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Spencer Lewis

Artist Statement (2019)


I began these jute paintings a year or so ago as an extension of the cardboard paintings. Unlike my work on canvas the cardboards allow a certain type of freedom due to the economics of cardboard. Having worked on the cardboards for 4-5 years, I had achieved a certain muscle formalism as well as a rigor in gestural abstraction that approached, oddly, the drawings I have done my entire life: rough, experimental, aggressively gestured, layered, and loosely figurative. 

In moving this accumulated knowledge to the jute surface, there are two distinct differences I noticed. Firstly the jute is a beautiful surface in color and texture, even more so than the cardboard. Any type of paint color stroke spit shit piss I put on the jute looks beautiful.  

Secondly, the negative space of the jute allows for a more dynamic composition. For my first painting on jute I wrapped it around a 4x8 sheet of plywood. This was the same extreme scale of my cardboard paintings. When I un stretched it the boarder of jute framed my primarily vertical composition, due to the larger width of my jute 76”. This new boarder framed my composition and allowed for more space in the image, which in turn allowed the viewer to step further into the space and, somewhat ironically, be confronted even more with the sculptural aspects of the painting. The result is now 5 years of practice into I think a fully realizable object with all the freedom I desire in paint. 



The sculptural 
The figurative 
The gestural 

The gestural is a place where I find the most potential-laden form vis a vis the object and the image. 
These paintings are basically a crude form of drawing. Materialistically more prehistoric than modern in the rejection of the notion of surface. I’ll say Decorative essentialism. 
Likewise a phrase that continues to creep up internally is the non specific object 
I once was in a show where my artist statement was: I’m interested in ideas just not specific ones 
Appropriately then I still think of my work being about ideas. Each piece of form as gesture or line of code, syncs to, I think, a pattern of a compositional based formalism. 
So there is the language of the piece which I think is readable, but also the optics, as the colors interact both on and against the jute, amongst themselves and off the support a few feet forward in the field of view. Thus the image. But also the flavor I’d say is overwrought or kitchensinkedness, trying to operate in many visu-form fields as a mask, as in masking off, of meaning. Multiple experiences one structure. No distinct message.
So I’m interested deeply in language, non verbal of course, but moreover I’m interested in the sense of meaning. Perhaps “approaching meaning” is a more accurate description. The feeling of poetics. I do not think of my work as engaged in the anti formal but rather a sort of uber laissez faire -approaching nihilism. It’s not anti it’s non. 
Lastly the digital (should read figurative, but here an appropriate typo) quality, which in its most reduced I’d call “the thing in space”, is a contentious issue for me. 
One, I’m wholly interested in material meaning before all else, which of course can not be isolated. But secondly and more over, the sense of a thing is slippery. If I’ve learned anything about perception I know that the meaning of a thing is ascribed in the mind, towards function. We can’t escape / I believe in this evolutionary push towards thingness. But I can sit in a based, as in “based god” or debased (or perhaps baseless) place of belief. Thus again the nihilism: we BELIEVE in nothing. 
Even though I can’t see it. 
Not to suggest that this is some investigation into the supernatural or spiritual. But I think moreover human drawing and sculpture, ie painting, is indexical of the mind. 
Lastly I think the paintings just look good because the paint looks good on jute. The neutral hue and framing of the jute.  However, as Ive said elsewhere like the cardboards, the jutes are an object first. Not the deletable white guts of easel painting’s white cube, or Judd’s floor as pedestal. 
A final thought for the night. 
As always I’m interested in ethics. 
I’m pretty sure ethics was a core part of the foundation of aesthetics. I just read something about artificial intelligent computers that create art based on a two core principles. The first is what I whould term the ethical governer. Basically the computer is set up in two parts to create an image. The two parts compete as it were, one creating an image the other passing or failing that image based on their image set training. It’s no different in my mind of each mark I make on the painting.
The second principle is one about the evolution of art towards breakthroughs. The principle states that each creator makes a novel image with the goal of maximizing the visual pleasure without creating too great of disgust and rejection due to its unfamiliarity. Again a type of internal goveneror, based on the artist’s own conception of the viewer. How much pain and disgust can we handle in our visual pleasure? It is pleasurable for me to sit in this process, with some vague sense of all the potential moves which would push me one way or the next. 
The layering of the works are concerned with maximizing the experience chiefly object-visually, while ignoring the congruity of a single plane of painting. While I would love to a have the foresite and organizational skills to plan a novel painting on a single plain, which I regard as a delivering a higher level of pleasure, my shorthand or short comings as it were, allows for maximization of pleasure in the image as well as a neutrality about the object. Perhaps ambivalence is the best word to use here.