WASHINGTON, PA (Oct. 17, 2014) – Six years ago, Tony Lewis ’08 could often be found in the classrooms and art studios of Olin Fine Arts Center on the Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) campus. Today, his art can be found around the world.
Lewis returns to W&J Oct. 24 for the opening of a solo exhibition of his work, 4 Ounces, in Olin Fine Art Gallery. His exhibit will run through Nov. 23, and will include a piece specifically created for the Olin Fine Art Gallery.
“Since graduating from the College, Tony has continued to produce and exhibit sensitive and intelligent work that is being recognized and exhibited by major museums and galleries,” said Douglas McGlumphy, director of Olin Art Gallery. “For Tony to agree to exhibit at his alma mater just after being a part of Whitney Biennial 2014 at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York is an exceptional opportunity for our current students at W&J to see the stellar possibilities ahead of them.”
Lewis also has exhibited in Chicago, Miami and several other U.S. cities. Internationally, he’s shown in Germany, Italy and Israel. His work also was on display for three months on the Caribbean island of Martinique as part of the 2013-2014 BIAC Martinique (International Biennial of Contemporary Art).
Fresh from the campus of W&J, Lewis began to pursue his professional art career through an MFA program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). In 2009 he began an extensive, relentless relationship to scholastic studio materials, paper, and primarily loose graphite powder. Working from a responsibility to understand drawing beyond a two-dimensional convention, Lewis relies on the studio as a space for constant play, as well as a serious, dedicated investigation of language, and limitations.
“In 2010, I began using several pounds of the fine and flake powder all over my 200 square-foot studio. It was everywhere, on everything. I felt like a coal miner,” Lewis said. “I was no longer making two-dimensional work for walls, but creating a series of practical problems within the given space. The constant question was, and is, what are the physical and conceptual boundaries that will limit the process of making?”
Citing general health and air quality concerns, the SAIC Painting and Drawing Department Administration recommended that he stop working in this environment, requested that he empty his studio, and had the space cleaned.
Despite the creative shock, Lewis said he was able to build and maintain a more normal rhythm for studio work until his final year of school, when he inadvertently created the same setting – a studio covered in fine graphite powder.
“I had another meeting with the school, where they threatened to take away my studio privileges unless I signed a contract stating that I would not use any more than 4 ounces of graphite powder for the remainder of my time as an MFA student at SAIC. I graduated in 2012.”
Lewis’s style of art is typically minimalistic. One of his most recent series of works, including the pieces shown at the Whitney Museum, is largely influenced by H. Jackson Brown Jr.’s Life’s Little Instruction Book. Lewis said the book is essentially “an American positivist, self-help book filled with inspirational reminders to live a happy and rewarding life,” but that it ultimately led to his fascination with the “social instruction inherent in morally considerate language.”
His finished works are intriguing and enigmatic, often featuring only a few sparse letters, fragmented words and occasionally nonsensical phrases, like “people peopled and color colored,” that hint of underlying meaning.
He also repurposes full sentences from Life’s Little Instruction Book, which take on new meaning when merged with his art. Pounded out with nails rather than printed on a page, sentences from the book – including “Keep a tight rein on your temper” and “Never argue with police officers, and address them as “‘officer’” – take on a more ominous connotation.
Lewis hopes that such works will cause viewers to stop and ponder the points he is making and the personal meaning behind his art.
“I choose material, subjects and methods that are important to how I begin to understand my place in the world,” he said. “I would hope there is room for reflection on such things when people look at the work.”
Lewis lives and works in Chicago, Illinois. He received his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL and his BA from Washington & Jefferson College, Washington, PA.
His exhibition runs from Oct. 24 through Nov. 23, with an opening reception and artist talk on Friday, Oct. 24 from 6 to 8 p.m. All events are free and open to the public.
*The Olin Fine Art Gallery is open Monday through Friday from noon to 7 p.m. during exhibition dates. Olin Fine Arts Center and Olin Fine Art Gallery are located at 285 East Wheeling Street in Washington, Pa. 15301, and can be reached at 724-223-6546.
About Washington & Jefferson College
Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work.
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