Culture Type: Artist Tony Lewis is Now Represented by Blum & Poe Gallery

July 3, 2018

Victoria L. Valentine

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Artist Tony Lewis is Now Represented by Blum & Poe Gallery
By: Victoria L. Valentine

Chicago-based artist Tony Lewis has joined Blum & Poe. The gallery announced its representation of the Lewis one year after hosting its first show with the artist. “Tony Lewis: Jot” (April 28-June 17, 2017) presented new colored pencil and graphite drawings and was also the artist’s first exhibition in Los Angeles.

Lewis’s expansive engagement with drawing involves material, language and the properties of abstraction. He uses poetry and text to raise and explore social and political issues such as race and power. Graphite powder, his medium of choice, provides endless possibilities, but it’s “an inherently unruly medium, a substance that threatens to wander,” and therefore is potentially an environmental hazard.

In a statement about its representation of Lewis, the gallery cited his challenges with and commitment to graphite powder: “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.”

He earned his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago just six years ago and in the period since has continued to embrace graphite.

The works in "Jot" consider the relationship between sound and gesture through color and form. Intensely colored shapes interact, intersect and interplay in a manner akin to an improvised musical composition atop a ground of graphite.

Lewis was the 2017-2018 Ruth Ann and Nathan Perlmutter Artist-in-Residence at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University where he worked with students to install a site-specific drawing. “Plunder” sweeps across the wall of a glass-enclosed stairwell and is composed of graphite-dipped rubber bands.

At the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, his latest exhibition features 34 original collage-poems. “Anthology 2014-2016” was inspired by Calvin and Hobbes, the daily comic strip by Bill Watterson that was syndicated in newspapers from 1985 to 1995. The strip was about the adventures of a precocious six-year-old boy and his stuffed tiger. Lewis was a devoted fan of Calvin and Hobbes growing up. He told Chicago magazine it was his “childhood’s literary and artistic savior.”

Tony Lewis was a devoted fan of Calvin and Hobbes growing up. It was his “childhood’s literary and artistic savior.”

The works in “Anthology 2014-2016” reconstruct the strip using graphite to obscure the original images and word bubbles. Through erasing, editing, and re-arranging the dialogue, the artist brings an entirely new context to the series. The resulting text is poetic and profound. One work reads in part, “High hope today. I ask do you believe in now.” Another references “The blackness!,” Questions I know the answers to,” and a “Lifeless world.” The presentation at the Hirshhorn is the first time the series has been shown in its entirety.

The artist told Smithsonian magazine that as much as he loved the comic strip, he didn’t see himself or his experiences in it. The collage poems resolve the issue. “They deal with a way to insert myself, my biography and my life into that storyline,” the artist said, “because there is an absence of who I am in that, in all the greatness that is Calvin and Hobbes.”

He added: “Some of these poems talk about things Calvin wouldn’t be caught dead saying. …“I think it’s important to talk about things that are happening now or other aspects of life, that have nothing to do with the perceived narrative that exists in the original comic.”

Lewis continues to be represented by Shane Campbell Gallery in Chicago and Massimo De Carlo Gallery, which has locations in Milan, London, and Hong Kong. In addition to Lewis, Blum & Poe’s roster includes more than 50 artists, Henry Taylor and the Estate of Robert Colescott, among them. Based in Los Angeles, the gallery also has spaces in New York City and Tokyo.

Blum & Poe plans a solo exhibition with Lewis in Los Angeles for spring of 2019.

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Blum & Poe Los Angeles, New York, and Tokyo will be closed for the summer from August 14 through August 28.