiting preciousness of the medium. Instead, working on jute allows Lewis a tactile immediacy, a handling that becomes more like a “laying on of hands” for his own peace-making, a way to make space for both bold action and for being acted upon. The exhibition opens Thursday, June 30, 6–8pm, with a reception attended by the artist.

Lewis maintains a fundamental regard for asking just how the complementarity between red and blue happens. One painting on view in this exhibition hearkens directly back to the grids and X’s of an earlier series (Red and Blue Studio, 2015). However, the newest works pop off like rainbow-rippled explosions. In the context of working with a standard palette of primary colors, muddy green pigmentation fades directly into the jute’s earthy tones. But now lavenders and prissy pinks can directly reach out to the viewer and seem quite at home atop the natural fibers, embellishing shapes rather than being sucked into the smoky or deep-sea spray happening further below. Red spray paint lingers further back and is absorbed by the tan-brown jute, while blanche-white staccatos can get up and dance. Lewis tells me that because of the core strength of the material, he can experiment with the thickness of his pigments as well as with adhering found objects in ways that no first-generation Abstract Expressionist painter ever could.

With the exception of a wide corner of sprayed on or streaked yellow, or where a foot-long diagonal of forest green strikes from an edge, Lewis’s outer circumferences are usually left bare of pigment to show off stitches of the jute’s hemmed fabric made available for comparison with its painted surface. Lewis also experiments with the negative space that happens when we consider the sounds of the color names as we are seeing them appear materially. For example, the shared syllable between violet and violence allows the painter to challenge his canvases to new duels with his own creative force. What then is ultra-violet to ultra-violence? A reference to both radiance and radiation, Lewis’s purples seem as if they are applied by a fencer as they become synergistic explosions of the earlier works in red and blue. Bright, fun hues also conceal long-held secrets or store the evidence of previous studies.

A figurative work joins this series as well. A relatively tiny painted face, which Lewis first generated by way of a computerized adversarial network, felt like a natural step to him: “In general, I see a lot of faces or figures emerge from within the abstracted works. So this felt like a good next step to work with energy and chaos to get to recognizable (human) features.”

The traditional burlap bag made of jute is still used to transport agricultural products planted and harvested by slaves, convict labor, and low-wage workers to this day, a material course to the touch. But Lewis gently brushes his own jute to create a soft, fuzzy surface by lifting the fibers up from their matted form. The result of this process brings to mind the fineness of a cashmere sweater or the way that my own natural hair feels when I’m carefully maintaining the health of my mane. Overall, as with Lewis’s chosen surface, humans and objects may not always immediately reveal the wealth of their capacities for both beauty and pleasure.

The traditional burlap bag made of jute is still used to transport agricultural products planted and harvested by slaves, convict labor, and low-wage workers to this day, a material course to the touch. But Lewis gently brushes his own jute to create a soft, fuzzy surface by lifting the fibers up from their matted form. The result of this process brings to mind the fineness of a cashmere sweater or the way that my own natural hair feels when I’m carefully maintaining the health of my mane. Overall, as with Lewis’s chosen surface, humans and objects may not always immediately reveal the wealth of their capacities for both beauty and pleasure.

Written by Dr. Darla Migan, Ph.D.

 

Spencer Lewis (b. 1979, Hartford, CT) received a BFA from Rhode Island School of Design in 2001, and an MFA from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2008. Lewis’s work has been the subject of numerous solo presentations including Harper’s, New York and East Hampton (2021, 2020, 2019, and 2017); Vito Schnabel Gallery, New York and St. Moritz (2022 and 2021); Sorry We’re Closed, Brussels (2021); CANADA, New York (2021); Van Doren Waxter, New York (2021); and Nino Mier, Los Angeles (2016). Most recently, he has participated in group exhibitions at Harper’s, Los Angeles and East Hampton (2022, 2021, 2020, and 2018); The Mass, Tokyo (2021); Kathryn Brennan, Los Angeles (2020); Museum aan de Stroom, Antwerp (2019); No Gallery, Los Angeles (2019); and Lowell Ryan Projects, Los Angeles (2019). His work is included in the collection of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, part of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. Lewis lives and works in Los Angeles.

 

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