Jonathan Lewis: MVA Open Studios

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Jonathan Lewis in his studio at Manufacturer’s Village

Manufacturers Village Artist Studios, located in an 1880’s historic industrial complex at 356 Glenwood Avenue in East Orange, NJ, will feature the work of over 60 different artists at its annual open studios weekend, Friday 10/15 (VIP Preview) and Saturday thru Sunday from 11-5, 10/16 and 10/17.

Jonathan Lewis is a British artist who grew up in London but moved to Millburn, NJ, in 2013. Largely self-taught, he studied for his degree in History of Art at Cambridge University, and then worked at the Victoria & Albert Museum where he befriended a curator who was transitioning from academia into becoming an artist, and this encounter set Lewis on the same path. Exhibitions include the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Morgan Library, the Cleveland Museum of Art; his work is held in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the George Eastman Museum, and the artist, Ed Ruscha.

Tell me about yourself and your art:

I work in a range of media from prints to photos, videos, artists’ books, and painting but there’s a fairly consistent thread, namely my obsession with the pixel! I consider the pixel to be emblematic of our age, and just as ‘the digital’ has invaded almost every aspect of our lives my various attempts to depict it range broadly across popular culture. Subjects include candy wrappers, fine art, fast cars, cigarettes, album covers, designer clothing, gun manufacturers, celebrities, and (latterly) emojis.

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Time Is Up, 2020, Acrylic on Paper, 24 x 17 inches

What will we see in your studio?

I plan to show a mix of some of my oldest work from twenty years ago with some of my most recent. I am curious to see how they will get along! The old work is a series of abstractions of candy wrappers where photographic samples from across their crinkled surfaces are stretched into hypnotic bands of color. Some say they look like barcodes-on-acid but after a while the color schemes of familiar candies such as Mentos, M&M’s, or Skittles emerge. It’s a kind of memory game that I have played a number of times, choosing subjects buried deep within our collective consciousness and distilling them almost beyond recognition. That is where the pixel, and my fascination for low-resolution imagery, kicks in. Similarly, I’ve been captivated most recently by emojis and their potential to reach quickly into our brains when texting, communicating complex emotions with a minimum of information. Using acrylic paint increasingly loosely I have been experimenting with further degrading these tiny characters up to the point of abstraction. My recent foray into painting was also prompted by a desire to escape from the cold perfection of the ever present ‘screen’, and to get down and dirty in the studio, so to speak. In a strange way, when I paint an emoji it feels like I am breathing life into it, liberating it from the circuitry inside my phone…giving it a taste of humanity.

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Skittles, and Mentos, 2001, Archival inkjet on Paper, 23 x 23 inches

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New Love, 2019, Acrylic on Canvas, 11 x 14 inches