As was the case with the acclaimed self-taught artist Henry Darger, the artistic career of Larry Lewis was not discovered until after his death. After years of training at the Art Student’s League, a handful of exhibitions during the 1940s and 1950s, and briefly associating with the Silvermine Guild of Artists in New Canaan, Connecticut, Lewis worked as a corporate secretary until his retirement. His estate, which includes a trove of brilliantly tinted collages and surrealistically compiled collage books, was discovered by his niece after his death in 2004.
Now represented by New Haven’s FRED.GIAMPIETRO Gallery, Larry Lewis’s rare and scarcely exhibited artworks—completed in creative isolation over more than forty years—have garnered unexpected interest. They will feature in the gallery’s presentation at the Outsider Art Fair, which opens this week in Chelsea.
Using an office Xerox machine to distort, enlarge, and reframe lithographs from 19th-century newspapers—featuring advertisements of anything from tomato puree to mechanical home exercise contraptions to the Ford Model T—Lewis’s resulting collages, some of which were left unfinished, seem to apply Andy Warhol’s eye for pop (in terms of hue, repetition, scale, and wit) to images as mundane as those one might find in The Saturday Evening Post. Enamored with domestic consumer products as much as his contemporary, the artist Richard Hamilton—as in Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?, (1956)—but with an antiquarian’s penchant for all things Americana, Lewis’s compositions often establish a depth of field to create alluring, if fleeting, visual narratives. For example, in Untitled (Man with the Train) (ca. 1970), the pose of a man in a well-tailored suit with his face cropped out of the frame seems rather sinister when positioned so casually, with his back turned to the oncoming (model) train. In another detail from Lewis’s An Eye Opener Collage Book (ca. 1970), stylish furniture in bold color steals the foreground emphasis from what appears to be a deep, inky blue projection of early cinematic passion, perhaps equating the cooling of certain desires with a zeal for homeware shopping.
Visit FRED.GIAMPIETRO Gallery at Outside Art Fair, Booth 405, May 8th–11th, 2014.