Artist Zane Lewis, an elusive and evolving talent, has reemerged within the New York art scene with a fresh and new aesthetic. When you stand before one his newest works, among the Shatter Paintings collection, you are presented with a kaleidoscopic garden of glass, a reflective playground for the eyes. With a minimal, neo-conceptual execution, his mirrored “paintings” offer a glistening ensemble of hued splendor. A discourse between notions of the “natural” and the “industrial”- due to organic reflections coupled with pre-fabricated found material- engages the viewer. Lewis also adds a twist to this aesthetic, in that each painting subtly renders human abstractions of life, death, and wraith of the intangible.
Lewis’ oil pieces Untitled (Black Cake Batter Study), 2010 and Untitled (White Cake Batter Study), 2010 present dichotomous realms of utopia v. dystopia. In Untitled (Black Cake Batter), 2010, blooming petals of sharp, broken glass retreat and remain in a saturated oblivion of wavy black oil paint. The ominous abyss holds swirls of antediluvian deluges that bound the slivered glass. Hues of teal, yellow, and pink sink into the oil and present luminous colors within the murky soil. Aesthetically, the oil-based medium instates a sense of intentionality, and a true grounding nature, which counterbalances the gestural sculpting and overall arbitrariness of form, which is a style found in both paintings. Ultimately, the presence of these contrasting, though complimentary, motifs of style and societal state drafts an ironic sense harmony and balance, and in doing so, offers a multi-leveled appreciation for the onlooker to explore.
The dark obscurity found in the black oil piece marks a high contrast to the neighboring white, Shangri-La-esque painting, Untitled (White Cake Study), 2010. As I absorbed this piece, I fell into an entrancing recess of delight and complexity. As one surrenders to such an adjournment from reality, and follows the peaks and valleys of blissful white, one is able to quickly get lost in the cloud-like work. Drifting to a cerebral place, an abstract version of reality. This amble to a conceptual impression of reality carries utopian/dystopian qualities, due to the beautiful yet cold and industrialized nature of the work. An escapism, but one that still pays homage and sanction to the fidelity of human reality.
The mirrored Shatter Paintings, similar to the one exhibited at the Phillips de Pury 2011 Whitney Art Party [seen above, Untitled (Mirror Study), 2011], truly investigate, and deftly present, the impalpable obscurities of life and death. The mirrors provide a complimentary backdrop to the ceaseless dance of light refraction and reflection, which occurs when there is an inclusion of natural or synthetic light. As one moves across the piece, a humble reception of light commences– a flip-book of shifting color, perspective, and angular dimension with each changing viewpoint. These works take the viewer through the spiritual levels of mortality using light, along with thematic representation and conceptual heightening.
Untitled (Black Mirror Study), 2011 piece, detail image seen above, effortlessly exhibits the degree of beauty and power that color and light can have when bounded to a reflective canvas. Moreover, the presence of color, light, and moxie dimensionality displayed in Lewis‘ 2011 Mirror Study pieces are reminiscent to the multi-dimensional and conceptual work of James Turrell. Though undeniably different to Lewis’ style, Turrell, who is known for his magnificent light installations, often experiments with the interplay of cosmic space, perception, and light. His work highlights the power light can have when introduced to a small or large space. Lewis’ mirrored work, such as Untitled (Black Mirror Study), 2011, display a similar interaction of these elements, though in small intermittent spaces that are framed with glass. Ultimately utilizing revelation and movement of light to create small, collective installations. Both artists successfully take a stagnant piece — that holds respect for light and space– and activate these elements to produce a kinetic projector of light.
What is most intriguing about these mirrored Shatter Paintings, though, is that they simultaneously engender fragility and danger. These themes reflect a familiar concept of preciousness and dangerousness that we constantly encounter in human life, bringing an organic sensibility into a highly fabricated artwork.
