Tony Lewis, language, concept, drawings. Pop in the artist’s studio.
by Rossella Farinotti
During my stay in Chicago, I have been paying visits to quite a good number of artists’ studios, either for job reasons, since I had been asked by art magazines to interview some of them, or simply by curiosity and passion.
Before leaving for the States, I was charged by a leading international magazine to contact the young American artist from Chicago Tony Lewis, and that’s how I started to read and learn about him, around June 2014, and I learnt that our Italian art dealer, Massimo De Carlo, had arranged an individual exhibition for him. Curiosity and professional engagement drove me to meet Tony Lewis.
Destiny also played a role. On my very first evening out in Chicago I was invited to a dinner party by a well-known lady art-dealer and gallery-owner, Monique Meloche. When at her place, I was talking to the curator Allison Glenn, who works for Monique as a manager, and happened to mention about the artist I was expected to interview, when a young man who sat next to Allison, broke in with a smile saying: “Hi, it’s me. I am Tony Lewis.”
Tony’s studio exactly expresses his personality and his work: mysterious, exciting, profound: grey and melancholic at a first glance, on a deeper look, complex and strongly rooted in the past. His studio is both rough and charming and quiet – particularly for an Italian art critic who is used to move about tiny studios such as basements or this sort of venues, dim dismissed industrial spaces. In those days, Tony used to work at the weak light from the only window there in the big space. The floor was dark and covered with black graphite, the material Tony mostly makes use of. I remember he gave me some stuff to protect my yellow shoes from things around dirty and slippery. And yet it was good dirty material, as it was the trace of his work.
In front of me, just a few pieces of art. He had just come home from an important exhibition in London, and I was asked to study his artistic environment relying on poor traces: three or four big papers stuck at the wall with his typical alphabetical letters penciled with graphite powder; a couple of huge works lying on the floor and some recent drawings representing symbols, signs instead of single letters and, on the right wall, a large piece of work developed as a unique installation built with slips of papers, cardboard, drawings, articles from magazines, one unmatched shoe….
Tony told me about his work on language, and I was impressed by his belief that everything that is marked on paper –signs, letters, traces, pieces of cardboard like those of Calvin and Hobbes- represent drawings. A sign that reminds of the oriental languages became a complex drawing of Tony’s, for he intended a single symbol as a representation of a whole concept. He had begun to realize symbols in small sizes and, step by step, gradually let them grow bigger and bigger.
Language, concept, drawings: the synthesis of Tony’s latest works, however slowly developing into something different from letters or hypothetical bricks drawn on papers – his art mentors and source of inspiration like Key Rosen or Lawrence Weiner were overtaken by the new research.
Once I read an interview where Tony explained several details about his art works. There I read a remarkable sentence: “confusing and romantic perspective on language, specially the idea of language and material” (1)
So the relationship between language and material is the main concept of his making art. A relationship that we will look forward to observe and study also back here, in Italy.
p.s. how much language means to artists: “H. Lettera H tratta dalla parola Washington” (Emilio Isgrò, Italian artist, born 1937)
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