Stanley Lewis in a Wayward World

I believe of Stanley Lewis, who paints from observation, as a Sisyphean painter. He tries to climb a mountain whose summit he in no way reaches. The wrestle is involving the total composition and how several little information can he get into a portray or a drawing with no it seeming to implode or getting clotted. His motivation to get it correct has led him to make radical decisions, these types of as minimize out an spot of a painting and incorporate a new portion where he starts again, or address about section of an artwork with a piece of Bounty paper towel and paint on it. Certain regions of his drawings deliver to head a shingled roof, simply because so several rectangular sections have been extra to the initial sheet and reworked. As idiosyncratic and drastic as Lewis’s method is, he looks to share that potential for doubt acknowledged to have Willem de Kooning, Chaim Soutine, and Albert Pinkham Ryder. Nevertheless, there is no a single who functions like Lewis: he is the sole member of a club no a single else wants to be a part of. 

Lewis’s singularity is the primary purpose why I went to his exhibition, Paintings and Will work on Paper at Betty Cuningham Gallery (May 12–July 1, 2022). 1 of the remarkable points about these functions — which you can see promptly in the acrylic on paper “View of the Garden with Orange Fence II” (2020) — is how deep the compositions can be. The orange fencing, a row of what glimpse like younger pine trees in entrance of a white wall, and the sunlit stop of the household, all situated on the right side of the painting, push toward the picture plane with their rhythmic stripes, recurring shapes, and delicately drawn strains. In distinction, the remaining facet of the painting pulls the eye back again, with the only visible impediment or stopping issue currently being a webbed, aluminum, inexperienced and white folding lawn chair going through towards what lies further than it. That chair come to be a surrogate for the viewer, an invitation to contemplate the everyday entire world in which you are living. 

Stanley Lewis, “View of Our Household with Rhododendrons” (2022), pen and ink on paper, 24 1/4 x 28 inches

For all the painting’s unruliness, the chair’s placement inside of the composition is a distinct sign of Lewis’s genius, his potential to equilibrium the wayward planet with the human want for purchase. Search at the awareness he pays to atmospheric mild, to the pale blue of the sky, the different greens and browns of character, bare branches and undergrowth, and you get a feeling of how considerably the artist desires to get into the paintings. What sets Lewis’s sights aside is that he is fundamentally an summary painter operating with line and slim bands in a pasty medium. The end consequence is an uneven topographical area. There are parts the place crisscrosses of unique browns, flecks of eco-friendly and orange grow to be a tangle of mud and vegetation in late autumn. 

In close proximity to the middle of the painting’s bottom edge in “View of the Backyard garden with Orange Fence II” Lewis has painted a soiled pink planting pot with two bare stems popping up, angling to the correct and to the remaining. That color, unlike any other in the function, reveals how attentive he is to encouraging our notice to shift in the room and across the specific surface. 

I could not determine out how lots of sections and overlays Lewis ending up utilizing for the acrylic on paper “Intersection Publish Street and Compo Road” (2015-19). He even went so much as to the bisect the portray vertically, make a hole concerning the two sections, and add 3rd segment beneath, becoming a member of them. He painted the house amongst the two sheets a grayish eco-friendly, suggesting a telephone pole. By performing this way, Lewis reminds us that painting and our look at of reality are factors we construct. He hides neither his selections nor his dissatisfactions he is eager to go away 1 part of a part of paper he adhered to the floor unpainted. Nature has no feeling of decorum and neither does Lewis. His rejection of bourgeois tastefulness, both in his functioning procedures and his matter matter, should to be a lot more absolutely regarded. Or do artists have to announce their intention to be deemed political or radical? 

Stanley Lewis, “View of the Yard with Orange Fence II” (2020), acrylic on paper, 38 1/2 x 33 1/2 inches 

Just when you believe Lewis has settled into a subject or an method he does a thing completely various. His pencil drawing “Dan West and Crew, Roofers” (2020) depicts a few males replacing shingles on a roof. The look at is immediate, as if we are standing on ladder seeking at them. In this drawing, Lewis’s performing approach echoes the weathered wood, the inescapable consequences of time and the altering year. The bare branches climbing from guiding the house evoke late autumn, when grey and black pencil, the labored paper, additional sections, and the scarred area underscore the constant presence of imperfection and the point that practically nothing can stand up to time’s electrical power more than us and artwork. That is why I come across these functions so transferring and applicable. Art is not his way of escaping mortality, but of going through and even embracing it. Lewis celebrates important labor, wagons still left in the property, orange fencing, roiling skies, and backyard gardens. His tattered canvases and pasted above drawings mirror a globe in have to have of consistent maintenance and repair. 

I contemplate Lewis, Rackstraw Downes, Lois Dodd, Sylvia Plimack-Mangold, and Catherine Murphy our fantastic observational painters. Although the many others in this record have had museum displays and monographs devoted to their perform, Lewis has never experienced considerable institutional interest, which is prolonged overdue. Just to make absolutely sure that I am not overstating his absence, I checked out the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Artwork, Museum of Fashionable Artwork, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art and figured out that none of them personal a solitary work by him. Why has he never ever experienced a clearly show at the Drawing Center? He is 81 many years outdated. Previously extraordinary in his operate, what more does he have to do to get the recognition he has extended deserved? 

Stanley Lewis, “Dan West and Crew, Roofers” (2020), pencil on paper, 25 3/4 x 35 1/2 inches

Stanley Lewis: Paintings and Functions on Paper continues at Betty Cuningham Gallery (15 Rivington Road, Decrease East Aspect, Manhattan) via July 1. The exhibition was arranged by the gallery.