The light that comes into these pieces illuminates vitality into each shard of glass, bringing color and ethereal energy to each fragmented piece. As time appreciates, a spectator begins to feel a foreign element gain speed and energy within the piece. This technique gives life to a heightened order, which forms a third element which then lingers within the luring garden of painted glass. This apparitional-spirit of arbitrary light and form changes in color and time of arrival, which then brings a heightened order of existence into this medium of Shatter Paintings. Witnessing the performance of light that occurs within these paintings is similar to the mesmerizing effects of staring into a glistening jewel. These paintings facilitate and shelter another level of art, a level that reflects the boundless, unpredictable nature of life and death. Ultimately framing the inevitable, but beautiful, intangible.
Meeting Zane to discuss his work, inspirations, and any stories I could drag out of him, was an absolute pleasure. We stopped by Roberta’s Pizza joint off the Morgan L and talked art, childhood memories, skateboarding, and the ungraspable concepts life throws at us. With an endearing hint of a Texas accent, Mr. Lewis answered a few questions of mine, shedding some “light”, on an even more scintillating subject.
You are known mostly for your Drip Paintings or “art bleeding” pieces. When did you start this style and why were you compelled to make “art bleed”?
I made the first “drip” painting in late 2005. Before that I had been making sculptures and installations which incorporated colored liquids and mechanisms that dripped ink. I wanted to take that way of working and implement it into a painting. I was intrigued by the idea of a kinetic painting, but was struggling with wanting to use paint instead of the colored liquids I was accustomed to. The paint presented an obstacle being that it dries, so I couldn’t use it in the same way I had been using the liquids. Long story short, I developed a technique that cascaded many colors of paint at once without the paint mixing together into a single color or becoming murky. I figured out a way to make the paint always look wet as well. When I applied the cascaded to an image it would take on the appearance of the image bleeding or weeping, perhaps, so I ran with that…
In my childhood I remember looking at sculptures and paintings in museums and imagining them moving around, kinetic as opposed to static. Usually the figurative works I’d imagine crying. Being from San Antonio Texas there is quite a lot of Catholic imagery within the city and culture. Lots of Jesus on the cross bleeding and the Virgin Mary with tears so I guess my exposure to that lead me to imagine other images doing the same thing…images that weren’t religious. That definitely influenced my work and ideas. I wanted to make static images feel alive or at least gesture towards that notion and space where something becomes alive. The act of the drip technique applied to an image could change the context and feeling of it completely. So I played with that power in different ways while working through concepts ranging from worship to idolatry, vanity, decay, etc.
This earlier work of yours contains a lot of pop-driven visuals in works with the bleeding technique, why depict these images specifically?
At the time I was very interested in the power of images–how certain images can transcend both time and place, wherein that certain images are limitless and have the ability to communicate on massive levels. They can share an understanding between the bum on the street and the Harvard PHD and can be effective to both as well. I’m not talking about the McDonalds sign or some bullshit like that- I’m talking about images that contain a life of their own, and a history. Images that are so powerful they have an ability to create even a false history and/or false future within a single individual’s mind and even a culture’s mind. An image that becomes more relevant than the actual thing itself managing to supersede it’s true original, where it be an object, person, etc.
So I wanted to create my own images that functioned similarly. I thought of my approach as a dj remixing a song. I’d remix and reformat the images I was working with and apply my own technique and process finally presenting it in a way that that particular image hadn’t been seen before, yet utilizing some of the images original inherent power.
Often I’d allude to religious notions and iconography…that’s pretty much where the drip element came into play. The paint drip sometimes was to emphasize visual stigmata, christening the image and yielding it religious nobility, while simultaneously discussing worship of false idols. I also wanted the work to take on this play between life and death…hence, the image was “bleeding” emphasizing that it was alive, but there was a duality in that it could also be dying too.
So, when and why did you begin to move away from the drip technique and move toward your newer aesthetic?
In 2009 the drips became less prevalent in my work and the imagery became less specific. I was making new things and the drips weren’t as crucial…they were intertwined with the composition as opposed to seeping from or on top of it. I was gradually losing interest in the imagery. I was more interested in apparitions than specific imagery.
I even started to use the drips in a different way. In the beginning the drips were a precise controlled gesture, but then I started to use them excessively with a looser messier hand to submerge my images and drown them in the paint. Eventually the drips began to destroy the images and the works took on a feeling of decay. The pieces were less luscious and glossy and instead crumbled and broken looking. Whether I knew it or not at the time, this was symbolic of my departure from that body of work.
