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Spencer Lewis: Literacy Devolves Into Violence

On view through August 27, 2020

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Spencer Lewis: Literacy Devolves Into Violence

Harper’s is delighted to present Literacy Devolves Into Violence, an exhibition of five new paintings on jute by LA-based artist Spencer Lewis that will be staged in the gallery’s expanded space at 87 Newtown Lane, East Hampton, and will run through August 27. Gallery hours are 10am–6pm daily; no appointment necessary.

At a time when the art market clamors for figuration and the hyperrealistic, Lewis’s hulking abstractions evince an era where paint and its application were of greater significance. Eschewing the calculated precision of some of his contemporaries, Lewis approaches each swath of raw jute as a temporal object waiting to explode into life. Smeared, dripped and spackled on their surfaces, layered streaks of paint dart musically across the canvas as if arranged by a series of conductors trying to erase time. The immediacy of Lewis’s process belies the length of the artist's commitment to each painting, with some jutes being retooled and reimagined over the course of several months. Lewis’s studio is a cacaphonous symphony of works in process. At once overwhelming and soulful, the paintings that eventually graduate as finished artworks are meditations in harmony. From chaos comes majesty; from violence, gratitude.

Spencer Lewis (b. 1979 Los Angeles) received his BFA from Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, and his MFA from the University of California, Los Angeles. His work has been the subject of two solo exhibitions at Harper’s, New York City (2019 and 2017); Nino Mier, Los Angeles (2016); and Edward Cella, Los Angeles (2014). His paintings have also been included in recent group shows at No Gallery, Los Angeles; LTD, Los Angeles; Lowell Ryan Projects, Los Angeles; Harper’s, East Hampton; and Brennan and Griffin, New York; among other venues. Lewis currently lives and works in Los Angeles.


 

 

 

"Painting is about turning up down
Left right
Right wrong

But moreover, about working until These distinctions donʼt really matter

They still exist. But they are significantly less important"

Slide-Show

Slide-Show Thumbnails

Spencer Lewis
Untitled
2020
Acrylic, oil, enamel, spray paint, and ink on jute
94 x 67 inches

Spencer Lewis
Untitled
2020
Acrylic, oil, enamel, spray paint, and ink on jute
91 x 71 inches

Spencer Lewis
Untitled
2020
Acrylic, oil, enamel, spray paint, and ink on jute
97 x 68 inches

Spencer Lewis
Untitled
2020
Acrylic, oil, enamel, spray paint, and ink on jute
86 x 70 inches

Spencer Lewis - Untitled

Spencer Lewis
Untitled
2020
Acrylic, oil, enamel, spray paint, and ink on jute
102 x 70 inches

Spencer Lewis
Untitled
2020
Acrylic, oil, enamel, spray paint, and ink on jute
94 x 67 inches

Spencer Lewis
Untitled
2020
Acrylic, oil, enamel, spray paint, and ink on jute
91 x 71 inches

Spencer Lewis
Untitled
2020
Acrylic, oil, enamel, spray paint, and ink on jute
97 x 68 inches

Spencer Lewis
Untitled
2020
Acrylic, oil, enamel, spray paint, and ink on jute
86 x 70 inches

Spencer Lewis - Untitled

Spencer Lewis
Untitled
2020
Acrylic, oil, enamel, spray paint, and ink on jute
102 x 70 inches

Install 1
Install 2
Install 3
Install 4
Install 5

"I spent a lot of time when I was young trying to break the square. I didn't like containment, I didn't like framing, I didn't like the white cube, I didn't like stretchers — and I still feel that way."

Video-Show

Artist Statement

Right now the jute paintings mean everything to me…Because they can be anything, and almost everything that I need them to be.

This was a strategy that I adopted 7–8 years ago when my mother was dying of ovarian cancer. I began working on large cardboard sheets with the idea that I could totally demean them. Nothing mattered and so anything was possible.

In retrospect, Iʼve struggled with my need to animate, and bring life to an object, just so I could objectify, re-objectify it.
Itʼs odd, albeit in a safe way, to project so much on an object, even if it is an object of art.

