Friday, March 14th, 2008

Stanley Lewis

Bowery Gallery
530 West 25th Street
New York City
646 230 6655
January 29 to February 23, 2008

Stanley Lewis View of 12th St and 4th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 2006 oil on canvas, 35 x 40 inches Courtesy Bowery Gallery
Stanley Lewis View of 12th St and 4th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 2006 oil on canvas, 35 x 40 inches Courtesy Bowery Gallery

Stanley Lewis is a powerful painter.  His vision is independent, original, raw.His latest work is to be seen at the Bowery Gallery, an artist- run cooperative dedicated to painters working in the tradition of French modernist figuration.  This setting allowshim to work without commercial constraints but also without the resources to promote him and his work effectively. Nevertheless he has built an impressive reputation among artists and his prices have risen quite a bit just lately, due to a committed group of patrons.

Lewis emerged from the circle surrounding the painter, teacher and charismatic outsider, Leland Bell with whom he studied at Yale. Bell saw the influence of French modernism as way of deepening figurative painting through greater consciousness of form, and was a great admirer of Giacometti, Balthus and the later work of Andre Derain. Lewis also admires the English painters Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff with their perceptual approach and aggressively activated paint surfaces.

Like them, his gloppy paint surfaces are aggressive and sensual though he differs in that he is much more involved with a direct naturalistic transcription of the casual, disheveled, white bread American subjects.  These he paints directly and laboriously on the spot, including everything in his  field of vision, weeds, trash, cars, power lines, etc.

The supports are roplex- soaked corrugated cardboard, old splintering plywood, cotton duck and/or crinkled paper glued or mounted and stapled on masonite – he’s an alchemist who can turn trash to gold.

Lewis is a master colorist. His unfailingly authoritative skill for painting real, rich and crystalline light, joined to his muscular composition, is the key to his power and success. An occasional pitfall for Lewis in his early work (as for Bell himself) was an uncomfortable stylization resulting from an effort to force formalism onto perception. Recently, he has resolved the problem in the direction of a more direct long- form rendering of nature. For example in his “12th St. and 4th Ave” 2006, painted in Brooklyn, he continues exploration of direct optical perspective in a fisheye view of a rather carefully characterized parked car (a Saab), tenements behind, street signs, tree in the foreground, all tense as a bent knife blade. Objects suggesting human presence such as the Saab in the foreground, seem to function as subject focus, replacing the role of the figure in the landscapes of Poussin and Corot.

The “View of the West Side of House” 2003- 07, is a loving rendering of the artist’s own porch with its gently curving trees, the sky punching through. A w-shaped jacknife torsion is seen in the triangular compressions of  in the “View from the Porch- East Side of House” 2003- 06.   “Mayville Court House” 2006 is a studiedly casual presentation of a small town scene with a characteristic wildly tilted horizon line.  An even wilder tilt can be observed in the “Monroe Marina” 2007, where it is as if a photographer dropped the camera while framing the scene.

The drawings, well represented here, are often made with such physical intensity that there are holes in the paper. The large snow scene “Winter View from West side of Houses” 2004- 07, for instance, entails a process of drawing and correcting by pasting paper repeatedly producing a scarred, heavily textured surface resembling impasto.  The drawing is so sharply observed  and intensely abstract that Lewis is able to demonstrate that the most powerful formal solutions can be found, at least sometimes, by giving oneself over to the direct study of nature, and the best way of finding high style can be found by turning one’s back on the direct pursuit of it.