Blum & Poe is pleased to present EONS OF NEON NESCIENT PEONS POPCORN INFLUENCE AND SUCH, Chicago-based artist Tony Lewis’s third solo exhibition with the gallery.
This presentation shows Lewis further engaging with the medium of drawing in three distinct groupings. In the first grouping of work, the artist uses the modern English alphabet as signifiers, employing his signature graphite to explore intuitive permutations within the written word. In the two other bodies of work presented here—both taking as their conceptual departure point the symbolic sign system of Gregg shorthand—Lewis further examines the liminal space between this repertoire of signifiers and the expressive nature of gestural abstraction.
Open (2022) and Ppn ocor (2022) are works created as variations on words lifted from journals, ruminations on ideas of race, that the artist kept while completing his MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; back when he was brewing what could be considered the foundation of his visual practice’s interest in linguistics. Each word, appropriated from the artist’s prior self, is presented here as an anagram that has neither a distinctive entry nor exit point, though there is always a through line deceptively indicating how one might traverse the letters that they encounter. Open, for instance, might be read as “Poen” or “Pneo” if the viewer were to follow its line in either direction.
In Lewis’s pieces containing signs from Gregg shorthand, the artist is reprising and expanding upon some of the ciphers that originated in his alphabet-based pieces. Neon (2022), for example, toys with the set of phonetics shared by Open and Ppn ocor—reconfiguring the sound of each word and presenting it with a different set of signifiers. The shorthand works allow Lewis to further explore the formal qualities of the text. These shorthand signs, which Lewis inserts into his gestural graphite compositions, interlace both the structures of typeface and the intuitive elements of abstract expressionism: the architectural pairs with the corporeal, form collides with emotion, and everyday modes of imparting meaning are infused with the artist’s ability to channel the unfathomable.
The third body of work presented here sees Lewis further leaning into the rhythmic, bodily qualities of language. In Her (2021), Nescient (2021), and Influence (2021) the artist begins with a gesture that responds to the sound of the word that makes up each title. The composition then continues to evolve as an innate response to its linguistic subject matter. Color and form support the title, serving its conceptual end and propping it up.
EONS OF NEON NESCIENT PEONS POPCORN INFLUENCE AND SUCH advances Lewis’s parsing of the modes of communication that are inherent in the visual expression of language. His appropriated words become fodder for an endlessly evolving drawing practice, extending into shorthand drawings and abstraction and pushing the forms of communication into an ever more physical realm. The artist channels his instincts to whittle the methods of communication down to their finest minutiae—reaching an instinctual connection to the meaning of his chosen word or words that supersedes semiotics and generates a conduit to comprehension.
Tony Lewis (b. 1986, Los Angeles, CA) lives and works in Chicago. His work has been the subject of recent solo exhibitions including Anthology 2014–2016, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. (2018); Plunder, Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA (2017); Alms, Comity and Plunder, Museo Marino Marini, Florence, Italy (2016); and nomenclature movement free pressure power weight, Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland, OH (2015). Lewis participated in the 2014 iteration of the Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, NY and was the recipient of the 2017–2018 Ruth Ann and Nathan Perlmutter Artist-in-Residence Award at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University, Waltham, MA.