The last piece I made with the drips/imagery was Untitled (Destroyed Jesus), a piece I completed in the Summer of 2010.
It was a turning point for me in a major way. The painting went threw a number of stages, but I just kept feeling like I could push it further so I reworked it several times. Actually, I even exhibited it in New York at one point, then after the show I brought it back to the studio and annihilated the thing. I was pushing really hard with that piece and ultimately it ended up something I could never duplicate.
I was satisfied with where I took it, and more importantly, where it took me. The evolution of Untitled (Destroyed Jesus) was a pivotal place and piece within my career. Making that painting was brutal and exhausting like a boxing match but very cathartic. Eventually I finished it, like a 13 round battle I had won, but got the shit kicked out of me doing so. I defeated that fucker and had mastered that aesthetic stage…it was time to move on.
How did you come to the distinct aesthetic style and grueling operational process, which embodies your newer work of “Shatter Paintings“?
It was a process of evolution mostly. While I was working on (Destroyed Jesus) I was also making these pieces called Mirror, Mirrors. These were wall pieces that looked like a framed mirror but when viewed from certain angles an image of a large skull would appear then disappear… These were fascinating objects…they functioned on many levels having interactive, experiential, and phenomenological qualities to them. So I was taking a liking to these objects and I wanted to introduce those same characteristics into my new work. Bring the dynamic of the Mirror, Mirrors, but into a painting. I wanted my paintings to be multi-dimensional on both a physical and conceptual level - I wanted to break this notion of a painting being a static-image and somehow make “paintings” with infinite compositions. A painting that never looks the same twice.
Are all of your shatter paintings constructed with mostly found material? And why glass and mirrors?
I guess the physicality of the material along with the illusiveness of the reflection attracts me. I had this large closet in my room as a kid with mirrored doors and I would imagine it was a portal into another dimension. Sometimes, I would stand pressed against it looking into the iris of my eye for long periods of time. Looking into this space in my iris, a space that doesn’t exist, that had a white light and all these things floating around, it was like a kinetic void…like the twilight zone or something…haha!
There was also a time I got stuck in an elevator as a little kid alone. When the doors finally opened, I ended up on some floor that was under massive construction. I kinda freaked out being up there and somehow managed to almost get killed by a huge piece of mirror that almost fell on me…
As for the materials in the pieces, they vary and are not all glass. The glass, though, I swept up off the streets around the neighborhood my studio is in. It’s from car windows and windshields that have been broken and smashed in. In general I have always felt glass has this beauty and danger to it. We use it to protect us in life, yet it can easily be dangerous itself.
Going in another direction– Has any art movement or artist(s) of the past or present inspired you to a degree that you feel your art could be seen as an extension to any particular movement or inspiration?
I wouldn’t say that my work is a direct extension of any particular style or movement…sure I’ve looked at and studied art and think about different styles and genres, but I’ve also looked at and studied all sorts of things that I think about more often than art. I mean, hey, if somebody looks at my work and says, “He was inspired by minimalism.” then they are making that judgment. If they feel that vibe, it’s cool by me. They could also feel a sense of architectural design, or astronomy; they could even be bored and not think or feel anything. ;)
As for an extension of my inspirations…hmm, well my work has nothing to do with skateboarding but it has always held a resonating inspiration for me. Not in the “I live in New York and skateboarding and graffiti are super cool” way, I don’t give a shit about that- and just for the record I haven’t skated in years. What I’m trying to say is, I grew up skateboarding. It was a huge part of my life until my late teens…it taught me to look at objects in a different way. The creative process started before I even knew it back then. Skateboarding was the medium through which there were no rules, and the landscape existed, as an obstacle one would approach at ones own will, in ones own way. I learned how to view things differently by molding the original intention of an object a completely new direction. To use that object, in a creative way, to express my individual style and technique on the skateboard. Simply, a bench became something to slide on or flip trick over as opposed to it being intended to sit on. That way of “seeing” is similar to sculpture.
So, if you had to group yourself with any other artists of the now, who would it be? Which artist(s), do you think, share a certain degree of similarity to your work?