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Noise! Yourself, Also Distrain

Tony Lewis

02.12.2021 | 12.01.2022

MASSIMODECARLO is pleased to present Noise! Yourself, Also Distrain by the Chicago-based artist Tony Lewis (Los Angeles, USA, 1986). The exhibition constitutes the second chapter after Sing Plunder, Think Gentle Damage, Maintain Tomorrow, Et Al. hosted at the gallery this Fall.

Tony Lewis presents four new large scale vibrant drawings, where graphite and coloured pencils generate dynamic shapes on paper, displayng the artist’s signature glyph alphabet, influenced by his fascination with stenography.

Continuing to explore the Gregg Shorthand system and its connection to sound and language, Lewis uses shorthand notation that translates sounds into curving and bisecting lines. Lewis develops his exploration of ontology and the epistemology of language into a wider investigation that reflects upon the hierarchical systems within society and the complexity of the black American experience. The Gregg Shorthand system is a light-line stenography consisting of a phonetic shorthand based on elliptical and bisecting lines, invented by John Robert Gregg in 1888. It was the most popular form of pen stenography in the United States and is still in use today, albeit less so than before due to mainstream digitalization.

Each drawing starts with a graphite symbol which is the foundation of his biomorphic compositions. The repeated colour scheme (red, yellow, blue, and green) is reminiscent of childhood building blocks to provide a simple, direct contrast between the shapes as they are formed in response to the pre-existing Gregg Shorthand graphite form. The titles of the works - "Also" , "Distrain" , "Noise", "Yourself" - reflects the meaning of the glyphs on paper. The poetics of this work is woven into Lewis’s exploration of drawing and language as forms of abstraction. The gestural lines appear as abstract mark-making to those unable to read stenographic script. However, each word in this series delineates a message about identity, race and communication, often referencing historical facts or current events.

Tony Lewis uses his drawing as a tool to investigate the presence and role of language today, conveying a message that is hidden in plain sight.

Tony Lewis

Tony Lewis was born in 1986 in Los Angeles. He currently lives and works in Chicago.

Lewis’s practice focuses on the relationship between semiotics and language to confront social and political topics such as race, power, communication, and labour. Lewis creates drawings using graphite, pencil and paper, mediums the artist uses to trace and develop abstract narratives and reflections on the notion of the gestural. By pushing the boundaries of drawing and the possibilities of abstraction, he expands the use of the “material” of language. As expressed by Melissa Chiu, Director of Hirshhorn Museum: ‘Lewis has quickly established himself in the contemporary art world by forming a distinct visual vocabulary that integrates poetry and text with the properties of abstraction, and his monochromatic drawings pull from various visual and written sources, ranging from the personal to the political. Separating, rearranging, and erasing text, he shifts the way we move through language to open up new and unexpected readings.’

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

Tony Lewis Portrait 3 m7 In0y