Thatʼs not to say that the obliteration, and self-obliteration via projection has disappeared entirely. Oblivion is a place
I can go and come back redeemed because of the beauty I can find and wrestle back to my more normal life.

Getting older Iʼm struggling with having to rebuild my life after every painting trip…But just donʼt tell anybody — I’ve always despised the idea of needing something.

And Iʼve always been interested in burning things down — so I love the rioting. Keep on rioting and at the same time be safe yʼall.

In switching to the jute for my support the abstract language has grown, and itʼs a more nuanced and neutral surface than the cardboard and also (dare I say it) than canvas.

Lastly, I loved both the cardboard, and now jute, for being brown. In simultaneous contrast the surface appears more red or green, depending on the paint situation.

Both surfaces Brown like me. I think of the brown paper bag test, and just one drop of blood, and 3/5ths of a person.

Spectral, in-between, responsive. Color and Code switching surface. I donʼt need to define brown, but a friend mentioned that the works made him think of “passing”… it was such a brilliant insight, and for now Iʼll leave it at that.

From being around artists a long time now I know self-acceptance is a huge part of art.

Iʼve been painting in oils for 25 years since I was a kid. And at this point it comes so naturally it can be like a walk in the park to stop and smell the roses. And further Iʼve done enough therapy to know that I donʼt have to smash those flowers to feel love. But I also know that I can fall in love quite easily and possessively, and that my best works occur when I paint with abandon, meaning I paint all the way through. A full relationship isnʼt based on dominance…oh but you all probably know that already and Iʼm just reminding myself.

Spencer, July 2020

"In retrospect, Iʼve struggled with my need to animate, and bring life to an object, just so I could objectify, re-objectify it.
Itʼs odd, albeit in a safe way, to project so much on an object, even if it is an object of art."

Literacy evolves into violence (sic)
(vowel sounds and the obliteration of nothing)

For the most part
I dislike reading books because it is challenging for me to read. Also, now, I've read plenty and I've read enough.

I love, though, reading paintings. And painting language.

I have a reoccurring vision of a satellite scanning earth. I can see it simultaneously in elevation (cross section) and plan (birds’ eye) view.
Had we not gone to space nor invented cameras I would have felt the same way, though without drawing Iʼd be lost.

The satellite is how I symbolize reading a painting: across its surface, but also with the mind's eye. Orbiting in opposing directions and touching through invisible force. Each Tracing coolly — both spinning and both orbiting. Scanning each other for life.

(The other problem with words, as weighted symbols and being empty, are light as a death rattle — every consonant A t

and gut from tip of the sternum/downward and in. Particularly in the post truth world
Itʼs quite a helpless feeling, and

I'd like to attack peoples' reliance on words a bit And As discomforting as semantic satiation is,

Or it can be fun,

The goal either way is to continually (re)expand our reservoir regardless of our time left)

Lastly I want to talk about the void as a white void. Blackfull like the letters on this page potentially/Full
Kinetic

Like the backside of this page/

Iʼm interested in grammar. But not reading
So again Iʼm interested in painting language

___________________________________________

Recently an interviewer asked if I planned chaos
And I canʼt stop thinking of the uncertainty principle And that

Painting is about turning up down
Left right
Right wrong

But moreover, about working until These distinctions donʼt really matter

They still exist. But they are significantly less important

One strategy is use of errors
with the immodest use of sicc
(and non)
Or rather, immoderate double cʼs
Like the pluperfect studio: your ex-future painting studio /

a future pluperfect and a catachresis crisis you will have painted Only if by accident

Iʼve been really doubling down on this suspension of rules in the work as much as possible as the substance part
Of substance and accidents
A foundation

Create the conditions for potential chaos and in painting like a failing business

as non-violent as possible for exposing my own violence And holographic latency

in the bottom of a “black hole” So light but also wholes for othering

a crown a mask a skull cap, Black hair
a bubble crack
a state flag with annex

good sects and death

So,
not just words, bats knives sticks stones bricks and guns but also images and icons and represen tations

Spencer, July 2020