A culmination of several years of work on cardboard, Lewis has established a system-based process where he
paints both sides of standard-sized cardboard sheets with a gestural grid – a method of priming that reduces the
warping that happens when you paint on a surface. Initially referred to as a cage, this method acts as a basis to
continue formal explorations via abstraction, combining a layering of gestures, both linear and more naturalistic.
He employs such techniques as spraying, splattering, palette work, and hand and foot painting.
The language of the cage recognizes the spatial and surface parameters of the sheet of cardboard and from there
the grammar can deviate into full sentences, word parts, or slang, so to speak. Repetitive and practiced acts in his
process allow for chaos and chance, enacting both the highly practiced and unplanned.
Lewis’ interest in the material of cardboard lies in its object quality: its malleability, surface, and color, its “cardboardness.” The material value is freeing – he can make many works in seriality and they do not have to be
precious. Cardboard is both strong and frail; It can be worked and is malleable. Mounted, cut, carved, stripped,
sealed, and painted again – it is truly an object painting; Lewis is both painting a thing and painting on a thing.
While Lewis sees painting as dealing with ethics, he needs no restraint here. Good, bad, front, back, it doesn't
matter. This “acting out” allows the cage to open up to a sprawling gesture, or slash, as if that cage was midcrumple or in collapse, but without gravity. More violent than Pollocks or Mardens, this gesture is about seeing things from more than one perspective. They also represent a slashing of the surface, a freedom of the cage, not unlike the performative action of Gutai.
The slashes function on different levels; they are figurative in part, like morphemes for features of the face. Lewis
sees the work as figurative and figural in the sense that they are objects existing with positive and negative space:
a figural space and a layered space in which to find figures. Lewis explores the architecture of the body and,
ultimately, the subjects of the work are figures like a number, a letter, or a character that have been obfuscated or
destroyed and lost to a larger system or space. The gestures that these bodies perform are related to classical
poses (after all, there are only so many ways for a gesture to move across the picture plane) which links them to
grand narratives. The negative spaces or knots or cleavage of two lines crossing that often make the parts of the
face or body are layered in application and highly formalized.
The anthropomorphizing is secondary in these works, which opens up a great space for the material as itself, or
the “real”, and the object as other. It can be freeing or disembodying, and the result is these lusty paintings, so full
of wanting, so cared for yet neglected. The natural neglect, mistake making, and even direct violence that is
enacted on these objects can leave a projected absence or a sense of guilt or disgust.
Abusing the painting over and over, without over-working the surface, Lewis uses both sides as a receptacle to
wale on. In the studio, they are not precious, and in that sense their value becomes tremendous. He stacks them
and lets them deteriorate, yet the more fucked up they get the better they look. To hang them, he drills straight
through them, often several at a time, or leans a 2x4 plank against them to hold them up against a wall where of
course they still collapse and slump over like a dead body. They become a mirror, a perfect place to project onto
and create these abject figures.
Now, with the decision to mount and frame the pieces, there is always another secret painting just on the other
side; two completely different worlds on a paper-thin object. You can’t experience both ideas simultaneously. The
pieces are fixed now, yet they retain the flux of making. They are abject and beautiful and the surface is seductive
and pictorial, with a sense of timelessness in the very timed thing. These are not just good or bad for bad’s sake,
there is a true effort to make meaning from nothing.
Spencer Lewis (b. 1984) received his BFA from the Rhodes Island School of Design, and his MFA from UCLA.
His work has been featured in solo exhibitions at Edward Cella, Los Angeles (2014) and Hayworth Gallery, Los
Angeles (2006). His work has been included in group exhibitions at Et. Al, San Francisco (2016); Arena 1 Gallery,
Los Angeles (2011); Black Dragon Society, Los Angeles (2008); Track 16 Gallery, Los Angeles (2008). His work
has been included in the Hollywood Biennale (2009) and the LA Weekly Biennial (2008). He lives and works in