By Tchera Niyego
When we see our mother’s face there’s never a process of digesting the input thinking ‘mother’, as we do with less familiar things, not in such close proximity like ‘bed sheet’ or ‘oh, Amy, we’d met last summer..’ and ‘cat’, ‘scissors’, ‘bag’, or ‘magnolias’… each changing in its lapse of timing between seeing the thing and re-cognizing it. This is a most descriptive of intimacy. Say we see a sculpture-like-chair designed by a talented architect, such as Yilmaz Zenger who is also an industrial designer and sculptor – and the chair is highly unusual in relation to all the chairs we’ve ever seen thus far; it’s quite likely that there might be a crack, a tiny time lapse in our categorization of the object into the ‘chairs’ pile as opposed to registering a thonet. We rationalize and we conceptualize- that’s what we human beings are habituated to do and it all goes unquestioned as we don’t even realize it pretty much any of the time.
Richard Lewsey’s work runs volumes in establishing intimacy and with a sense immediacy. At the first sight of his piece titled ‘Self-portrait’ I recognized it immediately as the sun. There was no doubt in mind that indeed it was a presentation of the sun and provided the warmth of the artist’s view with intense intimacy. It looked so fragile yet indestructible. British artist Richard Lewsey’s ‘Self-portrait’ is utterly expressive with minimal touches of oil on a piece of round wood. In fact the oils seem to have appeared by way of unintentional occasion(s), maybe someone was passing by with some paint on their hands that hardly even rubbed the aged wood, or maybe those tiny colors of orange and yellow leaked from a window down onto the frail piece of wood while it was laying on the street. I wondered whether it was indeed a found piece of wood or the artist had carved it into its delicate round shape. I had to muster my courage to ask this question to him once I started writing on his work, as I’d come across some artists who would get offended in the happenstance that it was carved. I felt the happiness of being validated on my educated guess- the wood was a found piece painted with a few sensitive and simple strokes of oils. I felt that my question brought us closer with the artist too as I became happy to come across an artist with seemingly resolved identity issues and he seemed glad to hear of my understanding of his work. Most refreshing when that happens…
The warmth of the sun’s face -with it’s multiple eyes, all tender and affectionate yet some piercing and fierce, others sleeping, gazing, watching and sometimes curious but always loving and not judging- more of a question mark rather than a statement, filled me with the impulse of touching it, feeling it’s texture, to put its cheek on my lips which I immediately did. I was terribly disappointed finding the glassed frame between us cold and indifferent. It was protected but didn’t the artist know better than anyone else could that it did not need protection? What if its death was inevitable, then it would simply die yet it was a timeless piece, free of circumstances and even of existence itself. I wished I could break the frame and free the face of the sun but I didn’t. Maybe the artist was right after all, maybe it had to stay under the protection of the glass.
For some strange reason I’d also felt no doubt that it was more or less the size of a human face when I’d seen an image of this piece earlier actually, in The New Collectors Book, but now there it was to be exhibited at the Book’s Launch Exhibition merely a 3.5 in diameter.
Lewsey’s work is incurably romantic. He accomplishes a beautiful decay anew calling us back; back to the times when art asked everything the artist’s got and with the devotion and commitment to give his life freely, with no promises ever spoken of. This is the light that Lewsey’s dark paintings give off to the viewer. It’s a rare gift one can view infrequently if lucky during this age of the degenerate state of the art contemporain. Lewsey’s pieces of oil on tin, clay, paper, and found objects, many times convey primal subject matters such as ‘ Seven Deadly Sins’ while being created in an ‘unconscious’ kind of way, as the artist puts it. There is really not a trace of an entity behind the works; they seem to have appeared out of thin air without ever being touched.
Furthermore, Lewsey’s ‘British’ identity does make itself felt in tones with its humorousness. The work’s being devoid of any self-importance serves as a subtlety in the artist’s sense of humor. It is highly specific and not funny really; dark as they are and taking themselves lightly in a sort of outright heart-broken absolute aloneness which is chosen consciously unlike the unconsciousness Lewsey mentions in the selection of his choice of subject matters that much matter.
The work feels like the deep of space yet of this world in a down-to-earth manner. Loneliness is welcome in the understanding of a natural state. We see things in the process of becoming, or rather uncertain as to what they want to become and therefore constantly shifting as we view them. Sometimes this action is in the process of emerging and at other times they seem to be dissolving.
All in all, Lewsey’s work is truly aspiring in its subtlety and simplicity while his use of color, composition and abstractions are all together divorced from commercial concerns. Minute details bring alive anything, making characters wear the twilight in the translucency of their 1910 attires with minimal oil in 2011 on tin and in the Emil Cioran clay head ever so resurrected by the artist.