Blum & Poe is pleased to announce its representation of Chicago-based artist Tony Lewis. An installation of thirty-four of the artist’s collage-poems are currently on view in the solo presentation Anthology 2014-2016 at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden through September 16. A solo exhibition at Blum & Poe, Los Angeles is scheduled for spring of 2019.
In an ever-expanding engagement with drawing, Lewis harnesses the medium of graphite powder to confront such social and political topics as race, power, communication, and labor. The material provides a literal and conceptual foundation for the artist’s work, as it is stretched, smudged, rubbed, spliced, and folded across a variety of handmade and found surfaces. Graphite powder is an inherently unruly medium, a substance that threatens to wander. Lewis nurtures this dispersal, allowing for the powder to build into a ubiquitous state that settles upon and indiscriminately marks paper surfaces; the graphite-slick studio floor becomes a “tool the same way a pencil is a tool.” In graduate school, the university administration ruled that Lewis’s studio had become uncontrollable and threatening to the common spaces, to his peers, and potentially infectious to the air quality at large, and moved to sterilize the space of all traces of the material. This event was a traumatic experience for the artist, one that also cemented his commitment to the practice. Soon thereafter he developed a series of site-specific floor drawings that sought to further illuminate this relationship of his work with his chosen medium and the primary function of his graphite-covered floors, all the while investigating structures of power and their inherent systems of exclusion. At the close of each exhibition, these unique graphite-coated floor drawings are folded and shipped back to the artist, where they await to re-emerge as “monuments to past studios, exhibitions, hollow bodies, soft sculptures.”
Lewis’s move from the floor to the wall was prompted by the discovery of the pocket-sized bestseller Life’s Little Instruction Book, a collection of maxims written in 1991 by H. Jackson Brown, Jr. The artist was initially enthralled by the book as an artifact of conventional American wisdom, a code of ethics that promotes a certain blind regard for authority and makes loaded assumptions of its readership based on gender, class, and race. Lewis began reproducing pages from the book as small drawings, soon expanding the series into large-scale works that would span entire walls. Rendered in black screws threaded with graphite-soaked rubber bands, these labor-intensive wall drawings expose the covert authoritarianism and aggression of American culture and society.
Lewis’s works on paper began as hand-assembled grids of four standard-sized sheets. These custom canvases often lay dormant in the studio, collecting creases, graphite dust, and various impressions before the artist would place a first mark. The first series of these drawings depict fragments of a single sentence, a line meandering, piercing, and guiding the viewer through the deconstructed words “people” and “color.” Working within this structured form of picture-making led Lewis to learn and employ the John R. Gregg shorthand glyph system of dictation. Invented in 1888, this stenographic script uses elliptical figures and bisecting lines, each representing a sound to form a word. Transposed to the delicate paper in Lewis’s studio, these enlarged forms take on a living, stylistic quality that challenges the rigidity of their source. In his latest shorthand drawings, Lewis has introduced intersecting ellipses of color that trigger a vibrant visual rhythm in the graphite phonemes, a writing system manifested as gesture.
With each body of work, Lewis manages to transform and recontextualize artifacts from our past, while developing his own poetic voice. In his latest series, what he calls a “stepping stone” to poetry, Lewis collages together altered cells from the beloved comic Calvin and Hobbes. In a process of erasing, editing, and reassembling words from their source, Lewis continues to push the boundaries of drawing, and expand upon the use of another medium central to his practice, the “material” of language.
Tony Lewis (b. 1986, Los Angeles) lives and works in Chicago. His work has been the subject of recent solo exhibitions including Anthology 2014-2016, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (2018); Plunder, Rose Art Museum, Waltham, MA (2017); Alms Comity and Plunder, Museo Marino Marini, Florence, Italy (2016); and nomenclature movement free pressure power weight, Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, OH (2015). His work has been featured in numerous museum group exhibitions including The Revolution Will Not Be Gray, Aspen Art Museum, Aspen, CO (2016); Walls and Words, Museum at Eldridge Street, New York, NY (2014); LUMP Projects, organized by John Neff, Raleigh, NC (2013); People of Color, Gene Siskel Film Center, Chicago, IL (2012); and Ground Floor, Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago, IL (2012). Tony Lewis participated the 2014 iteration of the Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and was the recipient of the 2017–2018 Ruth Ann and Nathan Perlmutter Artist-in-Residence Award at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University.