At first glance, Nate Lewis’s work looks like it’s been adorned with embroidery, rather than paper and ink. His tender portraits and images of protesters gathering in the streets are sliced, scored, and punctured in such dense and precise patterns that their surfaces resemble beadwork.
“Latent Tensions,” a recent series based on photographs taken during the the 2017 presidential inauguration, shows protesters filling the streets. In one image, Lewis has almost entirely obscured the faces of three young men wearing “Fuck Trump” baseball caps, giving the protesters total anonymity and lending the scene an added layer of psychological weight. Like a tattoo, these marks read as both wound and decoration, reminders of the body’s beauty as well as its vulnerability.
Trained as a registered nurse, Lewis approaches the medium with empathy. “It’s about assessing the paper, responding to it, and giving it what it needs,” he explains. “My approach is to treat paper like a complex organism with a dynamic, hidden life.”
Lewis is currently using a residency at Dieu Donné (a paper-making studio and gallery in the Brooklyn Navy Yard) to continue his exploration into paper’s staggering variety, as well as its expressive potential. “It’s just a simple material,” he says, “but at that same time, the variability within the many kinds of paper is nuanced and vast.”