Stanley Lewis in a Wayward World

Stanley Lewis, “View of Our House with Rhododendrons” (2022), pen and ink on paper, 24 1/4 x 28 inches

I think of Stanley Lewis, who paints from observation, as a Sisyphean painter. He attempts to climb a mountain whose summit he never reaches. The struggle is between the overall composition and how many little details can he get into a painting or a drawing without it seeming to implode or becoming clotted. His desire to get it right has led him to make radical decisions, such as cut out an area of a painting and add a new section where he begins again, or cover over part of an artwork with a piece of Bounty paper towel and paint on it. Certain areas of his drawings bring to mind a shingled roof, because so many rectangular sections have been added to the original sheet and reworked. As idiosyncratic and drastic as Lewis’s method is, he seems to share that capacity for doubt known to possess Willem de Kooning, Chaim Soutine, and Albert Pinkham Ryder. Yet, there is no one who works like Lewis: he is the sole member of a club no one else wants to join. 

Lewis’s singularity is the primary reason why I went to his exhibition, Paintings and Works on Paper at Betty Cuningham Gallery (May 12–July 1, 2022). One of the remarkable things about these works — which you can see immediately in the acrylic on paper “View of the Garden with Orange Fence II” (2020) — is how deep the compositions can be.

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