Evil Baby Bully Part Object Paintings
October 8 – November 19, 2016
MIER GALLERY is pleased to announce a solo exhibition of new paintings by Los Angeles-based painter Spencer Lewis. The exhibition will open Saturday, October 8, 2016 at 1107 Greenacre Ave. in West Hollywood, and will be on view through November 2016. An opening reception will be held on Saturday, October 8, 2016 from 6:00pm – 8:00pm.
A culmination of several years of work on cardboard, Lewis has established a system-based process in which he paints both sides with a X, a method of priming that reduces the warping that happens when you paint on one side of a surface. referred to as the cage or switch, that comes from priming on two sides of the cardboard in a grid. These formal explorations via abstraction combine a layering of gestures, both linear and more naturalistic, employing such techniques as spraying and splattering. There is both repetitive and practiced acts in his process; chaos and chance enacted moves of both the highly practiced and unplanned elements present in the works. Lewis’s interest in the material of cardboard lies in its malleability, surface, and color qualities. Its material value is freeing – he can make many works in seriality and they do not have to be precious. Cardboard is both strong and frail. It can be worked and is malleable: mounted, carved, stripped, sealed, and sealed again – it is truly an object painting; he is both painting a thing and painting on a thing.
The cage began a series of works on canvas that he called them the Cage Paintings after Richter, without understanding that his title related to John Cage, but in a sense, unknowingly, the chance aspect he was referring to still worked in my pieces. They were process paintings, where I would make the grid and then fill the negative space with a flat color, but often I would see a figure and start a full-on mess of a painting.
There is an ease in having a simple standard procedure to start a painting, however restricting the process may be. Unlike the Cage Paintings, quality isn’t an issue with the cardboards; he needs no restraint. Good, bad, front, back, it doesn’t totally matter.
The cage eventually breaks way to a sprawling gesture, or slash, as if that cage was mid-crumple or in collapse, but without gravity. More violent than Pollocks or Mardens, this gesture is about seeing things from more than one perspective. They also represent a slashing of the surface, a freedom of the cage, not unlike the performative action of Gutai.
The work is both figurative (non literal) and figural (literal) in the sense that they are objects in existing with positive and negative space: a figural space and a layered space in which to find figures. Lewis explores the architecture of the body and, ultimately, the subjects of Lewis’s work are figures like a number, a letter, or a character that have been obfuscated, destroyed and of course connected to a larger system or space. The gestures that these bodies perform are related to classical poses (after all, there are only so many ways for a body to move and be dynamic) which links them to master narratives. The negative spaces or knots or cleavage of two lines crossing that often make the parts of the face or body are layered in application and highly formalized. The slashes function on several levels: they are figurative in part, like morphemes for features of the face.
The anthropomorphizing that typically happens is secondary in the works. This has opened up a great space for the material as itself, or the “real”, and the object as other. It can be freeing or disembodying, and the result is these lusty paintings, so full of wanting, so cared for yet neglected. The natural neglect, mistake making, and even direct violence that is enacted on these objects can leave a projected absence or a sense of guilt or disgust.
Abusing the painting over and over, without over-working the surface, Lewis uses both sides as a receptacle to wale on. In the studio, they are completely not precious, and in that sense their value becomes tremendous. He stacks them and lets them deteriorate, yet the more fucked up they get the better they look. He drills through them, often several at a time, so hanging is not an issue, or even leans a 2×4 plank against them to hold them up against a wall where of course they still collapse and slump over like a dead body. They become a perfect mirror, a perfect place to project onto and create these abject figures.
Now, with the decision to mount and frame the pieces, there is always another secret painting just on the other side; two completely different worlds on a paper-thin object. You can’t experience both ideas simultaneously. The pieces aren’t ever truly finished, their meaning isn’t fixed. They are abject and beautiful and the surface is seductive and pictorial, with a sense of timelessness in the very timed thing. These are not just good or bad for bad’s sake, there is a true effort to make meaning from nothing.