Beginning May 20, 2022, Vito Schnabel Gallery will present an exhibition of new paintings by Los Angeles-based artist Spencer Lewis. The exhibition, titled with a dedication to the artist’s father, Jacques Lewis, brings together 12 new vibrant, monumental canvases. Working on a larger scale than he has previously, Lewis creates deceptively controlled compositions of surface and material. The weight of the artist’s mark-making shifts and rushes toward the outer edges, where a border of the raw, exposed ground of jute frames the central action.
Spencer Lewis: Jacques Lewis will open at the gallery’s 455 West 19th Street location on May 20, 2022. The exhibition is Lewis’ third with the gallery and his second presentation with Vito Schnabel in New York.
On view through July 9, Lewis’ commanding abstractions, executed in oil, enamel, acrylic, and ink on jute, rely on a structure and process that govern his accumulation of gestures. Building compositions in layers through unbridled movement, Lewis creates tactile surfaces. These are streaked with lines, smears of paint, vaporous mists, and rough, slashed strokes that crisscross back and forth through positive and negative space with visceral force. Deliberately amplifying dense, variegated fields and nests of converging line, color, and form, the artist has recently begun pushing the boundaries of pictorial structure and space in his works. His experiments include scaling up his canvases, displacing the signature swarming centralized mass of gestures, compressing or opening up pockets with harmoniously balanced or violently juxtaposed color, drawing attention to areas of stained saturation, or giving space to scars where canvases have been stitched and sewn together.
The gestural vigor of Lewis’ practice echoes Abstract Expressionist action painting, while the optical effects of his frenetic palette find resonance in high Modernism. Deconstructing the lines and planes of color in the work of Hans Hofmann and Willem de Kooning in his youth allowed Lewis to develop an essential understanding of how to shift, fold and construct space anew. Whereas he formerly used a final definitive brush stroke – a bright-hued slash– as a sort of signature, he now muddies such gestures to encourage the viewer’s eye toward more complex spatial relationships. Lewis has also lately been fascinated with the proscenium, an architectural framing device in theaters that renders an illusion of deep space and creates a lunette around the action on stage. In his new paintings, space becomes a place where the value structure of the image is not limited to the center of the picture plane, but infiltrates the entirety of the coarse, fibrous texture of the jute ground, which simultaneously acts to frame the activity within it.
The spatial structure is further defined in Lewis’ recent paintings by the introduction of traditional figural representations. Using images created through Generative Adversarial Networks (GAN) for reference, the artist depicts a human face in one of the more modestly scaled works on view in this exhibition, with its eyes peering through layers of paint and staring directly at the viewer. While there has always been a figural suggestion to Lewis’ work (his earlier compositions would often begin at the scale of his body), here, he makes the reference literal.
Lewis’ new paintings are rich with torrents of pink and bursts of purple that set them ablaze. Raspberry and bubblegum, black plum and iris, dusty rose and watermelon dominate conversations with a kaleidoscopic palette that ranges from neon green, cerulean blue, and canary yellow to tangerine, jadeite, and teal. Lewis is especially drawn to the impure properties of pink and its relationship to violet, optical effects he amplifies by working in a ‘wet on wet’ technique.
Tacking unstretched jute to his studio walls, Lewis subjects his canvases to fatigue and brute overworking in his pursuit of an apotheosis of color and force. Attacking the surface through his idiosyncratic mark making, his thrashing gestures express his particular ideas about painting itself. Because Lewis constantly rotates between canvases, time becomes a detectable element within their surfaces, which seem to clock the moment at which the artist’s ideas have bled through his actions. The beautiful casualties that accrue in these paintings are part of their excitement. They express an energy that willfully pushes against the precariousness and orthodoxy of the white cube context in which we now routinely see art, and that seeks to break open traditional notions of painting.
About the Artist
Spencer Lewis was born in 1979 in Hartford, CT. He received his BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2001 and his MFA from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2008. His work has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions, including Sorry We’re Closed, Brussels, Belgium (2022); Vito Schnabel Gallery, St. Moritz, Switzerland and New York, NY (2021); Harper’s, New York and East Hampton, NY (2021, 2020, 2019, 2017); Nino Mier Gallery, Los Angeles, CA (2016); and Edward Cella, Los Angeles, CA (2014). His paintings have been included in recent group exhibitions at Van Doren Waxter, New York, NY; Kathryn Brennan Gallery, Los Angeles, CA; Over the Influence, Los Angeles, CA; LTD, Los Angeles, CA; No Gallery, Los Angeles, CA; Lowell Ryan Projects, Los Angeles, CA; The Pit, Glendale, CA; Harper’s Books, East Hampton, NY; and Brennan and Griffin, New York, NY; among others.
Lewis lives and works in Los Angeles, CA.